Match of the Day

Enrique tries to do keepy-ups but he can’t. When he drops things in the shop, if the thing is falling near his feet he’ll try and kick it back up into his hands but usually misses it. If he does kick it he kicks it away. I can’t do keepy-up but I don’t try. My son, Pauly – named after Pauly (Cabs are here!) D – has cerebral palsy and lives in an iron lung and has done himself up like a Ninja Turtle.

“You want to play football? On the telly?” I asked Enrique who smiled and I sighed. “I mean they’re going to film it.”

“Ha, when chu say, on da telly, I fink-“

“Yeah, I know, but I mean they’re going to film it and it will be broadcast on the telly.”

“On telly.”

“Yeah, against Fiji. The gaffer reckons they’re shit.”

“What is gaffer.”

“The boss, football boss. Listen, you want to play football or not?”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

“When chu say on the telly I though’ we do on de telly! On top of telly.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“S’too small.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“H’okay.”

“It’ll be cool. It’s this afternoon.”

Before I’d left for work I’d set up Pauly’s mirrors so he could watch it and he’d been pretty excited. “Take it easy there, champ!” I told him but I was thinking he was right to not be taking it easy. He was going to shit when his dad scored a screamer and then lifted his football shirt, displaying a dedication he’d written on his under-vest in permanent marker. “Cuddles!” Barked Pauly and I embraced the PHILIPS NEGATIVE PRESSURE VENTILATOR/433, draped a scarf on it and then I left for work. At work I asked Enrique if he wanted to play too. I didn’t think he’d be allowed actually, as Ramone hadn’t asked me to recruit more players but I just didn’t want to turn up on my own, and Enrique was another person.

Before we left, just after lunch, I took my shirt off in the office and looked down at my vest. I pulled the bottom out and considered what to write. I wanted something inspiring. Something for Pauly. When Enrique came in and I explained what I was doing he took the pen and asked me what he should write on his.

“Bell-end, with an arrow to your face.”

“No, serious.”

“Come on, Enrique. I can’t live your life for you.”

At the football place you could cut the excitement with a hot knife through butter. There were probably 75 odd spectators, and a few normal ones too! That’s a joke, there were no normal people there, normal people were at work. The President of Jersey waved to the crowd from his ceremonial open-topped basket.

I couldn’t help but size up my team mates as we stood in line and when I did I felt better. Enrique and I were among the youngest. Some of them were really old. I mean really old. The gaffer threw footballs at us. Enrique caught the ball twice and was told to be goalie. I could have caught the ball but I thought we were supposed to dodge it and being in goal is shit, anyway.

I was to start on the bench, which suited me as it meant I’d come on when the team was flagging and exploit the space with my stamina. It was sort of what I expected and I began warming up immediately. I saw the guy from Channel TV milling around with his Steadi-Cam and I blew kisses and winked at the camera. “It’s not even on yet,” he sighed with good humour.

I didn’t pay much attention to the match. I was just thinking about my moment of glory that would surely come. I did star jumps in the peripheral vision of the gaffer.

At half time we were winning 8-4. Ramone wasn’t messing, Fiji really were shit. Enrique hadn’t had much to do in goal but still he got clapped on the back as we ate the half-time Tracker bars. Ramone tells me I’m on for the second half. “Thanks coach, I’ll make you proud” I replied, professionally flicking my cigarette behind some railings.

“Fucking hell, are you for real?” He replied, blown away by my enthusiasm and self-belief.

“I am,” I replied and Ramone stared at me for a long time but I held his gaze because of my self belief. He turned away, shaking his head, amazed. “Enrique, get the ball up to me, yeah? I’ll exploit the space with my stamina.” I told him.

Second half kicked off and I kept shouting for the ball. I never said I could play football and I miscontrolled it a few times. Francis said to me, “if you can’t control the ball stop fucking shouting for it!” Francis was another half time substitute. I’d seen him writing on his vest. He’d written something for his dead wife or something. “You going to point to the sky as well?” I’d asked him, “because she can’t see it.” Nobody was going to deprive me of my destiny and I went in for everything. I wasn’t going to hide like some do on the big stage. Great players don’t hide, they take their big opportunity when it comes along.

With about ten minutes to go the ball got stuck in a bit of long grass just outside of the Fijian’s penalty area and I pounced, the Fijians were big but they were slow and I was in a foot race with Francis and Enrique. We all got to the ball together but I kicked Enrique then shouldered Francis away and absolutely twatted it.

Where did it go? Missed, right? I’d made a fool of myself? Fuck off.

In the fucking goal is where it went. Pure poachers goal – Francis is actually a real life poacher – from the top drawer. The crowd were bored of goals and mostly not there any more but I still milked it. Francis was running up to me to congratulate me but I pushed him away. “Life’s for the living, mate,” I told him. “You’re supposed to be in goal,” I told Enrique and then looked for the guy with the video camera. I found him. He was smoking. I ran up to him, lifting my top to reveal my under-shirt. Enrique was doing the same. I looked at his vest he was exposing. He had written something in foreign. “Get back in goal,” I said and then stood there in front of the camera for so long I didn’t realize the game had kicked off again. It didn’t matter, I’d done what I set out to do and it had all gone off perfectly and without a hitch and how often does that happen?

Ramone was holding up my number, a nice touch, he wanted me to get an ovation from the remaining crowd! What a buzz. I clapped in the air, both sides, like footballers do, and jogged off and sat back on the bench, eyes closed, lost in the deepest euphoria I’ve ever felt.

The final score was Jersey 15 – Fiji 9. I didn’t give a fuck, I just wanted to get home. I wanted, to see the joy on Pauly’s face. There was no joy on Pauly’s face. I’d put BBC1 on by mistake. He’d had to watch Cash in the Attic.

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