The Beautiful Game

When I was a very young boy all I ever wanted to do was to play football. Well, not play football exactly as that traditionally requires one to be part of a team and I wasn’t. Instead I was something of a loner. Don’t get me wrong I did have a few friends but they were not as keen as me at kicking a ball about and even if they had been I suspect that their definition of football would have been closer to the game that appeared on the telly every Saturday night.

I played what was known as – well at least known by me as – keepy uppy. This involved me in not letting the ball hit the ground whilst counting the number of kicks or headers that I needed to do to achieve this. As a fair amount of skill seemed to be involved I could easily convince myself that I was something of a good footballer. However my progress in the sport at school told a different story. I was rubbish. As most team sports begin by the players having to be picked out to play in the first place this lack of skill proved to be problematic. I was forever left to either being the last to be picked or, worse still, left lingering on the substitute’s bench. It would appear that others were all too aware of my limitations.

My keepy uppy skills were however legendary, both to myself and to my neighbours. You see to bring some form of variation to my solo football playing I needed the use of a wall and I was fortunate that one was to hand; that of our neighbours’ gable end in the block of flats where my family stayed. The neighbour stayed in a lower ground flat in the block of six. The wall was used to supplement my game by allowing me the opportunity to imagine it as a member of my own team who was also keeping the ball aloft. There were only two rules: not to let the ball touch the ground and to count each stroke that it took to keep it from doing so. As I was my own referee I took a certain amount of pride in not cheating. I could have lied to myself about my previous record but I never did; it would have defeated the purpose you see.

Hour after hour I would kick or head the ball against the wall with mild concussion as my only companion. The one thought that I had was to try to beat whatever my previous score had been. Strangely, it never once dawned on me that I could possibly have been driving my neighbours off their heads with the constant noise of the ball hitting against their outside wall. Clearly they had been experiencing every thud of the ball though as evidenced by the occasional appeal that I received from the man of the house to stop or as he put it, “Give it a bloody rest son!”

Sometimes these flare-ups would result in me having to retreat to the fields across from the flats where proper football took place almost every night of the week. The only problem with that was that I would then be mistakenly identified as a good player and roped into a game consisting of thousands of other kids (well hundreds at least). Even against such peer pressure I would still manage to wriggle out of taking part by making an excuse that I had to do homework or that my Dad needed me for some task or other. Soon then I would return to my old haunt and to my eternal racket-making against the neighbours’ wall.

Fast forward to when I was in my mid-teens and I had grown out of solo football by virtue of my developing interest in the opposite sex. Too soon, I had also discovered the need to work for a living, the need to spend money on nights out with friends and the overarching tiredness of daily life. Football – in whatever format it came – was firmly placed into a box in my mind labelled: Not until I have kids of my own (hopefully won’t happen).

Inevitably one day that box was opened and its contents now included getting married, having two kids of my own and getting mortgaged to the hilt. There was also a brief return to playing football with the children in the park but that fizzled out due to both their lack of interest and my lack of stamina. After that I never missed the beautiful game.

As I write this my head is pounding and feels like it is about to explode. My peripheral vision is full of jagged edged shapes that seem to collide in mid air cutting up all of the objects that I can see in our front room. These visions are no longer scary. I accept them as part of my migraine problems. It is a bit like getting high without having to take any illegal substances. A long time ago I decided that the best thing to do was to try to enjoy it. The first half hour is enjoyable enough but the following six hours strangely lose their allure with each passing minute.

The only problem is that something is coming between me and my migrainous enjoyment, my neighbours’ kids; two otherwise delightful teenage girls that share a passion for basketball. They are performing the game right now on their own driveway which is just at the side of our house. They are just having fun I know but the constant bang, bang, bang; thud is driving me so mad that I want to strangle the little darlings. It is therefore as fortunate for them as it is for me that I must take my pills and retire to a cool and darkened area to recover my composure and where, when able, I shall plot my revenge!



prose © copyright Brian Shirra 2011


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