‘Sunday Sunday’ is the (only slightly) fictionalised memoir of my time in England’s most shambolic, rag-tag, and sometimes brilliant amateur football team. All names have been changed, though any likeness to real people is entirely the point…
In the corner of my eye I saw Robert Johnson standing on the curb. Cigarette drooping from a sneering mouth, he shook his head at the dumb white boy before him struggling along the street. Around me the pubs had spewed out those destined to spew the contents of their evening in one way or another, but off licences were still open and cashing in on the early morning bright ideas to keep drinking.
I lurched wearily onwards, my arms yanked towards the earth as if attached to battle-ship anchors, a black bag full clothes and shoes, and a guitar case clasped in my hands. With every step I could feel the cheap bin-liner plastic of the bag slowly stretching and preparing to give way. For the first time in weeks I managed a short smile, and asked the street to offer me up a porch on which a dead pet dog could be placed, his imaginary body laced with the buckshot of a neighbours rifle. Of course, like all grand cosmic jokes, there was no crossroads; a T-junction beckoned and invited me sideways. There was no deal to be made. Robert Johnson sauntered off, hat tilted on his head, the scene too pitiful and clichéd to demand his full attention – he, after all, had a poisoning to attend.
Somewhere in the warren of council flats before me, the couch of an old friend awaited my arrival. Pigeons huddled together on roofs ignoring my passing as they tried to catch the heat escaping through the concrete and tiles. Dealers puffed their chests out in the alcoves beneath blocks of flats, their heads nodding upwards for my custom. Blanking them, I walked on with the sound of teeth kissing echoing after through the chill air. When amid the endless identikit housing I remembered my friends flat name and number, I passed on the option of riding the piss-soaked lift and slowly ascended the stairwell. Approaching the 5th floor, the sagging bin-liner finally gave out and my belongings tumbled silently down the stairs. On the icy deadness of the stairs I sat and thought of Robert Johnson. I felt the poison finally saturate his system, his eyes roll back inside his skull, and the toxic vengeance of a jealous husband ring in his ears. Behind me my friend dragged me limply to my feet.
Three months later I resurfaced for air. I sat on a crumbling leather sofa in my new local – The Florist Arms in Bethnal Green. Beside me was my new girlfriend, Cate. Opposite me lounged one of my oldest friends, the ludicrously monikered Bones, and another of his identikit girlfriends. A seemingly endless conveyor belt of elfin indie girls with sad doe eyes and a predilection for Belle and Sebastian had brought us Caroline. She was a complete doppelganger for his previous partner, Mary, who in turn was a replicant of Angie, who was an exact facsimile of Jo, who was a genetic match with Sophie. Over the next three hours I used all four names while speaking to her. Bones desperately mouthed her name to me every time I headed to buy a drink, and ended up writing it on a bar mat and flashing it behind her head.
Bones was once the singer in my now defunct band. We had stumbled around the London scene for 8 years – a swirling mass of drugs, booze, and in-fighting, that had come to a shuddering halt after being banned from several venues for the destruction of equipment. Equipment that, I hasten to add, wasn’t ours. Swarthy, smart and annoyingly charming, he was even more hopeless than me at relationships. There was no point in continuing to explain that he repeated the same pattern with basically the same woman, and that they were all connected like some oddly sexual Escher drawing. He actively seemed to enjoy playing the part of doomed lover in the play of his own making, and was content to do so ad infinitum.
Pint in hand and unlit roll-up in his mouth, Bones asked how I felt about everything that had happened in the twelve weeks since I had taken the decision to leave my girlfriend of twelve years, Jenny. Instinctively I compared it to being involved in a pile-up of cars on a motorway: staggering slowly away from the wreckage, confused and concussed as a gradual awareness that the carnage was all my fault took hold.
I told Jenny of my decision just a few weeks away from Christmas, and a mere six months before we were set to be married. It had taken falling in love with Cate – a colleague – to make me realise that I’d never been in love before. Effectively I would have been marrying someone who felt like my sister. With Jenny I had been frozen in time as a teenager, her taking over the domestic duties, the cooking and cleaning from my mother. We had grown up together from the age of sixteen, had known no one else and had become very different people. A year after our split she outed herself as a lesbian. This explained a great deal and caused me to imagine my instincts’ pointing to their ears in a ‘why don’t you fucking listen to us’ fashion, a look of disgust on their face. After a casual drink as friends, Cate and I has stood just by the Thames wall, the lights of my home town in the background, and instinctively embraced. Immediately the once solid foundation of my relationship with Jenny was revealed to be little more than a game of Giant Jenga played by horribly drunken primates. It was incredible to me now that I had honestly believed that the profound love I heard sung of in music, and saw in films was simply artistic licence. Now, three months on, as the sunlight rippled through the stained glass window of the Florist and played upon Cate’s hair, those albums and movies had taken on a different, deeper meaning. The Stone Roses’ She Bangs the Drums was no longer a paean to Sheila E’s snare skills, now Cate “filled my guts and eased my head”. Now I knew exactly what Lennon meant when he scrawled the infamous lines of Norwegian Wood –“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.” And I was truly had. Beyond the layers and folds of my lusty adoration for her, I felt truly happy for the first time in my adult life. She was all consuming.
However, the list of my problems had felt endless. Guilt over my actions had consumed me. Jenny was understandably hurt and bitter and would leave and send me hate-filled phone messages and emails for the next six months. Countless ‘friends’ had weighed up the pros and cons of both parties involved and had decided that the drifting, overgrown man-child had to go. Jenny had transferred our savings from our joint account into her solo account and the wedding deposit had not been returned. More problematically, I had found myself homeless having fallen out with my parents over the situation; my father and I had almost come to blows. This is worse than it sounds when your father resembles a South East London Tony Soprano. So trawling the streets of London with my guitar and a bin liner of clothes was my fortnightly routine, my few remaining friends having taken pity on me and opened their homes to my sorry self. To top it all, I faced the threat of redundancy at work and was barely earning enough to keep my head above water. Cate had also left her relationship (and a mortgage) only to find herself sleeping in her car for two weeks in the middle of winter. Twice she was almost arrested by passing police, having been mistake from a vehicle-stealing hobo. She had had to search beneath the duvet and chairs, her hands like ice and hair matted across her forehead, for her car registration details and ID. We had therefore taken the hasty decision to move in together having barely dated, in an area in which we knew no one and knew nothing of.
“Have you heard from Tranchett?”
Bones knew the answer before I shook my head because of the landslide collapse of the expression of contentment on my face. It was almost a year since we had spoken, the festering root of which had been my split from Jenny. Tranche had been dating her sister Lisa for eight years and had spectacularly dynamited his own romance. Naturally, it involved his decision to attend a West Ham away day to Goodison park after dismissing his girlfriend’s claims that she felt unwell. She was rushed to hospital with a ruptured appendix as he cheered on the claret and blue. Faced with losing a beautiful girl and the home they shared, he had been obliged to take sides with regard to my situation. My abject failure to trust him and be honest about my feelings for Cate, and his reporting back of intelligence from the other side of the trenches had seen our relationship lurch from confusion to anger, then from hostility to silence. A classic case, perhaps, of young men not quite old enough to know better, stuffed to the brim with toxic pride and a crumbling sense of self to protect.
“I haven’t even got his number anymore.”
“Maybe he’ll reach out. You two have got way too much history.”
“Don’t think so. It’d be too awkward. I wouldn’t know what to say.”
As I set there pondering how awful it felt to not to hear the dulcet tones of that cockney Brillo pad of a voice, Cate and the replicant sat their laughing with each other.
“You’d think he was discussing a former girlfriend wouldn’t you?”
“They’ll always have Paris…”
Bones shrugged as they revelled in their mirth and my misery. Matters became ever more ‘hilarious’ when he suggested it’d be good for me to meet new people.
“Jesus, Bones, you’re really giving the Chuckle Brothers some prime material here.”
“Seriously though, you need to get out there. Re-engage.”
“I’ve had enough engagements, thanks.”
“You know what i mean. You should join something. Another band, or…..how about that!”
His hand stretched out like E.T. up through the soporific haze of the pub to a sign written above the bar.
Players wanted for the Florist Arms football team. Team selection at Weavers Fields – 07/06/05 7.00pm.
“I don’t think so.”
“Why the fuck not?! Give me one good reason.”
Well, I thought, how about deep-rooted childhood trauma that had led to a lifetime of insecurity and the ever-present whisperings of sporting demons in my ears? Will that bloody well do? Instead I offered Bones an oh so manly face of nonchalant, casual disregard to the idea. As I sat there not so much nursing my pint, as the pint nursing me, a crack squadron of wretched thoughts were busy dive-bombing me. I had been transported back to being fifteen years old, my junior playing career having been prematurely ended by Osgood Schlatters disease taking up residence in my knees. From eight years old onwards I had been a promising footballer. Brave in the tackle, a graceful distributor of the ball, with an ability to read the game far beyond my years, I had moved through a succession of high-quality young sides that swept all before them. The last of which was the pink and blue of Dulwich Hamlet juniors. We watched on at training as Ian Wright visited old teammates who career-wise he had long surpassed. We watched in shock as small bands of hardcore locals turned up to see the future of the club on display. We watched opposition jaws drop when they came to play us at our 4,000 capacity stadium – the notion of there being seats was frankly almost too much for them. At under-15 level, in which I was first team regular, we won the first division, the league cup, and a London wide cup.
The team was chock full of players who seemed destined for great things. Michael Myson was a 6ft 3 colossus at a freakishly young age and bestrode the pitch like a Walworth born Yaya Toure. Our manager Ray was forever stopping scouts distracting him before games: Charlton would eventually add him to their youth books, but he would disappear without trace. Raymond Burke was infamous across several towns as being one of the hardest kids on North Peckham estate. On the pitch we called him the Black Baresi – he was a prodigious talent and from centre-back was known to travel the length of the pitch with the ball past the helpless collective onslaught of opposing teams. Having once made the mistake of going to, and then getting lost in the concrete warren of North Peckham Estate, mentioning that I was a friend of Raymond was the only reason a group of older lads hadn’t stabbed and mugged both me and my equally petrified friend. Raymond vanished too – though a younger friend of his who also lived on the estate called Rio, whom he was always telling us would turn pro, did not.
Looking back, all across the pitch there were lads who should have at least had a shot at becoming semi-pro. Yet not one of them made it: for all their raw, vital talent they strayed from the path that led to the hallowed turf of the teams they loved. It was all down, I suspect, to the usual, text book array of factors that blighted the lives of working class boys from towns like us. It seemed as if half of our team had no father at home, and mothers’ who were trying to raise them along side a small army of siblings. Sandwiched between schools that had more in common with war zones, and economic and social impoverishment, higher education and the careers that sprang from it were always the least likely of possibilities. When you gazed up at the adults around you, the future seemed to be years of endless unskilled labor, the odd detour into low-level criminality, and often conceiving a child while you were a basically still a kid yourself. The only male role models to guide them in their lives were slightly older, already jobless and hopeless boys – the sort that regularly tried to kick the living shit out of me and my friends. Under an older lads sway, you could easily be pulled into things beyond the football pitch; things far darker than chatting up unavailable, disinterested girls, and playing air guitar to Come As You Are. My teams mates and I had luckily managed to find an outlet through Sunday league football. While the game itself added some discipline and a point to our weeks, for some the manager became their surrogate father. With the ‘real’ dad working or AWOL, Ray our manager would pick us all up from various parts of Bermondsey, Walworth, Peckham, and the Borough and drive us to training each week. Six or seven of kids swayed together in the seat-less back of his work van, all squabbling over who got to sit on the wheel arches or the tool box. Ray would dole out advice about our school issues, problems with other kids on our estates, and the limitations of the 4-4-2 formation. On Sundays Ray would bring his own kids or very patient wife along to help shepherd the cussing, laughing, arguing, over-excited bunch of boys into the changing rooms and out onto the pitch. It’s only as adult that you appreciate the time a person like that sacrifices to bring a little happiness to the days of others.
But, as the team got older, it was somewhat inevitable that the temptations of our environment became too strong for some of the boys. Drugs, drink and casual violence were the cornerstones of half the kids I knew by the time I hit sixteen – the year at which so promising players seem to go off the proverbial rails. Though sometimes perhaps the stars simply did not align. A scout watches a player who has a rare poor game and wonders what the fuss is all about. And, before British football ‘re-invented’ (see: ruined) itself in 1992, the onus was on you to chase and harass the club into seeing you, as if that alone were the sole test of aptitude and devotion. A lot of kids struggled to find the bus fare to training, let alone travel out of the city to get themselves noticed (accept Mike Power who used a hacksaw to clean out the money from every old-style parking meter he could his hands on – the kid was constantly loaded). Now, given the rapacious, beyond competitive nature of modern football, you have clubs signing 6-year old boys they quickly fete as future gods of the game. Fawned over by agents, scouts and execs alike, they barely have to lift a finger, let alone clean some hoary old pros boots with a toothbrush for two or three years before they even step foot on a first team pitch. My dreams of scrubbing Tony Cascarino’s Pumas were never to be.
Where I was concerned, I was lucky that for most of my junior years my father took me to games on a Sunday. The routine of Millwall every other Saturday and Sunday league every week was the only thing that sustained and nourished me. He ferried me to the furthest outskirts of London, and watched on as torrents of rain pissed down upon him, or ice and snow covered the ground. The dynamic between father and son at that tender age is always a tricky one, however, and his presence was both a blessing and a curse. In many ways I was raised to fear failure, and dad could not bare to see me fall at any hurdle. While I was always thankful for his support, he would seize upon any flaw in my performance and comment upon it from the side of the pitch. To ‘stop me getting a big head’ he would only ever say I played OK. For most of the time this was fine, as I was a main stay of an exceptional young team, and the criticism was minimal. Things changed when I turned fifteen and I began to wake up in pain every week, my knees almost over night having been replaced by those of an arthritic old age pensioner. I was not properly diagnosed at the time (‘growing pains’ covered a litany of unknown conditions it seemed) but the disease I know I now developed quickly robbed me of every bit of grace, agility and coordination I once had. My legs could no longer follow the instructions of my brain, and that season I lost my place in the first eleven. Playing through pain when I did get a game, my sudden inability to control a ball properly, directionless running and mistiming of tackles led to his criticism becoming ever harsher. The swearing under his breath, the all too visible sense of exasperation and constant negative comments hid a deeper sense of embarrassment over me. It all further contributed to my decline as a young player, and he stopped coming half way through the season in apparent protest at my lack of playing time. The truth was he could not bare watch on any more as I sat on the sidelines or as I did my finest Bambi-on-ice impression on the field, my confidence shot to pieces. By the end of the season both the pain in my knees and the overwhelming sense of humiliation proved to0 much and I quit football altogether. Bar a rare 5-aside kick-about with my friends in the park, it would be 13 years before I could even bring myself to consider lacing another pair of football boots.
It took until I was 25 for my knees to right themselves and feel like my old self once more, but I was mentally scarred by that final year of playing; I remained fixed in my mind as the gangling, graceless wreck I became at fifteen. Though my passion for the game remained undimmed, humiliating myself against grown men was not something I was prepared to put myself through.
And it was not something, as I sat there in the Florist Arms pub, with my friend Bones trying to cajole me into returning to play, that was easy to explain to anyone, least of all to my new girlfriend. Though to make matters worse, Cate of course started to sense something deeper was awry and began to question my increasingly defensive protests.
“What is up with you? You moan about not knowing anyone around here, and you spend half your time watching, talking or thinking about the bloody game, you might as well play it. What have you got to lose?”
Nothing, bar the last tattered shreds of my dignity, I thought. I explained that I probably wouldn’t even make the team. That it would be a waste of time. That I didn’t have the time. And, good God, I was unfit. Yet her look of derision managed to prick some remnant of misguided masculine pride inside me. For a split second a memory of the joy I used to feel when playing jumped forth. Bones’ pleading puppy dog face was the final straw and I uttered some conciliatory words about perhaps going along to see how it was. The sign for the trial, written in chalk, seemed to glow a ghostly white. As the conversation ebbed away from football I sat there distracted, barely able to take my eyes off it, at once absolutely terrified, yet strangely exhilarated.
A week later I made my way to Weavers Fields, a dreaded first-day-of-school feeling running through me as I turned into Three Colts Lane. Sporting an England replica kit (red shirt, blue shorts), and carrying a bag containing black-as-coal Adidas boots and a gleaming pair of shin pads, it felt more like a stroll to the gallows. While rationally I knew that I was no longer a physically tormented 15 year old, it was how I still felt. They’re not called formative years for nothing. Though I’d long understood and forgiven him for his disappointment in me, it was all too easy to picture my dad waiting to shake his head on the sidelines. I hadn’t even had the guts to tell him I was trying out, at nearly 29, for a team, through fear at what he’d say.
Somewhat pathetically, I almost turned back three times, but like a salmon blindly swimming up-stream something instinctively drove me on towards the lush summer greenery of Weaver’s Fields. It had been a hot day, and the ground was still exuding that special, balmy city heat. Yet it was sheer nerves causing me to sweat as I passed through the rusting gates of the park. Before me three games were already going on, a mass of skins versus shirts, colours versus bibs, a cacophony of shouting, whistles, swearing and the dull thud of leather balls reverberating off the walls of nearby flats. The sweat on my forehead turned cold as worked my way towards a large group of men tentatively waiting for a game to begin. It was somewhat of relief to find that it not just me and a collection of baby-faced eighteen year olds, but that the majority of people looked old enough to know better too. What’s more, to my even greater relief, almost no one resembled anything like the genetically-modified slabs of athletic perfection I was certain I’d be facing. In that awkward male fashion, grown men who didn’t know each other stood around casting furtive glances, sizing each other up, throwing in the occasional nod of semi-recognition and a half-mouthed ‘alright’. Someone occasionally attempted some keepy-ups, the effort of which was enough to cause a ciggy to be sparked and a deluge of corresponding coughing.
As I sat on the ground, a lump in my throat as I endeavoured to tie my boots properly, a slight shadow stood came over me.
“Looks like you haven’t used them in a while. Box fresh, them.”
A smiling round faced man of a similar age looked down at me, my mind still trying to pinpoint his slight west-country tones. He looked more like a rugby prop than a footballer, but one who was more likely to give you a hug than pull you face down to the grass in a scrum and try to stamp on you.
“First time I’ve worn them. I haven’t kicked a ball in years. Ground’s like a rock – might as well be ice skates.”
“Yeah, I ain’t played for a fair old time neither, to be fair. Lucky I’m a natural athlete.”
He patted his slight beer belly in a contented fashion.
“Like riding a bike, innit? Christ, I just had a stretch and felt like I wanted to lie down for a while. For about a week, in fact. Ain’t kicked a ball yet..”
He introduced himself as Marcus, and pointed to where I needed to go to register my name and phone number. I recognised the manager of the Florist pub, Will, replete in his hipster Pringle jumper, but not the man next to him.
“Who’s that bloke?”
“That there is Pistol Pete.”
“Why’s he called that?”
“Well from what I’ve heard down the pub, he’s a little bit naughty. Like all you dodgy cockneys.”
“Oi, cheeky sod. I’m from south east London. No cockneys there. Let’s just hope it’s a nickname.”
“See that chubby lad – the one with the face like a bulldog chewing pissy stinging nettles – that’s Pete’s son, Tommy. Every time I see him he’s having a row with someone. Proper handbags at dawn merchant.”
“So Pistol Pete’s here to watch him?”
“Pistol Pete is supposed to be the team’s manager…”
On that revelation, I headed towards Will and his gun slinging friend. Pete was festooned in full geezer-regalia: Reebok classics, pastel polo shirt tucked into stone wash jeans, topped off with a side parting stolen from 1937. His brow was positioned in a permanently furrowed ‘v’ shape, which pointed down towards a bum chin so huge it resembled a meteorite formed crater. I said hello to Will and asked Pete how it was going. He responded with what can only be described as a series of inaudible grunts, and a mumbling so peculiar he made Dustin Hoffman sound like a Rada-trained luvvy. Will was as mystified as me and felt obliged to interject; he removed the roll-up from his mouth and pulled the collar of his Pringle away from his neck as he passed me a form to sign.
“I didn’t know you played football, J.”
“Nor did I. Thought I’d give it a go.”
By 7.15, thirty lads stood around waiting to be put into teams. Marcus noted that a 2-in-1 chance of being picked wasn’t too bad. The odds still felt stacked against me. Scanning the vista of brightly coloured, highly flammable clothing around me, it looked more like an audition for The Dirty Dozen. Middle class boys with soft grins and retro Golas stood next to flash lads from local estates who had attended the trial dressed as billboards for major sportswear manufacturers. Will and Pete wandered over and began to group everybody into the positions they reckoned they played. This quickly descended into farce when twenty two of those in attendance said they were strikers, followed by six midfielders, only two defenders, and not a single goalkeeper. Will checked his watch and decided that with only an hour of proper daylight left we’d play 15-a-side on a pitch two thirds the size of a normal one, on which the goals were formed by unevenly placed sports bags. Though I felt a tiny bit more at ease when Marcus and I were picked on the same side, he could see I had turned the exact shade of Dulux’s Forest Fern Green.
“Hey, we’ll ace this. Pint after?”
All I could manage was a nod, a grimace and a thumbs up before, from somewhere behind us, Pistol Pete blew a whistle and the game kicked off. For the first two minutes I didn’t touch the ball. Hovering in centre midfield, I attempted to run off the jelly-like substance that my legs had become. There were far too many people and not enough space; amid the dust belching up through the dry grass all you could make out at points was the frantic whirling of over-extended arms and legs. Slapping myself in the face to try and register some kind of calm and focus, the ball finally presented itself. It span between two players on the opposite team, just inside their half. One sprinted to retrieve it, knowing that despite our team having fifteen players, we’d committed almost everyone forward, leaving an easy stroll towards our goal. In that moment it was as if I could feel a gear shift inside me, a strange, elemental surge of intent. A desperate need to take the ball at all costs took hold. Adrenaline flooding through me, I hared towards the rolling ball and launched myself into a one footed,diving tackle, just as their striker was about to bring it under control. I hit the ball, hit him, and, through a swirl of dust and the noise of his protests at the force of my tackle, somehow bounced straight up with the ball at my feet. Slipping past the next bibbed player with the drop of a shoulder and a burst of acceleration, I dinked a perfectly weighted ball through to one of our seven attackers. Had he not had all the speed and control of a one-legged sloth, he’d have a been through on goal. Instead, we all watched on as the ball attempted to leave the earth’s atmosphere via the next pitch over. It didn’t matter – I felt elated. My fists were clenched, my breath heavy and all I wanted was the ball to come back towards me, my body perfectly in synch with the messages and commands beaming down from my head. From then on I began to have a big impact on the game, and brought a sense of rhythm and order to the play of our team. In an almost outer-body experience, I began to bark out positional directions to my team mates, initially looking around to see who’d uttered those words. The pattern of winning the ball and driving it forwards continued, hitting searching diagonal balls or little lay-offs as I went. After thirty minutes I’d set up two goals, had had three shots on target myself, and was frankly beginning to blow out of my derriere. Though just watching the motion of the ball as it travelled across the pitch was a thing of Michaelangelo-sculptured beauty. Marcus was faring pretty well himself. He might not have looked like a player, but he certainly moved the ball around the pitch like one. He reduced the game to its simplest form – won the ball, cleared or distributed it, and also managed to mark one player the ‘other’ me had called a tosser a little too loudly completely out of the game. He was everything that was good about Sunday league football.
After fifty minutes the pitch resembled a rehearsal for a George A. Romero zombie flick. Arms outstretched before us, ravaged grey faces, and all motion reduced to a living-dead lope, we were out on our feet. The ball went out of play so often it was easy to assume whoever kicked it was desperate for a breather before they had a minor coronary. As time ticked away, a big lad with a pony tail and an untamed beard sent in a looping cross which cannoned off the head of a player who’d been looking the other way, he ball zipping across to the other side of the park. The orchestral wheezing of thirty unfit men filled the air, their hands on knees and all desperate to hear the shrieking joy of the final whistle. A group of Asian guys in their early twenties, who had been involved in another match, began to mess around with our ball. The nearest players in our game to them raised their hands to signal for them to return the ball; speaking was beyond anyone. Anyone, that is, accept Pistol Pete. Having seemingly been reduced to a state of somnambulism from the second after he’d whistled for the game to start, out of nowhere he began to launch a tirade of guttural expletives towards those who’d kidnapped our ball. While they were obviously behaving like childish idiots, they were clearly only messing around. But ignoring Pete’s sustained wailing was a huge mistake and sent him apoplectic; he began to swagger purposefully towards them. With his summer jacket pushed back like he was re-enacting a scene from 3:10 to Yuma, he produced an unbelievably large carving knife from the back of the waistband of his jeans. Marcus and I looked on with our mouths welded to the floor. Pete pointed the knife towards their heads, then their balls, before making some pantomime style throat-slashing gestures. The Asian lads punted him the ball and ran like their lives depended on it, which, thinking back, it may well have done. Will was shaking his head as he peered through the fingers clasped over his face. Marcus began to laugh, more out shock than anything else.
“Tell you what, J, you don’t get games like this in Cornwall.”
“You don’t get games like this in prison. What I want to know is how the hell that knife hasn’t been cutting his arse to pieces all evening. It just kept coming when he pulled it out. Longer and longer…”
Marcus measure out eleven inches with his hands and winced.
“Maybe he’s a magician. Got rabbits down there as well. I reckon we might need a new manager…”
“I’d be up for Charlie Manson doing the team-talk at this point.”
Pistol Pete wandered back, and though he was still murmuring racist death threats under his breath, his calm demeanour suggested a man who’d just been to collect the morning papers. With Will now trying to keep a slight distance from Pete – roughly the arc of an arm and a carving knife – they made a quick list of the players they wanted for the team and declared they would call them over one by one. To my utter shock, they called me over second, Pete passively aggressively patting my posterior as Will asked me to sign up and gave me details about the first official training session that would take place the following week. Though I wanted to shout ‘yes!’ and run around the pitch like I’d just smashed a bicycle kick into the roof of the net from a Johann Neesken’s cross sent straight from 1974, I responded with all the cool enthusiasm of a man who’d found 5p down the back of a sofa. Marcus was called straight after me, much to the disgruntlement of the of Pete’s moronic offspring, Tommy. Shaking Will’s hand, Marcus sauntered over towards me, a big dopey grin on his face and his bright white Adidas shell-toes shining in the dusk.
“Look at that, first day of the team and they’re already made two dodgy signings.”
He waggled his finger back and forth between us.
“Every bit of me is aching. I won’t be able to move tomorrow. I’m gasping, too.”
“Only one thing for it then. Pub?”
I nodded in fierce agreement.
“Shall we ask Stabby Pete if he wants to come?”
“You know, I reckon he’s a little busy. Knife sharpening, gun cleaning, general maiming. That sort of thing.”
Two grown men walked into Weaver’s Fields. Two fifteen year old boys walked out. Smiling.