I found this in an old notebook the other day, apparently written after playing football some 7 years ago.
Automatically ingrained among the formative aspirations of every standard-issue English boy (until it is rotted away by reality’s relentless onslaught on the maturing mind) is the desire to one day become a professional footballer.
When I say “standard-issue”, I am, of course, excusing those rather fey, bookish types for whom the consolation of group showers doesn’t quite justify getting dirty enough to occasion them. Also those wheezy, fat and flat-footed whelps from whose notice not even the wildest of youthful imaginations can obscure their various physical shortcomings. Don’t feel sorry for these guys; they’re the lucky ones. Just one look in the mirror will tell them to apply their talents elsewhere before they squander innumerable winter weekends on some god-forsaken piece of mud getting yelled at by dads with linesman flags. The rest of us have to learn the hard way.
In any case, for those of us not sidelined at the outset by nature’s twisted designs, football stardom is the only career guidance we need or will heed. Only once the dream has been summarily dashed do we shuffle off to spend the rest of our unfulfilled lives lying to ourselves that whatever we end up doing was what we really wanted.
My unrequited love affair with the beautiful game began with the exploits of Ryan Giggs and Eric Cantona. Most weekends in the early 90s I could be found glued to the television in febrile anticipation of flamboyant goal celebrations which would be slavishly re-enacted in the school yard that week. The playground was teeming with us – budding egotists each completely oblivious to anyone else on the pitch, each with the obligatory internal monologue of running commentary playing in our solipsistic little brains. I remember on one or two occasions actually being so cringe-makingly self-absorbed as to commentate out loud while in possession. While in the throes of this reverie, the other players were purely incidental; mobile slabs of ballast to bamboozle, like the faceless mobs of cannon-fodder who obligingly dive in front of bullets to make Arnie and Sly look more heroic. All just props in a meticulously choreographed celebration of you as the star. [It just occurred to me that this is probably what Cristiano Ronaldo thinks life is. The first time he watched The Truman Show he was probably like “what, you mean we don’t live in a CR7-centric universe? That Galileo chump was onto something.”]
Aaaaaanyway, as the years stack up and the magic begins to ebb, the commentary becomes more selective and increasingly laden with charitable euphemisms but it still carries on. Even for middle-aged men, dignity discreetly tucked away in the boot bag, lolloping about on some beleaguered astro-turf pitch, the pundits continue to croon their dutiful chorus of praise.
Well the other night, my commentary stopped. All of a sudden and without warning, the team hung up their microphones.
I’ve never exactly been a prodigy but this was the first time I stepped out onto the pitch and was so shit that no amount of cosmetic propaganda could disguise it. Gone were the relative deftness of touch and subtlety of movement which had attended my game in days passed. The acceleration, the speed, the strength were still there – after all I am still only 22 – but the ball was not. I played the entire game half a second in arrears, hacking hapless midfielders and positively flattening a succession of goal-bound strikers. I would still retain the optimism to run at players, only recalling when I got there that I was now painfully shorn of the trickery which had once given me licence to do so in the first place. It was like I was in possession of another body – one with the hip dexterity of an arthritic rhino and the turning circle of the Q.E .II.
My only recourse (having recently beefed up to play rugby) was just to foul people so needless to say the opposition weren’t exactly queueing up to buy me drinks in the pub afterwards. A sobering experience (in more ways than one) and another dream squelched. Adulthood smothers me.
In case you’re wondering, I still haven’t adjusted to manhood very well But I don’t play football any more.
Also posted on the Huffington Post.