Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: Into the Heart of Darkness.

When I was ten I scored my first goal ever in a school football match. I was standing somewhere on the pitch facing in the right kind of direction peering into the mist which hovered over the mud and slowly, out of the king fisher blue of the sky looped this large leather ball towards me. I could see the panel stitching as if I was looking at it through a microscope – not the usual telescope I needed when it came to trying to navigate my way around the football pitch of life.

I stepped slowly towards it, stuck out my foot slowly and saw the ball ricochet off it slowly and sail back even more slowly from whence it came and through the space defined by the silhouetted goal posts and into the flaming autumnal sunset. I had scored a goal I found out later by a ‘half volley’.

All hell broke loose. I screamed, turned and ran down the opposite end of the pitch, my arms flailing in every direction. My team mates chased after me, screaming. The opposition looked on aghast at the unlikely spectacle of the boy who normally spent most of his football life engraving his name in the muddy pitch with his outsize boots celebrating scoring a goal. The whistle from the referee’s lips dropped into the mud. Even the sound of Amazonian drums could be heard in the distance, battling through the inertia of suburbia.

This was unbelievable, incredible, completely implausible as far as they were all concerned and the opposition’s captain, Johnson, showed then how to react the next time I got close to kicking the ball: ‘Get him, he’s dangerous!’ he yelled and to a boy they swooped down, ruthlessly depriving me of my next moment of glory by decking me, stealing the ball and running down the other end of the pitch in a frenzied horde to hammer the point home that they were the far superior side by scoring ten easy goals in the final five minutes of the game. We lost 15-1 that afternoon, and I knew how those guys felt last night when they were trounced by their opposition.

But that moment taught me all I needed to know about my future footballing destiny. I would be a permanent surprise to the opposition; they would constantly underestimate me; I would strike at the least likely moment in a manner which would leave everyone rooted to the ground, mouths fixed open in scarecrow gasps. I would be the guerilla in their midst.

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