SPORTS UNITED

7 Jul

SPORTS UNITED

school soccer photo: soccer SOCCERN.jpg
Most men will proudly tell you which football team they’d die for and which shirt they insist on wearing for matches. It’s as if having such icons as footballers in your life is almost a rite of passage into the world of real men.

And over the recent past football has moved from being a working class entertainment, via punch-ups and fisticuffs fuelled by lager to a for-huge-profits business and private boxes and Sky television. But all that has passed yours truly by because I’ve never liked the game much, and I’m about to explain why.

It all goes back (yes, you’ve guessed) to my school-days.

As a boy in primary school I was always a bit bigger than most of my peers. I was reasonably tall, reasonable podgy (they even nick-named me Podge as an adaptation of my surname, which I found misery-inducing) and just that little bit bigger than most of them. Maybe it was because the school year was from September – August and I was born in the first quarter, in December, and so a tad older than most. Or maybe because I had a caring mum who fed me well. Or could be I was genetically disposed to being the size I was.

And when I was ten the school had a football team that played against other teams of ten year-olds, with a football teacher who clearly didn’t want to be anything of the sort. He was no lithe and athletic young man with the sort of eager expression on his face that always terrifies me. No, he was the teacher of the class next door and all he really wanted to do was get home as soon as he could after the school day, maybe to a loving wife or maybe to the loneliness of an empty flat – I didn’t know his marital status.

Now let’s put these facts together. Big boy, school football team and teacher wanting an easy ride through the job he’d no doubt had imposed on him – all the rest of the teachers, with the exception of the headmaster, were female. I’m not going to enter the debate as to whether schoolboys should be guided through their boyhood playing football under the guidance of a female or not. As far as I’m concerned women are more likely to be understanding and sympathetic than some men, but that’s really got nothing to do with it.

Back to reality.

The football teacher was short of a goalkeeper and he must have looked at the scraggy, scruffy assortment of youth in front of him and picked out the biggest.

Me.

He asked me whether I wanted to be a goalkeeper and I can’t remember my response. Was it negative, me being basically honest, or positive, me not wanting to upset a teacher I didn’t know so well. But whatever my response, the conclusion was he felt the need to try me out.

By kicking balls at me.

Now younger readers may be unaware, but back in the brash fifties (this would have been circa 1953) footballs were exclusively made of leather. And when leather footballs have been used for some time, have been kicked around by generations of small boys, they lose their shiny polished surface and become scuffed. Then it’s only got to rain and they get heavy as they absorb what seems like gallons of water.

It must have been raining around the time I had my “trial” and Mr Martin (yes, that was his name) decided to kick an array of footballs at me to see how efficiently I stopped them.

I didn’t.

I ran away from them. I dodged to one side if one of those unexploded bombs threatened to come anywhere near me. And as, gripped by terror, I underwent this “trial” I must have decided, there and then, that of all human activities football would never be the one for me.

And things haven’t changed much.

The town I lived in gave its name to the other major winter sport, rugby, and I never got on with that either when I moved up to secondary school. But not because of the weight of the balls. No – I hated shivering in the cold (in defensive positions), lost in the mists that hung around the school grounds and unaware of what was going on at the other end of the field, where points were being scored and glory earned for everyone bar me.

I guess I’m simply not cut out for sports, though I did have a moment of triumph in the summer, with cricket.

I was made, by a cynical teacher who thought the entire world should revolve around sports of every kind, the captain of the have-nots in a game against the haves (when “have” represents any modicum of talent). And being a wise young fellow even then I put myself in as opening batsman. My reason was totally sensible: the opening batsman faces the bowlers at their fittest and most aggressive. I wouldn’t last an over! (For the benefit for non-cricketers, an over is six balls.)

My innings was a triumph. For some reason not a single bowler managed to hit my wickets and by a miracle of almost religious proportions, if the ball did collide with my bat the subsequent bounce was never caught. I was not-out at the end of the day! I had faced the best and survived! I was a hero.

Even today I rather like cricket. As something to watch rather than participate in. But I like it, even appreciate the misfortunes of players who inadvertently get themselves out. I didn’t.

© Peter Rogerson 07.07.15

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