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On being locked in an escape room when your team are being smashed to pieces

Today I was locked in a puzzle box as Villa were being battered.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

It’s very rare that I miss an Aston Villa game, and thus rarer still that I bother to record the missed game to view on delay. With so many ways of the match result being spoiled in 2018 (Google’s AMP does not help, with it’s OTT flagging of the current result of every team that you have ever searched).

Today I missed one of Villa’s biggest games of the Championship league season. I’m on holiday in Torquay for the Festive period, you see. This was booked in January. I’m not particularly hurt about missing an Aston Villa game - these things happen and it’s almost always for the ‘greater good’ and seeing palm trees and the sea at Christmas is a pretty good feeling, probably a little bit better than being stuck on the soggy Cross City line. What’s more, my season ticket at the Villa has been given to an exceptionally great person, so nobody really loses out.

Well, I could have viewed the game on Sky Sports, and readers - that was the plan. I assure you. We were heading down to Torquay on the 22nd. Villa were scheduled to play Leeds on the 22nd. We could have caught the game. Then the match was moved to the 23rd. No bother.

The issue here is that we’d booked an ‘escape room’ on the 23rd at 1pm. With Villa’s match being rearranged, we had a clash. An escape room is a physical gaming experience based on popular point-and-click RPGs or immersive-storytelling video games. You have to solve environmental challenges to escape the themed room. Some tell good stories, some rely on excruciatingly hard, disconnected puzzles. Either way, they are pretty fun - and either way, they end when you complete your goal and escape the room.

So, if you’ve cottoned on, there’s a clear way for me - and three other Villa season ticket holders, mind - to watch the Villa match. Simply put, we’d need to do our jobs and escape the room within 30 minutes of entering it. That’s half our allowed time, so we’d need to be twice as good as expected.

I can’t really speak about the escape room, because to give it away would potentially spoil the experience for others, but within four minutes, I’d almost given up and was trying to lift a chained down toilet off the floor because I cannot do maths. Did we make the 30 minute cut-off time? No.

So the option here is to now view the pre-recorded match - but avoid the game on our walk back up to the holiday home. It’s on a wide screen at at least four pubs on the main strip - which we have to walk past. It’s also on our phones and social media. A straight-talking switched off walk followed.

But that brings a few interesting questions, if the world (as I think it does) revolves around me. The experience of the individual is always intimate and closed off - so thus, I get to thinking and over-thinking. If I had viewed the match from the start would it have followed the same course as it did? If I had found out the score after leaving the escape room thirty minutes after kick-off would it have ended in the same way? If I had attended the match, would it have ended 3-2 to Leeds United? Yes. Even weirder, Villa were winning the game when I was in the escape room, but had all but lost the game by the time I had managed to start watching. Was my exit from the escape room some kind of universal catalyst that threw the match into the favour of Leeds? The answer to all of these questions ends at the same result, that there’s not a damn thing I could have done to influence the experience of the match. If that’s the case, why do we rely on superstitions and luck and jinxing and all manner of odd folklore and traditions as the bedrock of our footballing experience? Is there a me who left the escape room to see Villa beat Leeds? Who knows, but we can’t help but think of the ‘what-if’.

But no, as I was stuck in an escape room (which was brilliant fun), my mind was clouded with the heady optimism that pretty much defines the pre-match experience of every football fan to have ever existed. Even when that optimism in the true order of things had every right to disappear (with Villa losing their two goal lead) I was still blissfully unaware of the true order of events, thus even more crushed when the match folded out as it did.

What is the point of this article? Well maybe it’s to say that the best experience, always, is the live experience - and that the true reckoning that is brought with the end of each 90 minutes of football is best experience without a delay - as that delay can only bring more frustration, at higher levels than if experienced live as it happened.

Either way, it’s only a short walk down the road to the marina, where I can launch my laptop into the sea - but we’ll all know that I’ll be back here once more on Boxing Day to go through it all again.