We looked forward to lunch time, not for the hot canteen meals or the jam deserts but the football. We rushed the meal in order to get out onto the playground, the idea of playing on a full stomach didn’t matter to us then- we were ten years old and when you’re that young you have nothing to fear. The boys had the upper part of the school yard that sloped down towards the road, that is the ‘pitch’ was sloping down and we played across it. The ritual of picking the teams was a trial, we lined up some twenty of us against the wall. The two captains picked the team, the best players getting picked first; the numbers would whittle down until the worst players were left. The last four were picked almost reluctantly, they were that bad. I never did understand why they never seemed to improve, we kind of picked them out of sympathy and they took this daily humiliation without any great protest. They accepted that they were for want of a better word, crap.
Not only were they crap, they had to take abuse during the game- when they inevitably failed to stop a player going past, missed a simple pass, or when they did connect with the ball, kicked it all the way down the ‘pitch’ towards where the girls were skipping. At that time we were not aware of political correctness and the abuse to those boys was along these lines- you play like a girl. My grandma could have scored that goal and she’s half blind and stinks of wee. I don’t know why the second part of the abuse was added, what had the grandmother’s smell to do with football. I don’t know how those boys were affected in later life by this abuse and when I think about it now it was pretty bad. Maybe they were scarred for life because until you’ve suffered such abuse, you never know how it feels. Their confidence must have been shattered and yet they came every day, and every lunch time they were picked last.
The match was all consuming and the score would we ridiculous, something like 12-9 or sometimes 14-1. And when you scored a goal it was a great feeling, you played in the cold on hard concrete surfaces, if you fell, your knees bled; still the bleeding didn’t matter, the game absorbed you completely. You forgot everything; home life, bullying, fights, homework- the only thing that mattered was playing the game. Parents would complain that you wore out your new shoes in three weeks but that didn’t matter either, nothing mattered when you played the game- maybe the kids who were bad, played it for the same reasons, they too wanted to forget.
ps. An attempt at flash fiction.