The Fielder: No point being captain if you don't keep eye on the ball
'Yea! Over the top!' I looked in the direction of the caller. It was Andy Jones, a watery hoor if ever there was one. In fairness to him, he'd made a good run and I clipped the ball delicately into his path. The accuracy of the pass surprised everyone; ignorance, rather than precision, was my strong point on the playing field. We watched as a defender checked his run and made a dart towards the ball in an effort to intercept, but he was miles away. We were guaranteed a score as long as Andy didn't . . .
"Ah for feck sake, Andy!"
He'd hit the brakes as soon as the onrushing back had entered his field of vision. As the opposition cleared the ball, we let him have it.
"What in the name of God Andy?"
"You cowardly bastard."
"Get that waster off the pitch!"
Why had I expected anything else from him? He was notorious for things like that. I'd seen braver kittens. He was a big advocate of pulling out. We'd subsequently nicknamed him 'The Priest'. The chap was yellower than a bowl of mashed potato. To call him a coward was an insult to cowards worldwide; he had a backbone like a soggy Rich Tea biscuit. Your typical pretty boy; Andy would wear white boots, white socks, white tape and white gloves. My father once said he stuck out like a Charolais in a field of Angus cows.
After the game our manager let him have it, but was he wasting his breath? Andy just nodded away, almost oblivious to the exhibition of wimpiness he'd just put on. It was like talking to the wall. I grabbed my gear bag and headed for the door like a child who'd been refused a pick 'n' mix.
As captain of the team, my patience was wearing thin with Andy, but my hasty departure wasn't just down to my lily-livered comrade. I had some bullocks to cast an eye on before their date with destiny the following morning.
"H'Mon . . . h'mup!"
I 'gently' coaxed my animals down from the trailer with what I called my "persuader", a device I'd fashioned from a length of wavin pipe (settle), a hurley grip and a three-inch nail. As they waited to go up the chute I couldn't help but feel a hint of emotion. There were four of them.
From standing in a freezing-cold shed, knee deep in shit and elbow deep in their mothers at calving to lugging them out buckets of water when the pipes froze; I'd been there for it all. Now it was time to say goodbye to John, Paul, George and Ringo. As I ran my hand along Ringo's back, he started to buck.
"Hey you . . . Irish! No touch cattle!" shouted one of the staff members who, I guessed had some Eastern European breeding in him. I rushed my goodbye and headed through an open door to my left.
The factory floor was an awesome spectacle. There must have been 40 men along the line, each carrying out a specific task; their blades flashing away wildly in the industrial-strength lighting.
Though some of the signs on the walls gave me the feeling that I wasn't meant to be there, I leant up against a wall and watched the process for a few minutes. It was one of the finest displays of teamwork I'd ever laid eyes on. The line moved mechanically.
If one man didn't carry out his task to perfection, it would hinder the next man and begin a catastrophic chain reaction that could result in the ultimate 'no-no'; the big red button being pressed.
This would bring the line to a halt, eating up valuable minutes and, more importantly, valuable euros from Vladimir and Igor's pay cheques.
I wondered whether our team would benefit from experiencing first-hand the daily grind of a factory kill-floor, from a team-bonding point of view. The skill and work ethic these men had was unfathomable. Then I snapped out of it. Some of our boys couldn't be let near a safety scissors through sheer stupidity, let alone butchers' knives. One would surely get a bit too curious for his own good and end up coming home a few digits lighter.
I turned and headed for the exit door, I didn't want to be there when Ringo, George, John and Paul came down the line. But as I made my way out, something caught my eye – a group of large metal, wheelie-bin-like containers to be precise. I looked around and quietly crept over for a look. My suspicions were confirmed and instantly my mind raced. I couldn't, could I?
* * * * *
"Alright boys, we'll leave it there for tonight, tog in . . ." the manager bellowed, through the thick fog. There was a stampede
for the dressing room; it was a freezing cold night. Everyone was eager to get inside the clubhouse to try and get some feeling back into their frozen fingers and toes. But not me. I casually walked in behind everyone else, waiting for the eruption. Then it came.
"Whaaaaaaaaat the hell! Jesus . . . AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!"
I rounded the corner just in time to see Andy leap across the dressing room like a calf clearing the electric fence. The room exploded with laughter. The look on Andy's face was priceless; he looked like he'd just woken up beside Shane MacGowan. I contained my emotions and strolled over to his gear bag which was propped up on the bench; the source of his excitement.
I could feel 30 pairs of eyes on my back, each wondering what had caused all the commotion.
"Andy, you know the way we're always on to you to grow a set of balls?" I reached in and hoisted out a slimy set of testicles that I'd swiped from the factory. They were like big pink, smelly tennis balls.
"Well, I decided I couldn't wait any longer . . ."
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