I don’t think I’ve mentioned my illustrious football career. To those who don’t know me personally, it may come as a surprise to hear I had one. It would be completely incredible to my acquaintances, but people are full of surprises.
My last match was FA Cup Final Day in 1997. Admittedly, it wasn’t that game itself, but it took place on the same day. Rather than in the fevered, tense cauldron of a packed Wembley Stadium, we played before slightly less enthusiastic spectators in the village of Penzendorf. The pitch there is rather like the one at Wembley, now the stadium has been demolished. A kindly description would be end-of-season. There was some greenery, but this was mostly provided by the dandelions emerging heroically through the grit, stones and bits of broken brick.
I was to be the purring motor of the FC Gaulnhofen Kindergarten Fathers attack, and we struggled manfully with our counterpapas from Worzeldorf. The match had been their idea. When she’d heard about a game against the Worzeldorf Kindergarten team, my wife had put my name down immediately. When informed, I expected some relaxing recreation. However, upon turning up and discovering that we were up against the fathers rather than the kids, my flabber was gasted.
As we kitted up in the salubrious surroundings of a tractor shed, the spirits of my team mates soared. I happened to make known my professional football experience in England, albeit mostly in the old Third and Fourth Divisions. With an ex-profi on board, Worzeldorf Fathers were surely in for a thrashing. However, team morale became more modest when I mentioned this experience consisted of having watched Bournemouth at about forty league grounds (plus other stadia such as Weymouth, Dorchester and Yeovil – these three were all subsequently demolished. I hope this was coincidence).
We entered the arena and heard the mighty roar of the Worzeldorf wives and children. Most of our families had found pressing engagements elsewhere. Knowing that football’s partly played in the mind, I concentrated on trying to look full of fitness and calm confidence. I jogged casually as I puffed on my fag, and hoped to gain that crucial, psychological advantage over the opposition. This ploy wasn’t overly successful, though there was nothing wrong with my jogging. Unfortunately, what with all their stretching, cartwheeling, pyramid-building acrobatics and weightlifting exercises, the opposition failed to notice. I took up my position as rightwing wizard. The referee blew his metaphorical whistle (he actually mumbled something about starting), and it was match on. Displaying impressive pace, I finished my cigarette at a sprint and jogged casually on the attack.
My advance spread confusion among the defenders. This was because Worzeldorf had the ball, and were besieging our penalty area. The left-back was kind enough to point this out, so I jogged casually back to help out. However, by the time I’d arrived, the lines had been cleared. And so had the ball. We were besieging their penalty area, my colleagues were wondering where the rightwing wizard was (I was asking the goalkeeper for a light), and my legs were beginning to ache.
After about fifteen minutes or so, I managed to synchronise my actions more appropriately. This was in part thanks to the generous substitution allowance. Players could come and go as and when, as long as there weren’t too many more than eleven on the field at any time. The replacement left-back was a short, chubby, bespectacled, one-legged gentleman, which did wonders for my confidence. I resolved to dazzle him with my skills. After a while, the ball happened to be deflected in our direction. I outpaced the thoroughly static defender, won it and homed in towards goal. Scenting an opportunity, I resolved to get in a shot before any bigger, bipedal defenders arrived. As with a trigger, I cocked my leg in readiness. (I withdraw that phrase.) I struck the ball as powerfully as I could towards the net and fell over in a heap. The keeper was completely helpless. He was laughing too much. The trajectory wasn’t quite as intended. The ball jogged casually along the edge of the penalty area. Luckily, one of my team mates reached it first and belted it in the goal past the still hysterical keeper. We were in the lead, and I was congratulated on a brilliant pass, whilst lying semi-conscious from exhaustion on the ground.
The drawback of the generous substitution allowance was that there were only eleven of us to begin with. I was much relieved when several latelings turned up, and I was able to drag myself out of the fray. Although depleted by the absence of their clapped out purring motor, the attack made light of things by scoring again in the second half, and the defence held firm. I wasn’t in a fit state to tackle the arithmetic myself, but I was reliably informed this meant we won 2-0.
The strongest impressions of my final match were provided by my legs. In the days following the occasion, they resolved to protest against the unreasonably heavy workload imposed upon them. My legs elected to work to rule, and many other body parts expressed their solidarity. It was both agonising and effective. Following negotiations between limbs and brain, the management agreed to hang up the training shoes for good, excepting for the occasional, pre-agreed kickabout in the park.