Monday, 11 July 2016

A missed opportunity

Rather, a refused one. I was going to write a short story, something that I half-dreamed and had been half floating around my briny brain for a while.

It was going to be about a reminiscence in a pub, by an oldish geezer, telling his mates about a goal from decades back. The player, the man would say, was a centre-half in those days and had made a crunching, but fair, tackle on the edge of his own box,  winning the ball back after a corner to the other side. He then niftily nutmegged an onrushing opponent.

This brought him more or less to the halfway line; the opposition picked up their men, looked for their positions and tried to get their shape. Seeing this, and with everyone including the crowd and his management expecting him to lay it off, he surged into the space, wrong-footing and bypassing the other side's rapidly-retreating inside right and zooming toward the gap between the right back and the centre half.

Fully 35 yards out, he then checked again, still looking up, with half the crowd now near laughter at this unexpected foray upfield, and half expecting him to shank it out of play in sheer panic, with his own coaches screaming at him to play the way he's facing and pass the fucking ball.

At this point, the man in the pub would relish having created a tableau of expectation, and would take a long, heavy draught of his ale. He might even wipe the froth off his lips with the back of his hand before smacking his lips and holding the intrigued gaze of his mates and a barmaid who had stopped, mid-wipe of a glass, to hear what had happened.

The man would put down his pint, and, gesticulating where the goal, the defenders, the player and the ball were, show the unprecedented next step, in which the centre-half was faced by two of the toughest defenders that league had ever seen. Both bruisers, street-smart alehouse brawlers with all the tricks in the book, a gouged eye here, a finger up the arse here, but for all that both canny and with a sixth sense for positioning and still with enough zip across the grass to chase down any skinny winger.

And the man would tell how the centre-half - to the astonishment and amusement of the crowd - performed a double dragback to leave those two old-school hard men confused and eating mud. That -and this with his left foot, mind, which was only a prop - that then the centre-half launched a missile of a shot from 18 yards that six goalkeepers couldn't have stopped as it nigh-on bust the net in the top right hand corner.

The silence in the pub would match the silence on the field for a split-second; an unimaginable goal, from the most unlikely of sources.

The man, in this moment of triumph, would become solemn, waiting for the inevitable next question. He would, at last, and after several moments of deep thought, quieten his voice, drain his pint, lean on his walking stick, and tell his mates that ten minutes later, he'd suffered a terrible leg break. These days, they could probably operate, he'd muse. But in my day, that was the end of my career at the age of 21.

The man would hobble off, leaving the pub behind him full of regret, sadness and yet increased by the moment of joyous inspiration that had occurred to one man, once in a lifetime. Maybe that was enough, would have been the moral of the tale.

But I didn't write it like that, because when I started thinking about it a bit deeper, I wondered whether the moral of the tale was maybe more along the lines of: your high point may have already come. You may have already peaked. The downfall may be swift and brutal, or it might be gradual and insipid. That the best really isn't yet to come. That your best years - your best months - your best days - your best hours - your one, truly spectacular moment of soaring near the sun - may have come and gone without you realising it, and that for the rest of your life you'll waste hours, days, months and years in trying to understand why this should be the case.

So I refused to write it in the way I was going to write it. It wasn't Roy of the Rovers after all. It was the anti-Roys within all of us. The thousands of wasted moments and the downward spiral when potential becomes decline.

And the moment of realisation that concepts of fairness, of entitlement, of hard work and reward are as meaningless as the moments spent trying to understand them.

You can see, maybe, why I didn't feel like getting into this today. Viva forever.

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