Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: I will be that Bolshevik!

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true (enough). Me and the lads were out on the park tonight cheering and jeering each other as usual on a Monday night when what do you know but a postman rides up to us on his pre Second World War rickety rackety bike, rummages around in his sack and extracts what looks like a flea-bitten telegram. He looks around us all and our collection of muddy knees, torn shirts and scuffed boots and eventually his quizzical gaze focuses on me.

“It’s for you?” He’s adopted that annoying upturn of vocal intonation so beloved of soap stars from the Antipodes and I nod and reach out for his missive. I rapidly tear it open, wanting to get on with our park kick about but on reading its contents, slump to the ground in disbelief.

You OK.” states the postie, and I nod, partially dazed, semi confused and totally irritated by his inability to know the difference between asking question and making observations. More significantly,  it transpires that our national football team has, on its build up to this year’s World Cup, had to remove several of its lower ranked footballers from its squad due to some mysterious case of food poisoning they have mysteriously picked up from some mysterious source.

The management have been forced right at the last-minute to survey the stats of some our nation’s more modest talent from the league tables that yours truly fills in diligently every week in my capacity as team secretary and have concluded that the best player in our league – as defined by goals, assists, back passes and good intentions – is yours truly. I have consequently been called up to join the national squad to play for our beloved country in what is, let’s face it, the pinnacle of all sporting achievement. Ever.

There’s little time to hang around. My flight tickets are waiting for me at the airport; my bags have been packed by the team’s coach who has had to spend yet more time in the poisoned atmosphere that is the modern jet liner fuselage to collect me and my old socks and my diet from now on will be severely restricted to no less than 15,000 calories a day. It’s going to be difficult to be jettisoned into the stellar attention of international football stardom but I’m as ready for it as I always have been.

I have waited all my life for this moment: it won’t hurt my team to wait that little bit longer for me to arrive and collect what is rightfully mine: the lifting of the Jules Verne trophy on Saturday 15 July in Moscow.

Poetry on the Hoof: Hashtag Poems

In an age of shortening fuses, tempers, and attention spans not many of us have enough time or inclination to read much beyond the first few syllables of a poem, novel or academic treatise. See, I’ve lost you already.

The hashtag poem series acknowledges this poor state of affairs and instead of plying you with complicated verse structures or deep and meaningless syntax, offers you words or phrases which conjure up possibilities and useful generalities. The hashtag allows the reader to get the gist of something without having to work too hard to really get it. It also benefits the writer by allowing them not to have to work too hard at communicating something in a uniquely idiosyncratic way – so everyone’s a #winner.

Here’s a poem I stumbled into earlier. It’s about… well, it’s about whatever you want it to be about. That’s the beauty of the #poem. It’s called: #Backtowork

#Summer-haze
#Holiday-daze
#Where’sthepoolgone?
#Backontrack
#Yawn.

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.

Confessions of an Ageing Footballer: Russia 2,018: My Team 2,019

73 – nil! Those were the days: moments of glory on the school playing field on a foggy Wednesday afternoon when the final whistle went and your school mates would gather around you, beaming their small faces at you from every conceivable direction as they congratulated you fulsomely on the 23 hat tricks you have just completed in your team’s undeniable slaughter of the opposition.

The juniors from Mrs. Myrtle’s class were never going to stand up to the superior fire power of Mr. Thompsons 4th years and your part in their downfall was heralded as the natural climax of a long and muddy school football season.

In those days, England had won the World Cup for the first (and only?) time and the nation rejoiced rejoiced rejoiced. We became our football heroes overnight and in the course of that fateful autumn season when I moved primary schools seven times, I was able to become Roger Hunt, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, George Cohen, George Best and Jimmy Greaves in six short months -playing footie with mates in a school classroom, at the park, in the garage, in a potato field, down an anonymous dirt track, in the kitchen and even once on a proper football field.

We all became our own heroes overnight and never looked back, plotting our own way to football fame and fortune ever since. We have of course all gone our different ways: Roger disappeared into medical supplies, George Best into pub management and Jeff Hurst into the funerals business: but me, I stayed lean and mean, waiting for the next major football opportunity. World Cups have come and gone but I feel it in my bones: Russia 2018 may just be the one where I make my mark and relive the joy of 23 hat tricks against the juniors.

Neymar, Messi, Oxlade Chamberlain: you have all been warned. This year is my year.

Rust, dust and lust: a cautionary tale of resilience.

Once upon a time there was a castle which was crumbling from the foundations upwards. The white ants had been busy over the years and whilst the facade looked stable, the foundations had powdered to ashes and the ashes had powdered to dust and the dust had blown away in the cruel winds of fortune.  One day, with the townsfolk looking on and attending a gigantic carnival in the middle of the splendiferous grounds, the castle, once so proud and austere, so demanding of its audiences and towns folk, decided to call it a day and crumbled away to very little in the space of a couple of shocking seconds.

Gasps wouldn’t do justice to the sounds the townsfolk made when they saw their castle disappear in front of their eyes.  Something that had appeared so steady and so reliable had been shaken to nothing in the blink of several thousands’ peoples’ eyes.

To be continued…

Poetry on the Hoof: Soz.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry,
I’m very, very sorry,
For the delays, the disruption, the chaos, we’ve brought
To your daily routine.

We’re sorry the tram stopped running,
We’re sorry the bus driver forgot to turn up for work,
We’re sorry the road’s been dug up over night,
We’re all sorry, sorry, very very sorry.

Sorry your tickets out of date,
Sorry your life style made you late,
Sorry you look the way you do,
Sorry your dog demanded a poo
On the high street before your very eyes,
Sorry you forgot to clean it up,
Sorry you have to listen to this.
It’s nothing to do with us, sorry.

Sorry for having to apologise.
Sorry we’ve got to listen to this.
Sorry for being sorry.
We apologise. We really do. Soz.

Stories on Whall’s: King Arthur’s Hall, Tintagel, Cornwall.

King Arthur’s Great Hall was built in the 1930s by a custard millionaire whose company is thought to have invented the confection “hundreds and thousands”. The Halls of Chivalry are built from 53 different types of stone and are big enough to hold 1000 people. Whall designed 72 stained glass windows which tell the story of King Arthur and show the Coats of Arms and weapons of the knights involved. (List of works by Veronica Whall)

Stories on Whalls: St. Marys Church, Bleasby, Nottinghamshire

St Mary’s Church, Bleasby. Nottinghamshire 1910,  known as the “Magnificat” window and the easternmost window in the south wall of the nave, this window is a memorial to Henry Lewis Williams, who was the vicar at St Mary’s for twenty-two years, from 1888 to 1910. It has three lights with St Mary with the child Jesus in the central light. The two side lights feature angels playing musical instruments. The principal inscription on the window is the opening words of the Magnificat: “My soul doth magnify The Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour”. In the bottom right hand corner an inscription reads: “To the Glory of God, and in loving memory of Henry, Lewis Williams: for twenty-two years Vicar of this parish 1888–1910”. (List of works by Christopher Whall)

There is something mournful about seeing a solitary maypole in a field outside a church. Despite the cheerful “Welcome to Glebe Field” sign on the gate which leads to it,  the solitary maypole spoke of pleasures long since past whilst it resolutely stood upright in a small bit of pasture which seemed not to mean much to anyone.

They’re called orphan spaces in some parts of the world: not large enough to be anything particular and usually un-noticed and unloved, even though they may be used for a variety of purposes like walking the dog (although not here), fireworks, bonfires and camping (although also not here).

The Nottingham arts production company, Excavate, for example, work on how to create interventions in spaces which draw attention to the histories and identity of orphan places, amongst others. They use the atmospheres and challenges of spaces to interrogate their value and potential future use; and find ways to create spaces in those places where people feel able to sit and talk and share ideas and stories.

Whilst St. Mary’s Church hasn’t orphaned its Whall windows,  the maypole in the field next door is looking a bit unloved. Perhaps one day the church will be able to extend the hand of friendship to the field and bring the orphan space, complete with maypole, back into the fold.