Saturday, 18 April 2015


This one of the first 'This Sporting Life' columns I wrote for the Guardian while acting as a temporary replacement for the late, great Harry Thompson. The fat player named 'Killer' was a massive lout who played for St Mary's D team in the Teesside Schools League Division Two. I must have played against him at least six times during my teenage years and he decked somebody in every game. I avoided his attentions by playing wide on the right, so far wide I was over the horizon.

I response to some midlife crisis my friend John recently announced his intention to join a Sunday morning football team. When I asked him if he thought this was wise for a man of his years he said, ‘Why not?’ Apparently oblivious to the fact that when he had first made his declaration the man sitting on the next table to us in the pub had turned white in the face and mouthed the words ‘For God’s sake, no!’

‘Sunday morning football is a great British institution,’ John said.

‘So is Broadmoor,’ I replied, ‘but you wouldn’t voluntarily go there.’

John shrugged off my comment. ‘I don’t know how to find a team,’ he said.

‘Have you tried the probation office,’ I said.

John looked at me with the rueful expression of Tony Gubba discovering an old hairbrush, ‘Why are you so cynical?’ he asked.

‘It is the product of bitter experience,’ I told him, ‘Because once when I was living in the Old Kent Road I embarked upon the same path – and how I lived to tell the tale only the fates and the emergency services can know. Let me tell you, then, of the experiences to come for one hell bent on your foolhardy course of action.’

‘From now on each Sunday morning will see you driven out into a horizontal and lumpy rain to one of those areas in which the local sports shops sell little else save live bait and baseball bats. You will be abused, kicked, punched and spat upon. And when you leave the team bus things will get even worse.’

‘The changing rooms are an abandoned Ford Fiesta and a clump of bushes. The pitch a rutted battlefield fertilized by local dogs. Your own team may look like escapees from an Alabama chain gang, but they are S Club Juniors compared to the opposition. Your opponents’ idea of a midweek team building exercise is to rob a building society. Their centre-half is called ‘Killer’. He is so fat he works during the week as a temporary roundabout. Killer’s hobby is taking things apart to see how they work. He finds humans particularly perplexing.’

‘Their midfield juggernaut is inevitable called Psycho or Mad Dog. He responds to the referee's instructions to ‘Play the ball and not the man’ by saying ‘Ball? Ball?’ over and over as if it is a concept as alien to him as silence is to Jonathan Pearce. Psycho/Mad Dog has a weak first touch. Do not be fooled. It is just setting you up for a left hook.’

‘The centre-forward is called ‘Rhino’. He possesses a fantastic left foot. Whose it was originally nobody remembers. ‘Rhino’ will punch you in the kidneys when the ref is not looking. Unfortunately for you when it comes to Rhino, the ref is never looking, his blindside is a 360 degree curve. And who can blame him? The only man who would dispense justice here is one who had been lowered into the centre-circle in a shark-proof cage.’

‘The goalkeeper wears a facemask, not because he is protecting a damaged cheekbone, but because his sporting inspiration is Jason from the Halloween movies. Their manager is deemed too fat and violent even for Sunday football. He looks like Rockall in a shell-suit. His job is threefold: to drive the team bus, to collect the subs and to shout if he sees anybody from the Child Support Agency. His idea of a tactical substitution is to replace the half-time oranges with amphetamines.’

‘After running around in the icy wind, attempting to avoid being decapitated by a maximum security winger your reward will be a trip to their clubhouse, a cheerless concrete bunker with the appearance of a Stalinist prison, but none of its comforting warmth. From the backroom comes a familiar pock-pock noise. Is it a game of pool? No. It is a local gangster breaking the fingers of a police informer. When ‘No Surrender’ comes on the jukebox you know it is time to leave.’

John shook his head when I had finished and laughed, ‘You have a vivid imagination,’ he said, ‘I’m going to play whatever you think.’

The doctors say he should be able to eat solid food by Christmas.



1 comment:

  1. Harry,

    That is so true, I remember playing in a league in Middlesbrough in the 60's and their 'centre half' came out wearing a crash helmet. We, the visiting team, urged the ref to speak to him and get him to remove it. The ref said the bloke couldn't hear him and it was easier for him to leave it on.

    When I left the field to go to the General Hospital I told the ref what I thought of him and was 'technically' sent off. Six stitches in an eyebrow was the result of a 'clash of heads' at a corner, technically speaking.

    I met our inside right in the outpatients after the stitches, he had the same war wound from a clash of 'heads'.

    Happy days.