I hurt all over.

I had to play soccer the other day. The school had a ball sports day, which meant that the first- and second-years students spent all morning playing in a soccer tournament and the winning team played a teachers team in the afternoon. I was on the teachers team.

I was asked to be on the teachers team in the morning, when I arrived at school, the morning after my wife and I had decided to have an impromptu drinking session, even though it was a Monday. I wasn’t especially hungover, but I had drunk pretty much a full bottle of wine the night before, so I decided I better shelve my plans to check out the new McDonald’s California Burger as a nutritional precaution.

It was the least I could do. I haven’t played football for several years now, and the last time I did it was as the captain of a very makeshift five-a-side team which played for charity. I don’t remember ever winning a game except against a team of mentally handicapped players who could only run in straight lines. I don’t think I am besmirching the mentally handicapped players too much when I say that we were rubbish.

So anyway, I turned out for the teachers team in my running shorts. The girls all took photos on their phones while the boys all sniggered as I took to the pitch to play the winning team of first-years – who had (thankfully) already played about five games that morning. I think there were about nine players on each side, but I really don’t know because once the action started, I just concentrated on standing in the right-back position and standing in the way of the ball or the opposing players.

There were a couple of ringers on both sides. One of the teachers used to play professionally for the local team, although he didn’t play for the whole match because of injury. And one of the first-years plays for the same local team’s youth team – in fact he demonstrated his skill by scoring two glorious goals: one, a low drive from distance that snuck into the corner of the goal; the other rising to meet a sweet cross with a great header. (I was blameless for both, obviously.)

In the end, the game went to extra-time and penalties. When it came to the penalties, I skulked around trying to look inconspicuous, which worked until it went to sudden death and the spectating students started chanting my name. The next day one of the other English teachers displayed a charming naivety about the rules of football. “You played very well yesterday,” he said. “All of the students thought so – they were calling your name! Amazing!”

Except, of course, the reason the students were calling my name is because it was sudden death penalties and they were hoping I’d fuck up. I didn’t disappoint, belting the ball straight at the keeper. Fortunately for me, and the rest of the teachers, I hit it so hard the keeper spilt it over the line, and we won, a glorious victory of wisdom over youth – 30-year-olds over 16-year-olds. Take that students!

The next day, that English teacher wasn’t the only one to comment on my performance. The principal also came over to tell me that everyone thought I had played like David Beckham. By which he presumably meant, as my sister pointed out, that it looked like I’d just suffered a career-threatening injury.


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