(Religion)

As part of a series, Bi-Literal, we are inviting writers and creative types to submit their short stories, poems and prose with a football theme. Here’s the second one in the series by our very own Brett (contains strong language).

 

Saturday morning, 7:30 am. I’d forgotten the clocks started this early in the night. A fella, who I presume is the landlord, is sweeping up fag butts and glass from the entrance walkway to the themed pub opposite. I sense he is a little uneasy with my presence, as I stand on the corner we accidentally exchange awkward, occasional glances. The huge limestone arches of the train bridge provide me with much needed respite from the biting wind. I lose myself for a while imagining the lives of the two young people on the double-decker bus that has just pulled up at the lights. It’s surely getting on a bit, I think to myself. 7:33am.

I’m getting a lift to the ground with Mike. Having not seen him for over a year, and knowing he’s the type to update his car on an annual basis, my eyes begin darting around. Maybe he’s already pulled up and I haven’t noticed. There is nothing resembling a ‘Mike car’ around, so I relax. Mike, although in his thirties now, would never entertain driving round in anything other than the most garish of cars he could afford to attach a fin to. 7:35am.

The ontological anxiety a hangover embraces, mixed with the usual nerves, has already seen me visit the bathroom for four ‘pre-match poos’. I can feel another one on the way. I hadn’t intended to have a drink the night before my big comeback but Daniel, who is playing for Them today, had talked me round as we’d started reminiscing on previous encounters. One had turned to two and three. Before we knew it, the fridge door was empty and a whole pack of lights were bulging from the ashtray. 7:37am.

I could hear the flatulence from Mike’s exhaust long before he appeared. He hasn’t let me down. A brand new Skoda with some hideous body kit hanging from every available extremity. I’m not sure I’ve seen THAT colour before on anything. I climb in, glancing back, once more, at the landlord as I do. He looks up, he knows he’s won the game that neither of us knew we were playing, and I can see it in his face.

“Alreeet” says Mike with a pleasant smile, accentuated by his large front teeth.

“Not bad, you?” I reply, mirroring his open body language.

“Yeah.” he says, none of the team give that question a proper answer.

 

He’s now half turning to see if he can pull out in to the traffic. Not as if it ever mattered to him if there was a gap or not. Mike is a teacher. He lives with his Italian mother in a two bedroom house in the back end of the city. He has tickets on himself that’s for sure. Mike is a daft sod who most people like. Spend more than ten minutes in a car with him and the thinly veiled racism and sexism soon becomes his main currency. He’s a teacher, yes folks he’s educating your children. Good luck with that. He is also our goalie and by all accounts about the best in the league. Meadow Lanes, one of our biggest rivals, has made repeated attempts to persuade him to join them, but Mike was happy to stay with us. He said he liked the way we tried to play football and would always put emphasis on the ‘tried’. He is now part of the three-man management team running things. I’d been part of it for the last two seasons before I left, so knew exactly how difficult it was to keep everyone motivated. He began to fill me in on the season I’d just missed. I’d kept abreast of it for the most part, but although I wasn’t going to admit it to him, I didn’t really care.

We’d found a new striker called Ed, who was, according to Mike, as good as we’d ever had. I’d met him briefly at training in the week and instantly taken a liking to him. He did, I admit, look shit hot. We’d been playing Max in defence a lot, a player Mike hates with a passion largely due to the fact he’s probably one of the worst players in the whole world. I suspect, as I always have, this isn’t the only reason he doesn’t like Max. The big news however was how the previous season had ended in controversy with us surviving relegation on the last day by cheating. Mike explains how we’d been playing Haven the best team in the league by far, who’d already sewn up the title three weeks previously. We’d needed a draw to stay up. Freddie our Chairman who often filled in as our linesman, a regular arrangement in the league, had disallowed five legitimate goals of theirs claiming them to be offside!

“SHIT! He’s the fuckin’ church pastor!” I exclaim.

“Yeah, we’re still in the top division though.” Mike replies sheepishly.

 

The Bolsower City Churches League established God knows when. I’d joined on account of an old Uni friend George, a stealth Christian, who I’d had a couple of kick-abouts with on the green. He’d told a few of us that the team he played for needed a few new faces. He’d later in the pub casually let slip he played for a ‘church team’, which we all initially baulked at. He then went on to explain how most of the team weren’t church goers and though the league had a ‘three foreigner rule’, it was seriously abused by all the other teams, as well as his. We went along to a couple of training sessions and soon realised they weren’t that bad after all. I would later realise that the ones that weren’t that bad were the ones that weren’t actually the god botherers. The actual god botherers were ‘that bad’…and that was on a good day. I’d left at the end of last season through a combination of a new job and girlfriend. At least that’s what I’d told them.

We pull up to the clubhouse about 9:15. The teams had already been let into the tired red brick building by the caretaker, so the small scruffy car park is quiet. The far corner is still being used for fly tipping and the perimeter fence has given up it’s ongoing battle with gravity.  My stomach is doing cartwheels as we enter the home team dressing room and through the familiar stench of unwashed ‘bloke’ and cheap deodorant I am greeted by a wall of sarcastic cheers. I shove in next to Ed.

“The second coming”, I whisper and he laughs. I really hope he’s not one of them.

Even though I don’t regard myself as a superstitious sort, I always wear the same underwear, but this is arguably a chafing issue. I do like wearing white boots because in an odd way it makes me more aware of my physicality, more aware of my physical parameters, but they’re not necessary.  I do always wear a wristband, I can’t explain why, I just feel more comfortable with one than without. I wouldn’t tear apart the dressing room if I forgot it or anything, but then of course I’d never allow myself to forget it. My mental tick kicks in as I began to fasten my laces. I repeat the mantra “chip the keeper” to myself. This however has never had any bearing on my finishing in a game. It started when playing for my University team. Our right-mid, Simon, had commented on the frequency at training with which I chip the keeper, compared to during matches. I was playing a game, and clean through, he began shouting to ‘chip the keeper’. I did and scored; it was a beauty. From then on he would always mention the incident before a game. I have never attempted to chip the keeper since, but I still repeat the mantra.

We get to what we refer to as ‘the pitch’, an area of outstanding natural mud with occasional sods of turf, resting on a slope; entirely open to the elements. Most of the match day squad run on with the spare balls and start twatting them into the open goals from wherever they happen to be with wide ranging results. In no time at all two or three of them are cautiously picking their way through the stinging nettles in the laurel hedge at the bottom of the field. I prefer my own company. I get a ball, juggle with it, get a feel for the pitch, and then finally find someone to act as a wall, someone to bounce a few one touch passes off as I sprint here and there. I find Ed. I’m rusty so there’s a lot more here than there. I don’t like the other team to get a good look at what I can do, I’m well aware that being 6ft 3 comes with its pre-conceptions. More than anything I don’t join in the shoot on sight free for all because I didn’t like to ‘waste’ any good shots in the warm up. After the first few minutes of keepy-ups I always know if I’m going to be up for the game. I can tell I’m not.

We gather at the far side of the field which backs onto a heavily tree-lined bridleway and do the usual group stretches. They were the same as before and as Ben, the captain, goes through the team, and the way he wants us to approach the game, we are asked to do some ‘freestyle’ stretches of our own. Again, something familiar from previous seasons. Ben, as ever, articulates the pre-match pep talk with his usual assurances and I start to feel more relaxed. We break off and go straight into widths of the pitch, a bit like they do in the Premier League. No other team we face do this, which makes me feel a little bit smug, but at the same time a little bit of a twat. For a season or two we would also do ‘the huddle’ just before kick off. If you’ve ever wanted to know how best to conjure up the feeling that makes you wish the ground would swallow you up, then try it. At times in the past, when I’d had to deputise as captain, I would insist we all pick an animal and instead of breaking off from ‘the huddle’ with manly grunts, we had to cry out the sound we imagined the animal we had picked might make. If the other team were going to think we were knobheads, I wanted them to think we were real fucking knobheads. Knobheads worth being pissed off about.

We swap ends after the toss, so we’re playing uphill, and then the referee calls both sets of players to the centre circle. Cliff Rock, our left winger, steps forward and asks us to bow our heads for prayer. I’d completely forgotten about the pre-match prayer! It’s usually undertaken by the home-team captain. The vast majority of the team captains in the Bolsower Churches league share the same traits: they are obnoxious, self-aggrandising thugs and as a general rule also tend to be the son of the Pastor for the church they represent. We were the home-team and Ben was always averse to doing it so Cliff, who thrived in this situation, was more than happy to fill in.

Cliff Rock is a Christian cliché. He is always pretending he is happy to be alive. Where he lets himself down is that everybody knows that there is no way anyone could be that happy. If he’d just turn the dial down a notch or two, he might get away with it. He is an aspiring actor and perpetually considering a move to London. He is also the ‘front man’ in the church’s band for the young congregation. They have some terrible name like ‘Cliff’s Edges’ or something. Luckily, they don’t perform near one, the temptation may be too much. Cliff’s most notable characteristic, as far as I could see, was that when he finished singing one of those songs he would insist on waiting for silence before looking upwards from his keyboard and audibly whispering, “we love you Jesus” (the thought of it as we are gathered for the prayer forces me into an involuntary snigger). He has slept with every one of the four 16 year old girls in the band. Their pink-cheeked, competitive manoeuvrings on stage, designed to see who can impress him most, are excruciatingly palpable.

The prayer passes me by as it always does. I put my head down out of respect as ever, but I’m somewhere else. The sentiment that we enjoy the game in, the spirit of fair play, is worthy of an “amen”, but it was now lashing it down. They usually thank God for the weather when the sun is out, so by my reckoning this was all his fault. I fantasise for a second that I should look to the sky with a clenched fist and scream “you bastard”. I look across to Ed and he smiles as if he’s thinking the same thing.

Daniel, my housemate, isn’t lining up on the pitch for Them and so I gather he must be starting on their bench, which I’m pleased about because despite only being an okayish player, he has an annoying knack of scoring against us. If I’m honest it drives me nuts. Foresters are much better than they were when I last played them. Apart from a passage of play at the end of the first half, that I start, and a move from our half that I somehow manage to completely fail to apply the finishing to touch to, at the other, we are lucky to be drawing nil-nil at the break. Mark, their best player, probably one of the league’s best in all honesty, has grown into an imposing figure. When we last went toe-to-toe in midfield I came out on top, in part down to the fact I was twice his size. This is no longer the case. He is a really gifted footballer and is head and shoulders above us all. Ben’s half-time talk consists almost entirely of him insisting me and Bob get to grips with Mark. Bob is also a very good player, he’s skillful and as a result gets a good kicking, but he never complains, he just keeps going. I covet his tenacity. I love having him in midfield with me. Bob asks Ben if he can come off the wing to help out and Ben throws him a disgruntled look.

Ben is our captain and unsurprisingly, the son of the Pastor at the church – Freddie, who is also Chair of the football club. In footballing terms, there aren’t many players in the league who can match Ben pound for pound. You think he’s had it after ten minutes, but then he’s the only one tackling back in the last minute. He’s an exception to the ‘captain’s rule’ of the Bolsower Churches League, he’ not a thug. He isn’t afraid of a heavy tackle, but he’s in no way aggressive. The original leader by example. Off the field Ben lives half a life. He’s in the closet. The circumstances of his life, that he never asked for, mean he is trapped in a lie. His use of recreational drugs as a result is alarming.

The second half is under way and almost instantly I find a bit of space out on the left. I thread a ball through to where Ed has pointed, to the space behind his marker. He turns, and with what I presume is his weaker left foot smashes the ball in to the roof of the net first time. It’s an absolute screamer!

“That’s more like it!” shouts Ben in my face.

The rest of the team race towards Ed, who is just stood still with his arms raised up. Unfortunately, this only serves to anger Foresters. First they bring on a sub goalie and put their gigantic keeper up front on our defender Max. They then begin bombarding us with high balls until we finally concede one under the sheer weight of the shelling. They don’t stop there. Another goal comes from the same brutality. We can’t get a foothold and begin to bicker amongst ourselves. The defeat is compounded when Daniel comes off the bench to half-volley in, off the post, at the end of a neat passing move.

I light a cigarette; the ones after the matches are always the sweetest. The post-match autopsy begins. We find ourselves in the local sports bar, parked in front of the big-screen, and talk till it’s too late to eat lunch, then dinner. The few of us left, now resigned to the fact we’ve ruined any plans we had for the rest of the weekend, carry on into the wee hours. Unbeknownst to the rest of them, amongst the wreckage of our day, Ed and I have struck up a promising friendship. We swap emails. He’s not one of them.

*

For the second game I am being picked up by Max. I’m better prepared this time, only having had a couple last night and I haven’t even broken the back of the packet of fags I’d opened last Tuesday. The landlord isn’t out sweeping this week, which I find strangely comforting. It’s still cold and even the pigeons nestling in against the vandalised advertising hoardings I’m propped up next to appear to be shivering.

Max has a BMW and interestingly enough a very small penis. I’m not sure if the two are mutually exclusive. One of the reasons I think he’s so bad at football is that his limbs appear to work separate to the rest of his body, almost in spite of each other. He would, if the games were officiated properly, give away a minimum of six penalties per game. The actual figure tends to be nearer one every three games. What he lacks in every technical area required of a footballer he makes up for in determination, commitment and enthusiasm. Things that all teams need. He is the only one ever-present at every training, match day (regardless of if he was playing or not) and social. The Christians pretend it doesn’t matter that he’s gay. However, he has been told in no uncertain terms his boyfriend is not welcome at social events, or to watch the games. Nick, Max’s boyfriend, should count himself lucky, I have no such excuse.

I’d considered Max a relatively good friend; he was one of the original non-Christians who joined the team at the same time as me. I’m a little at odds with him in that he believes being gay is a choice, I personally think this is how he rationalises the fact that he fucks anything that he likes when he’s pissed. At some point a few years ago, we’d broken up with our respective partners and gone out together to drown our sorrows, of course the sorrows always float. We’d discussed the team’s general non-acceptance of him and I brazenly suggested, as his sofa was tiny and misshapen, that I sleep in his bed to prove what a well balanced sort I really was. After five minutes Max shuffled up next to me, entwined his legs around mine and in hushed tones whispered, “What happens now?” What happened was I spent the next hour, until Max fell asleep, bolt awake. Rigid (stiff, being an inappropriate choice of words). Then, trying to avoid hurting his feelings, crept downstairs to sleep to on the sofa, leaving a note saying I’d gone to watch the telly. I felt betrayed. I have forgiven him, but will never forget it.

We arrive at the ground after a two hour drive. It’s a small ground, adjacent to a disused concrete playground and backing on to a particularly intimidating looking housing estate. Removing white dog muck from the playing surface before kick-off is compulsory. This is where I had made my debut, seven years ago. I’d come on as a sub with about ten minutes left and gone straight up front. Seconds later the ball had dropped to me on the left side edge of the area and I’d instinctively hit it on the half volley. It smacked the crossbar, crashed down behind the line and back up into the roof of the net. To say I’d announced my arrival in the league was putting it mildly. The opposition full-back shouted “for Christ’s sake!” and was subsequently removed from the field of play (maybe he was taken round the back of the clubhouse and shot by a priest). Ed arrives with Ben and John and comes to the edge of the pitch where I’m standing alone. I tell him the story of my debut, showing off I suppose. “We’re on holy ground, then?” he says with a grin. We go to get changed.

The team we are  playing, St. Anne’s, are always made up of really young kids, or ‘kiddies’, as Ben liked to refer to them.  They use the football team to indoctrinate the yoofs from the surrounding estate. I think that’s what all the teams in the league are supposed to do. They are just more proactive. I’m more confident this game and me and Bob are able to control play. We roll out a comfortable two-nil win, courtesy of Ed and Ben’s two tap-ins at the end of some tight passing, barely threatened by pedestrian tackles. After, the 70s wood panelled clubhouse is teeming with kids, no older than 15 or 16 and all of them drinking assorted alcopops under the supervision of the St. Anne’s Chair. We make our excuses and leave

Me and Ed had agreed in the week, via email to pretend we had previous engagements and leave separately. We then met back up and joined our girlfriends in a little unpretentious pub in town. Ed is a lot more politically left than any one I’ve ever met, although when I call him on it he insists he’s not on a side. A pattern that will prevail throughout our friendship. I try and put him in a metaphorical box, for the purposes of a certain line of discourse, he then challenges the actual existence of the box for the next hour and the conversation ends with him admitting how much he ‘loves conversation’. All four of us get on really well, which is great. My girlfriend is the only person in my 28 years I’ve felt truly connected to; the more people you find like that along the way can only be a good thing.

*

The games seem to be coming round quicker and today I’m getting a lift from Ben. We’re playing Bolsower Baptists, who are not a particularly competitive team in the league, but according to Ben have a good solid defence. Alan is in the back with his wife Jenny. Alan used to play for the team and was actually a decent player, and nice enough, but his knees had got messed up and he’d been advised to call it a day after numerous trips on Saturday afternoons to A+E. His wife Jenny is the more interesting of the two. When I’d first joined, it soon transpired that within a few short weeks she’d conspired to sexually harass all of the new players for that season, citing awful sex with Alan as her reasoning. Jack, an ex-player who is no longer around, had most issues with her. She accosted him at every opportunity. He referred to her as the cockasidal maniac, but had welcomed the attention and eventually took advantage, such was his wont. He was an egotistical little twat and I think he broke her heart.

The facilities consist of changing rooms constructed from abandoned freight containers and I don’t think the plumbing has worked since before I was last here; if at all. The pitch is littered with branches and debris from the over-hanging trees. After only a few minutes of the match their striker clatters into Max. He then gets to his feet and begins telling Max to “get up and fuck off”. I’m sure with such confused messages even the most intelligent of players would struggled to know what to do with themselves. Players from both sides wade in. The referee gives him a warning adding,”I’m not like your usual refs in this league I will send you off if you fuck with me”. There is an audible pause for breath from everyone.

The referees in the Bolsower Churches League aren’t just weak; they are effectively innocent bystanders, turning a blind eye to criminal activity. They are all trained officials, the league after all, did have FA status, however 99% of them are respected members of their congregation and therefore encouraged and expected to take a lenient line. As a result The Bolsower Churches League always wins the area fair-play award.  They think this presents the Churches League as an example to aspire to. To me it just shows them up as the small minded, under-developed hypocrites they are. There is a true story of how the captain of Haven, head-butted a player after a blazing row and when told to “calm down a little” by the referee responded by head butting him too. The referee, face hemorrhaging, recommended Haven make a substitution. As the offending player was the Haven captain, he refused and in the ensuing argument head butted the referee for a second time. The referee postponed the game, as he had to go to the hospital to have his face stitched back together. It was replayed later in the season and the player never faced any disciplinary action. This is what we have to contend with.

Ten minutes or so later the striker is on the edge of area and attempts to play a one-two with a team mate, but the return ball is poor. The striker releases a string of fucks into him and turns to see the referee holding a yellow card.

“If I hear one more word from you”, shouts the ref … “you’re off”! And he means it.

I’m not sure why, because I’m not usually like this, but I decide to take an opportunity that presents itself. Every time I go past the striker, I stare at him and put my finger to my lips, or mime ‘zipping’ my lips together. With about five minutes to go before half time, the ball breaks to me down at left back and as if reading from a script, the striker steams towards me. I shape as if I’m going to hoof it up-field and then dip my shoulder at the last second and nutmeg him, adding “What have you got to say about that”.  I’d already planned to say that if I got the chance, while the ball was out for a thrown-in earlier, but didn’t imagine it would work out so perfectly. They never usually do. He goes ballistic; he is chasing me, kicking at me and swearing. Both sides, including the subs, use the excuse to indulge their pent up frustrations with a bit of a scrap, or as Cliff would later repeatedly refer to it, to my eternal annoyance, “handbags”. The striker is sent off. The repentance for everyone’s unruly behaviour will surely never come, as was the standard.

At half time our other central defender, Neville, was loudly engaged in his favourite past time, castigating Max for all that was wrong with the world. Neville is thoroughly incapable of taking even the minutest of responsibility for anything. He revels in having Max as a central defensive partner as it affords him this luxury of planting all blame firmly at Max’s feet. To describe him as emotionally unhinged maybe doing a disservice to someone somewhere. He talks himself through the game and even refers to opposing players movements as if he’s providing live commentary for an emo sports channel. A text book ‘L’ plate’s pastor, his main hobbies involved introducing knuckles, elbows and teeth to flesh. I politely ask if he could shut the fuck up. Cliff had been doing the best impression of himself that he could, by playing abysmally. Ben had huffed, Ed had puffed, but their defence was big and solid. Ben says that me and Bob should try and time our runs into the box as we weren’t getting picked up.

It’s a tough second half, in a ghastly wind.  I’m getting my own running commentary from Neville after the words I’d had with him. Halfway through the half, Bob gets on a bit of a run. The Baptists are basically just hacking at him, but he’s managing to keep possession. He gets all the way to the far touchline, down by the corner flag, and in seeing he is trying to create a yard to stick a cross in,  I make a dart for the penalty spot. The cross is a peach and lands plum on my head, before nestling in the bottom corner of the onion bag. That’s how the game stays.

I’m a little wary of getting back to the changing room, as we share the showers with the other team. I needn’t have worried though, not because they are all sporting and have forgotten about the sending off, no. They are the type of team who go home without showering. The filthy shitbag type.

“Who’s going to wash away their sins?” whispered Ed.

As we are discussing which pub the rest of the day should disappear into, there comes a gentle tap at the door. Before anyone could invite anyone in, Freddie pokes his head around it.

“Hi chaps! Great score today.” He exclaims in his grating plummy tones.

His eyes shift round the room at a rate a sniper would envy. There is never a reason for him to enter the changing room, but he would always find one. Freddie had been keeping a low profile after his much maligned cheating at the end of the previous season. The league online chatroom has been flooded with derogatory remarks about his character: if only they knew. I remember helping him on the church on soup-runs. This was its working title; it would more accurately be described as a recruitment drive. Freddie was the best at this. He took great pleasure in reminding the vulnerable just how useless they were. He even took to “accidentally” forgetting the donated blankets on the bitterly cold nights so he could entice them back to the church itself. His hatred of Max was embarrassingly palpable. He presented himself as a kindly man, but if you caught him off guard, you would glimpse something far more sinister.

*

I decide, as I’m getting used to getting up at this ungodly hour, and I’m feeling tangibly fitter, to walk the couple of miles to the church and pick up a lift there. I usually avoid the place. I find the huge medieval edifice, adorned with brickwork, darkened from the passing of time, quite possibly one of the most unwelcoming architectural blights on the city landscape. It turns out to be a bad idea. A really, really bad idea. Sat on the dry-stone wall at the pick-up point, is George.

“Hey, how are you old chap?” He says in his grating plummy voice.

“Not bad, you?” I reply, uncomfortably.

“Yeah.”

He introduces me to his wife and fills me on all the work they’ve been doing at some Christian outreach centre in Liverpool. She has a strong accent and seems incredibly shy. George is the son of one of the parishioners at the church. He is the stealth Christian who got me involved in the first place. He was captain when I first joined, enough said. The last time I’d seen him coincided precisely with the timing of my leaving. It was no coincidence.

He was in training to become a Pastor and was invited by the church, with Cliff, to take a service. It was decided that the football team should go along to show our support. Having already made excuses for the previous three or four church things, I’d had no option. It was to be one of the single worst experiences of my life. George proceeded to tell the congregation how good Christians, like himself, would never, and should never, allow themselves to be influenced by the ‘lads mag’ culture that was destroying the moral fabric of society. They were lapping it up. He threw in some light-hearted, gentle jokes about the difficulties of avoiding self abuse that he himself had experienced as a teenage boy. His conclusion was that this abstinence had now made his life ultimately more fulfilled and he was a better person for it. What a large number of the congregation didn’t know was that when I’d first met George he had boasted to me, entirely uninvited, that he didn’t consider “a lay a proper fuck unless he’d managed to stick his finger up the bitch’s arse while he came”.  If he was allowed to perform his “party piece” as he liked to call it, he “would think about letting them get a good deep dicking again”. He made me feel physically sick and incredibly irrational. My eyes are welling up. After some ex-drug addicts, now new-Christians, had told some of the most terrifying, horrific and heart wrenching stories imaginable, the service was brought to an end. Cliff asked if anyone had been moved enough by what they’d just heard to stand and join him in prayer. I was the only one left seated. For fucks sake you can’t just hijack peoples emotions like this and then prey on them, I thought. I was beside myself with anger.

Somewhere in the past year this anger had subsided. Seeing George brings it all back.  I’d already told Ed all the stories and examples of why I wanted to stop playing and he was ready to leave too. He had his own collection of incidents that were more than nudging him that way anyway. The way I see it, I can never be sure of what I truly believe, so surely I can be forgiven for only believing what I see?

As we warm up for what was going to be our final game, I tell Ed about my mental tick. Tongue-in-cheek he says if God really was listening he’d probably pick today to make it happen. The game is a bit of a non-event. Then, with ten minutes left, their goalkeeper comes out of his area to make a rushed clearance and scuffs the ball in my direction on the halfway line. I control it and before it hits the floor, manage to catch a volleyed lob and send it right back from where it came from. The ball loops up, way over the stranded keeper, hangs in the air for a few seconds and then begins its descent. It comes down with a ‘thunk’ on the crossbar, before rolling off down the hill.

 

*

 

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