Thursday, 16 August 2007

A drubbing down the park

First published in The Grecian, 14 August 2007, Exeter -v- Crawley Town

Though you can grow into it, football is often something you either get or don’t. My partner, like a significant majority of her fellow Americans, is basically in the ‘don’t get’ camp. She swears that, before we married, I hardly ever mentioned the Beautiful Game.

Anyway, as soon as we settled down, disguising my secret passion became rather more difficult. There were soon three people in this relationship. No, not Camilla or the patter of tiny feet. I’m talking about me, Carla and Sky Sports News – the only thing I’ve ever really thanked Rupert Murdoch for.

Walking outside the front door is a football addiction hazard, too. That’s because we live only a short hop away from Heavitree Pleasure Ground – where I have been actively encouraged to keep my ageing bones in shape.

Carla once dismissed footie with the usual “22 men just thumping a ball around” routine. The ball, undeniably, is indispensable. But the number of people involved in a game, their age and gender, are a bit more flexible. Especially in the local park.

Now being a true football fanatic, I’ve never really been able to walk past six kids belting a tennis ball into a goal-shaped pile of coats without getting at least mildly absorbed.

Thankfully I’ve not quite got to being one of those sad gits who starts shouting coaching advice from the ‘touchline’, while absent-mindedly kicking stray dogs out of their line of vision.

Nor do I charge into the junior fray, demanding a place in the forward line in the vain hope that at least I might finally be able to get a hat-trick against a bunch of eleven-year-olds. I’ve been tempted, but they’d rightly call their social workers on a mobile and get me sent off.

No, I just wander along the path, listening intently to Carla (of course)… and wondering whether those lads in the muddy jumpers might be better off trying a diamond formation to wrestle control of midfield from the ones in the, um, the other muddy jumpers.

If I’m really lucky, some hapless hoof-footer (of the kind I used to be at school) will fork the ball off the ‘pitch’ altogether, straight in my direction.

This is not an opportunity to be missed. The way to handle it is to stay cool, trap the ball with your instep, raise a suave eyebrow in the direction of the nearest goalkeeper, and nonchalantly punt the ball eight feet to his left. Like you intended.

“So you agree that’s what we’ll do for our holiday, then?” Carla asks, interrupting the seamless tactical machinations of my finely-honed footballing brain.

“Yes, that sounds fine”, I venture confidently. “Great idea!” Carla looks unconvinced. “You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said, have you?”

I protest. I have heard quite a few of the many wise words she has been lobbing at me, I assure her. I’m just not sure which order they went in or what they meant.

But Carla’s usually right, so there’s more than a 50/50 chance that saying “yes” is the sensible thing to do.

This time I have apparently agreed to give up a relaxing week away so that we can rebuild our house out of organic straw while eating only brown rice, or something.

Whatever. At least I managed to see that lad with no jumper and a puce shirt head a beautiful goal into what would have been the top right-hand corner of the goal – if a pile of jackets had a top right-hand corner.

There’s always an up-side to everything. That’s what I like best about football.

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