Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.
Football was sport. Sport was football. Fact. Our hero played football in the front room. Football in the garden, the neighbours gardens, in the fields and at school. He played football with friends, classmates and his Jack Russell dog. He played football. Full stop. Even preparing for football lesson was special, electrifying. Into the changing room and roughly pulling his kit from his bag. Our hero had his own kit which met his aesthetic dreams. Dressing for football was a ritual The kit had a specific smell. Laundered cotton and leather. Strip down and on with his shorts. Navy blue and plain. Then knee length pure white socks, pulled up and rolled over at the top. Then his football shirt. Pure white again with a round collar. Pulled on with an air of solemnity. Pukka. Last but not least, on with his boots. They smelled of leather. They smelled good. Laces tied up and then that wonderful clip clop as he made his way outside. At no other time would such noise be tolerated in school. Freedom to run and jump and all in the name of football. Marvelous. Slowly the P.E. teacher brings them under some sort of order. There will be two teams. One will play in their own kit. The other side we be differentiated by a sky blue bib. The teams are selected and he is in the weaker team, again. Why?
Playing football before rules and tactics. The teacher blew the whistle and off they went. Quite literally. One boy had the ball and everybody apart from the goalkeepers, would chase and run after the ball. Complete mayhem and wonderful fun. The teacher shouting orders and instructions as he sought to kill off the fun. Then it was over. His side lost yet again? Back to the changing rooms and time for a very important assessment. Just how much mud on his knees, socks, shorts and top? The dirtier the kit, the better the game had been. Strange Mother never saw it that way. However football was already teaching him something. He played once for the Junior school second eleven. How could the others run so much faster? He was never picked to be on the good side in the PE. Lesson Could it be?
One thing about football that appealed to him. He could pick his own team, his own colours. This was brought to him again when he went to senior school. Mother had to put her hand in her pocket and fork out. The schools’ colours. Green top with a white collar, white shorts with a thin green stripe and white socks with green tops. The combination made him pine for junior school sky blue and maroon. Football at secondary school was serious. Tactics, passing, working in threes and pairs under the instruction of Mr Hook. Dull, boring and pointless. He just wanted to play. Then it would be time for a game. Finally a kick about. Weaker team for him. again No worries. He was to slow for a forward, not skilled enough for a midfielder and lacked a goalkeepers agility. Namely the ability to fall down and make it look good. So he was a right-back. Yeah, right-back behind the goal. Our hero did his best. A lack of speed was made up for with some cunning. He found that if he got the timing just right, just as the quick boy was next to him, a good hard shove was effective. If the opponent just started to leave him behind, he would go into a sliding tackle from behind. Take the other boys legs out from under him and force the ball out of play. The bonus was getting good and dirty, too. Not so dusty.
Other sports, what the hell, other sports! Nightmare. Football finished and an athletics track took shape on the playing field. How he loathed, detested and hated with every fibre of his being hideous track and field. Pathetic athletics. The long jump, renamed by him the short jump, and go home. The triple jump, if done successfully it melded into a short run with half skip. Waste of time. Get changed. The fuck ups made the only sense. The javelin. Now there’s a sport for a group of stupid boys. The javelin, or throwing stick, has been dated back to the lower Paleothic era. Since then it was modified into a deadly weapon and used by ancient Greeks to Anglo-Saxons, well just about anybody body who could throw. Tipped with steel, it could be thrown at attacking soldiers, women, children, anyone who took their fancy. This deadly would-be weapon was handed out by the pensive P.E. teacher. To boys. Boys shouting and acting in a stupid manner. A rudimentary explanation of do’s and don’ts. Then off they went. Nobody had listened. They never did. Inevitably one boy managed to push the steel tip through his trainer. The teacher retrieved the javelin. Sent the boy to get changed. Javelin was taken off the list of sports for his class. As was the norm.
Rounders. Now that would be safer. Basically a smaller version of baseball. A bit more girly. Hit a ball and then run from one base to the next. The bases were aging half circles of red steel plopped in a circular shape. Chipped and old. No problem. Well, maybe just one. The teacher covered all his bases. Or so he thought. Fielders set, batsmen ready and back stop in position. The game started and was going well. Shouts of encouragement from team mates. Derision from the opponents. All under the sun on a warm day. Wonderful. What could go wrong? Up steps Thompson. Thompson is a would be sportsman. Would be, but for the fact he was an idiot. All fingers and thumbs and gangly legs topped by curly blond locks. Thompson sought glory, the big hit, the game hinges on his innings. The drama builds as the bowler bowls, the ball is in the air. Thompson swings with all his might and gives the ball a hefty thump. Excited and elated he allows the momentum of the swing to carry the bat back behind him. Without a backward glance he lets go of the bat. And go it certainly did. At a speedy velocity straight into the face of the back stop, who then crumples to the ground. Time to call it a day. Game over.
Cricket. Now there was a summers game he could relate to. Dressed in white and played out under the summer sky. Crack of oak on willow. Well, cork covered in red leather on willow. Batsmen, slips, wicket-keeper, bowler, silly mid-off, or was that silly mid-on? Then there’s Deep Midwicket, Square Leg, enough, enough! The teacher told him where to stand, basically around Deep Midwicket. But as the sun shone and boredom increased he would amble over to Cow Corner. Our hero wanted to bat, he loved to bat and for him that was cricket. Batting. So he stood. The batsmen hit the ball, they ran between the wickets. He stood, scratched his balls and walked a bit further to Cow Corner. All the while speaking to himself about Miss Horny and chewing on a blade of grass. Wishing he was chewing on Miss Horny between her legs. Then it happened. The batsmen sent the ball thumping out in his direction. In a millisecond he had the impression that everyone had turned and was looking at him. Our hero looked up as the ball arced its way over to him. Arms out in front of him he waited to catch the ball. To be a hero. As he squinted against the sunlight the ball hit his hands, bounced, and dropped dully to the ground. The palm of his hand was on fire, and he could hear hails of derision as he threw the ball back. Stupid game anyway! Two more overs were bowled and then his side were batting. Trudging back over to his team mates he sat down and nursed the palm of his hand. He could feel the bruise waiting to come through. Fuck, it was his wanking hand, too. As with football, he found himself on the weaker team. Thompson was there opening batsman. That said it all. Geoff Boycott he was not. With undue haste the bales flew and catches were made. The P.E. teacher told our hero to pad up. Yes, great, he was finally going to bat. He loved to bat. An, howzat! The P.E teacher acting as umpire, slowly raised his hand and signalled the batsmen as out. Leg before wicket. Our hero was elated, he was in next. He was the batter. Clutching the bat in his sore right hand he strode up and stood in front of the wicket. He really loved to bat, it was the best. He checked his position. Looked masterfully all around to check the fielders. Batting was the best. He was ready, gently tapping the end of the bat on the ground. The bowler took a long look, then a long run. Batting, that was his forte. The bowler wind milled his arm and released the ball. Howzat? Our hero turned, heard and saw the bales flying off the wicket at the same time. He loved to bat. It just never lasted very long. Trudging away he thought how he’d have to use his left hand in bed.
Gymnasium is derived from ‘’Gymnazein’’ which meant figuratively or literally “to train naked,” which in turn comes from gymnos or “naked,” So now he knew why Mr Goblin was so keen on the gymnasium. For our hero it was a hell hole. High walls with strapped back climbing frames. A horse for attempting to jump over. As if. More often than not he ran into it and squashed his balls! Baskets on walls. Climbable ropes that he never climbed dangling from the rafters. Of course our hero did not excel in any sportsman like manner in the gym. Our hero really didn’t give a toss. He looked upon the gym rather as a place of pain and humiliation. The climbing frames swung out and locked into place. Circuit training. They had to catch and throw medicine balls, do press ups and then climb the frames. Why medicine balls? Well, doctors in ancient Greece wrote about weighted exercise balls and these balls appear in drawings of wrestlers dating back to 1000 B.C. in Persia. Mr Goblin liked wresting, he liked big balls and wanted to see his pupils playing with them.
Anyway, as our hero got to the top of the frame he heard Mr Goblin remind him to climb right over the top. Our hero squeezed through the gap betwixt frame and roof. Cumbersome leg over, body through and then, slip whoops lunge and fall. Bang. Darkness. Waking in a smelly room badly lit room. Couldn’t see very clearly, but why were people not wearing clothes. He heard shouting and felt disorientated. There was an older man sitting far too close, Who the hell was he? The old man asked him to count fingers. Count them yourself. Home he went buy a long meandering route without even changing his P.E. kit. Knock knock, do I live here?
Different P.E teacher. Mr Hook. Same manual dexterity. The pointless aim of the lesson was trampolining. A skill he would obviously need every day in future life. Not. Trampolines were employed by the U.S. Navy to train pilots and navigators in World War 2. The idea was to acclimatize them to flying around head over heels. Was our hero going to join the US navy? No, thank you. Was he going to fly war planes. Again no. Father had told him what sailors get up to on those ships. After World War 2 the Russians and the Americans used trampolines to help astronauts gain experience at being ass upwards. Which was probably why the US Navy really used them in the first place! Was our hero going into space? Still no. More pointlessness from school. School excelled in pointlessness. The trampoline was wheeled out by Mr Hook. The device was basically a huge bear trap. The two ends had to be pulled up, then down, finally being locked into place. Bounce, bounce aimlessly. P.E. teacher is happy. Nonce. Then it was time to put the spring loaded bear trap away. The snappy spring loaded weapon. Again the P.E. teacher stood back as he was too sensible to get involved in such shenanigans. Unhelpful, lazy bastard. Each side had three boys allocated to pull up the ends, and then hold and control them as they were lowered, under great pressure from the springs. Unfortunately he had a boy called Olive on his side, and he was called Olive for a reason. As the spring pressure increased , Olive and the other boy abandoned their position. This meant that the end crashed down on our hero, actually on his wrist. Pain. A great deal of pain. Home he went. Arriving home he explained to Mother what had happened. She then walked him to the local GP. Sagely the GP advised a trip to the hospital. So they walked to the nearest bus stop. Gingerly onto the bus. Into the hospital, wait for a couple of hours and finally x-rayed. Our hero had broken his wrist. Jesus wept, his right wrist. What a tragedy for a thirteen year old boy. He really, really didn’t like the gymnasium, naked or clothed. Mr Goblin, please take note.
Strange as many people view rugby as a dangerous sport. Taking into account his misadventures in the gym he was inclined to think of it as fun. “Rugby is a game for big buggers. if you’re not a big bugger, you get hurt. I wasn’t a big bugger but I was a fast bugger and therefore I avoided the big buggers.” As Spike Milligan said. True. Whereas he wasn’t the biggest buggar in the class, he was bigger than most. Mr Hook assigned our hero as a lock in the second row directly behind the front row. Strange that. This entailed putting his head between the props and the hooker. Push. Worryingly someone in the third row would put his hand up under our heroes crutch, and hang on to the waistband of his shorts. Hoping Ass Licker wasn’t behind him, they pushed, shoved, kicked, punched and had a great time. Then the ball was released and the running part started again. Not his strong point. Yeah, rugby was okay. Even better than football was the dirty kit factor. He could even kick quire well. The ball, not the other players. Typical. A round ball is made to be kicked, long and straight. But he managed to do it better with an oval ball. But he turned down the chance to play for the school. Our hero wasn’t a company man. There was also the matter of image. When he pulled on his football shorts he lost Mr Goblin’s interest. Thank God. More importantly he pulled on shorts that looked cool, fitted well. Were part and parcel of the image. Rugby shorts lacked a certain savoir faire. In short they looked stupid and distinctly uncool. Too small, no flair no style and too fuckin’ tight . Like a cheap hotel, no Ballroom. Worn with the shirt tucked in one could spot the Nigels’ and Tims’ and his Brother. In fact a team of spazzy like people. No, he would stick with football. Definitely football.
Sport, he concluded, wasn’t really for him, he wasn’t sporty. However he loved to watch football on television, rugby, motor cross, women’s tennis and sheep dog trials. A Saturday in late August. Another cherry to burst. Our hero was off to football with Brother and his latest tart. Train and tube to a land with seven sisters. In a crowd on the way to the ground singing, shouting and soaking up the buzz. Banter and bullshit abounded. Scarves and pubs full of supporters, hot dog stands selling lips and assholes with ketchup. Then all of a sudden, rounding a corner, the stadium. Tall and imposing and surrounded by people milling around in an a chaotic dance. Through this he followed Brother diligently keeping him in sight. Tickets were bought at the door and turning an aged turn style he was in, in the ground. Unbelievable. Brother referred to the ticket stub. South Stand Upper. They dodged and maneuvered into the waiting South Stand. Then with knees clipping seated spectators they made it to their seats. In front of him an old couple were dolling out the contents of a flask. Our hero looked around. Where are the speakers? He didn’t want to seem to stupid. A modicum of stupidity from time to time, okay. But where were the speakers? For all his life his experience of watching football was on television. Match of the Day which kicked off in 1964, and from 1966 was hosted by Jimmy Hill. Its rival was the Big Match on ITV on Sunday lunchtimes with the inimitable Brian Moore. What was a supporter of Gillingham doing on a football program! Akin to Adolf Hitler in charge of a Kibbutz! There was also the Midweek Sports Special late at night on a Wednesday. All with commentary. Wednesday late night football. Followed by a very late night wank. Magic.
Back at the ranch, that is back in the South Stand. Our hero sat between Brother and current tart. The players from both teams came out to warm up. The ground was filling up rapidly. Back jogged the players and the singing crowd grew in noise, grew in size. Sights and sounds filled our heroes senses and he could feel himself soaring. Rhythmic, basic and tribal. Brother, scarf round neck, singing and chanting, too. But where were the bloomin’ speakers? The players reemerged and ran out to deafening applause and much clapping of hands overheads. Still no speakers. A tannoy announced the teams, who took up their positions and then the game started. So that’s how it works. You watch and scream and shout but there is no Jimmy Hill, no Brian Moore, no commentary whatsoever. The game was great. Well in truth it was probably rubbish, but it was his first and he loved it. Of course it helped that his side won 2-1. Couldn’t see how the centre-half from the other team could see with such a huge Afro. Maybe the reason why his team won. But it was great. Game over and more instructions to stay close and off home. That night the game was on Match of the Day. Viewing it on television looked so different, so close and so clear. Now with the commentary he could tell what had happened. That’s how it’s meant to be. All viewed while eating a cheese and onion sandwich and a positive result guaranteed. Sorted.