Don't believe me - well, here's a little piece inspired by the days we played football up in the park. Enjoy.
‘Where are you shower from?’ their opponents asked in a disinterested way.‘Rathfarnham.’
‘Fucking mountain men.’
‘No bad language, please,’ the referee scolded them as he checked his watch one more time and got ready to blow his whistle. From the kick-off they all knew what to do, except Danny who wandered back and forth along the half-way line. If he went further into his own half, Anto would berate him. ‘Stay up there for when we get the break. Get ready for the long ball.’‘C’mon Danny,’ Fr. Reilly called from the sideline. ‘Keep at it. You’re doing great.’
Danny was encouraged by that and ran back and forth with renewed enthusiasm while the other team stopped even pretending to cover him.‘That’s great,’ Fr. Reilly reassured him. ‘You’re doing a great job getting open. C’mon lads, Danny is open, let’s start getting the ball to him.’
His teammates carried on regardless.‘Move away Boyle,’ Anto shouted as he approached with the ball. ‘Move away and take the cover with ya.’
Danny had no idea what he was talking about and stood where he was as Anto wove around him. But the opponent didn’t, clattering right through Danny as he tried to get to the ball. He fell to the muddy wet ground and looked like he might cry but the ref helped him up as he awarded a free-kick to the outrage of the other team. ‘C’mon, ref, that’s obstruction.’‘Obstruction? Are you having me on? He was doing nothing of the sort. He was just minding his own business. Free kick, and that’s enough lip out of you or I’ll book ya.’ He admonished with his finger as his other hand tapped his shirt pocket where his black note book could be seen, along with the stubby yellow pencil.
‘Good man, Boyle. You’re playing a blinder,’ Anto muttered as he set the ball and drove it into the other team’s end of the field, far away from Danny. Normally they only played him on defense, against the weaker teams, and the ball never came near him. ‘It’s because they know they aren’t going to beat you,’ Anto had once told him and Danny was almost convinced.The ball sloshed back and forth in the mud and Anto and his teammates forgot about Danny for a while but, at Fr. Reilly’s insistence, they did include him in the back-slapping when they finally scored.
‘Who’re the mountain men now, ye bollockses?’ they jeered the other team and even Danny joined in.
‘What are you looking at, ya fucking queer?’ one of them challenged him when he strayed too far from the huddle.‘Language!’ the referee reminded them as he took out his note book to record the scorer. ‘I couldn’t see who got it so I’m going to put down your number,’ he winked at Danny and blew his whistle to restart play. He never strayed from the center circle and told Danny to stay with him so that he wouldn’t get run over again.
‘Is he marking the fucking ref now?’ Someone muttered when the game was paused while Fr. Reilly tried to dislodge the ball from an over-hanging tree.‘Leave him alone, for fuck’s sake,’ Anto warned. He didn’t like the way they all picked on Danny.
‘Why? Is he your boyfriend now?’‘Fuck you. Say that again and I’ll bleedin’ burst ya.’ Anto sneered. They were all very brave when it came to picking on Boyle but none of them would dare stand up to him.
‘Language!’ The ref reminded them absentmindedly as he watched Fr. Reilly throw sticks at the lodged ball.The rain stopped as the second half started and the sun struggled with the low clouds but the field was slick and the tackles were flying. The opponents weren’t used to losing and were taking it badly. One of them even elbowed Danny as he ran past – a stinging blow to the back of his head when the ref wasn’t looking. He was far too busy blowing on his whistle with increasing fury. The game was getting rowdy.
‘It’s just a game, gentlemen,’ he reminded them all but only Danny seemed to agree. The others, teammates and opponents alike, were at war and it was only a matter of time until someone got hurt.The referee nearly blew the pea out his whistle while looking outraged. One of the Saints was rolling around in the mud clutching his shin where the angry red rake of studs was emerging through the mud. Fr. Reilly was called to examine the wound while the referee wrote the offender’s name in his notebook. ‘I’ll have my eye on you now,’ he advised the lurking offender and snapped his notebook shut.
‘We’re going to have to play short,’ Fr. Reilly coached after he got his maimed player under the tree. ‘Anthony! Get them organised.’On cue, Anto called them into a huddle. ‘These fuckers are going to try to rattle us all so don’t take any of their shite. There’s not long left.’
‘And what should I do?’ Danny asked, wanting to help any way he could.‘Just keep doing what you’re doing. Stay high and wait for the long ball.’
He did for a while but in the last few minutes Danny couldn’t take it anymore. His team were getting ready to defend a corner and he had to go back. He had to get involved.‘What the fuck are you doing back here?’ Anto asked.
‘I’m better as a defender.’‘Okay, go cover number seven and don’t fuckin’ lose him. Don’t let him get a free header.’ They were under mounting pressure – playing a man short, and all.
When the corner was taken, it floated over them all towards the far post where number seven waited with the goal at his mercy. Danny had to make the play. He had to get to the ball so he closed his eyes and jumped.It was like he was hit by a wet sack of sand and he collapsed to the ground in total silence.
‘Ah Jesus! The fuckin’ spastic put it in his own net,’ the other team jeered as they brushed past but one stopped to pat him on the back, even as he lay face down in the mud.‘Is he hurt?’ the referee asked from the center circle.
‘He’d better be,’ the Keeper muttered as he nudged Danny with his toe. ‘Get up ya little bollocks, will ya?’But Danny decided it was better to lie there as if he was hurt and the ref agreed, blowing his whistle to end the game.