Tuesday 12 November 2019

That's how you put the fizz back into terrace talk

As the rain pelted down, I looked up at the clock. I was expecting to see high 60s but it read 45:05. I blinked, hoping I was mistaken. I felt like I'd just run a marathon, never mind played 45 minutes. My heart sank.

I knew I was running on fumes and would be in big trouble if it came down to a foot race for the ball. The late nights and early mornings that are part and parcel of calving season had caught up with me. On that damp, dark, dreary Sunday afternoon in mid-February, I became the first player in National League history to spend 20 minutes trying to avoid the ball. I was playing at wing-back but acting as a sweeper. With 15 minutes left we were a point up but coming under serious pressure.

I took a deep breath and readied myself as one of their players carried the ball through midfield. He was a little nipper of a corner-forward who'd kicked four points from play. His ears were pricked like a racehorse as he bounded, head down, in my direction. He looked up as he approached me and slowed a bit; I spread my arms and crouched, awaiting the challenge. In an instant he dropped his left shoulder and I was sold. The change of direction was effortless. As my feet went from under me, I threw out my right arm in an attempt to slow him down. There was a sharp intake of breath from the crowd as I made contact with him and we both hit the ground.

I landed on my front, puzzled by the silence that had engulfed the terraces. I lurched upwards violently as someone grabbed my jersey from above.

"Do that to me you fucking coward, pick on someone your own size!"

I sat up and looked over at my victim. He was out cold; blood pouring from his nose. Behind him I could see a black figure walking in my direction, he stopped and there was a flash of red followed by an almighty cheer.

"It's jail you want not a red card!"

"You're a disgrace; poor chap doesn't know where he is."

It wasn't the first time I'd taken the walk of shame but I'd never had to in a game this big. As more and more profanities were directed at me from the crowd, I bit my tongue; resisting the urge to hop the fence and follow in Eric Cantona's footsteps. I continued by the dugout and went straight for the dressing room.

"You're not so hard now ar . . ."

"Ah, shove it up your arse!"

* * * * *

Two weeks later, we were out again. I was given a month's holiday after my exploits and had reluctantly agreed with the manager that I would make my own way to the game and watch from the stands.

We were at home this time and I went with two of my friends. I must admit it was nice travelling to a game without the sick stomach or nerves, but I didn't want to get used to it. I wore plain clothes and a hat, in an effort to remain anonymous and we strolled into the terrace. The place was wedged but we managed to find a spot up the back. I kept the head down but still attracted some attention.

"There's that pup. He's as useful as tits on a bull that lad."

"Are you proud of yourself?"

I grabbed my friend's shoulder as he made a dart towards one of the offenders.

"Leave it lad."

After some persuasion, danger was averted and the game kicked off. It was hard watching it but I willed the lads on as best I could.

"That's it lads! Drive her on now."

I never criticised players. The abuse from so-called 'fans' when mistakes were made was one of the things I hated about the game; fans who fail to realise that we don't set out to kick wides or drop balls. But you can't teach old dogs new tricks.

I sighed as our free-taker pulled one to the left, "next one lad!"

"Jesus, you're useless, kick it over the bar you amadán."

"Take him off, he's finished."

We'd picked a spot behind two 'experts' of the game. They were in their 60s, both decked out in retro jerseys from their youth. Diehards. I looked over at the 23-year-old 'finished' free-taker and shook my head. What a pair of gobshites.

"Bit harsh lads, there's only five minutes gone, that was a tricky one as well," one of the lads defended my team-mate."

"In fairness to him, he's won us games on his own," I added.

One of the diehards turned around, slightly taken aback. He looked at me and the lads and responded.

"Ah now, that lad is supposed to be a serious loose cannon; total nut-job . . . always on the drink."

I knew for a fact that the whole team had been off the sauce since Christmas and the chap in question was as quiet as a mouse and about as much crack as a bag of bad spuds.

"What about that wing-back who was sent off last week? What do you make of him?" one of the lads muttered, elbowing me in the side.

"That fella wouldn't kick snow off a rope. How in God's name is he even on the team? Not up to it at all. He's meant to be more into the women than the football; out late courting the whole time supposedly."

I bit my bottom lip. The only women I'd been courting for the last while ate grass and had four legs.

"He's meant to be an ignorant wee bastard too."

"Why, do you know him?"

"No, no I don't . . . but that's what they say!"

I looked at the lads; they were struggling to keep straight faces.

"I'm gonna grab a drink anyone want anything?"

One of the diehards began to rummage through his pockets, "Get me a fizzy orange will you?"

I returned five minutes later with the bottle.

"There you are my man; here lads come down here for a minute one of the boys from college is at the front."

My mates looked confused. I winked in their direction and they followed me down the steps.

I looked up at the diehards. "We'll be back in a second men!"

"No bother lads!"

We made our way down the steps.

"What's the story?"

"Nothing, I just forgot to tell your man I shook the shite out of his bot . . ."

"Ah mother of divine Christ, me good shirt."

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