We used to play football over the field, me, my brother, and a bunch of other kids from the estate. It was an obsession. It was all we did. None of us were any good, but we never let that put us off.
We never let anything put is off. One time I slid through some unseen dog’s muck, ended up covered in shit from my knees up to my shoulder. I ran home weeping, of course, in disgust and shame and sheer shivering horror, but I still went back the next day. I wanted to go back that day, but I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t let me. I’d already caused her enough work.
Similarly, when I sliced my shin open on some rusty piece of debris, that didn’t put me off. Didn’t put any of us off. That time, if I remember it right, I didn’t even run home, just played on covered in blood, revelling in the gore and the carnage of it all.
Football was like a mania, really, some desperate delirium. Football, football, football. The drumbeat of our lives. I was 10. 11. 12. It went on and on.
It wasn’t even a field we played on. Just some small patch of grass in a piece of dead space between the houses, bounded by garages and back garden fences, forgotten by everyone except us and whoever it was that parked their car at one end, there every day and gone at night, the visible dents in the doors increasing month by month, wayward shot by wayward shot.
I was too young then for music.
I was 13 when it happened. I fired in a shot at goal. It the hit the handlebars of whoever’s bike it was that was being used as the right hand goalpost, ricocheted off into the windscreen of the parked car, looped up high over a back garden wall, and disappeared from view. Followed soon by the sounds of shattering glass. Followed soon by everyone running away.
Except for me.
That ball was mine. I couldn’t leave it behind. An official World Cup 90 Adidas Etrusco. It meant everything to me, loomed large in my imagination in a way incomprehensible to me now.
If I was obsessed with football, I was obsessed with all the rest too – boots, balls, kits, stickers, subbuteo, video games, everything. It was a debilitating disease of the mind. It was all I had.
So I looked around, shrugged my shoulders, and climbed over the fence. No one ever saw me again.
Don’t worry. They did really.
I wasn’t even in there long, to be honest. It just seemed like forever.
The whole place had the stink of abandonment and despair. The garden was overgrown. The rotary washing line was rusted into its hole. A rotten shed. Paint peeling from the window frames. The back door swinging back and forth on its hinges, the glass from the bottom window panel shattered all around.
I stepped forward, stepped inside, big steps across the debris field, small steps as I shuffled as silently as I could across the yellowing lino of the darkened kitchen.
From the shadows, movement. A white orb, floating ominously, the ball as heavenly object, ghostly terror.
The figure holding it smiled out at me over the top. Was it a smile? I couldn’t tell. She had too many teeth, they were too long, too wide, too white. It stopped being a smile and became something else.
The ball rested on her palm, and the fingers were splayed out towards me. Even longer than the teeth were the claws. Even longer than the claws the fingers. Her other arm hung down to her knee. Those claws scraped at the carpet, undulating rhythmically, unable to keep still.
I took the ball silently and turned to leave. I felt those claws on my shoulder, on my legs, running up my inner thigh. Those teeth I felt against my neck. And as they parted, her tongue slathered across my cheek, searching slowly for my mouth. So cold, so wet.
The ball bounced slowly away across the room. Beneath our feet the crunch of broken glass.
I fell into a dream.
After that I didn’t really play football much any more.
1. Written in December 2020
2. The title is from this
3. All though that version’s slightly different from the one they usually show on the tv.
4. But anyway this story has nothing at all to do with that really I’m afraid.