Wednesday March 15th, 2007: Sparta Prague 0 - Arsenal 2 (Fabregas, Hleb)
'Telling stories is telling lies'. Not like telling lies, you notice. As soon as you embark on that first fork-tongued once of your "Once upon a time.." you've become, in effect a liar. But then...
Once upon a time, a group of us would kick a ball about on Twickenham Green. Most Sundays this bunch known mainly by their nicknames, common names distinguished by their team affiliations; Blackburn Dave, Brentford Dave, Grassy Noel, Squeaky Paul, Marky Mark, John Gilhooligan, would meet up try to get the ball between the jumpers. "Mobile phones for goalposts!" we'd laugh, when laying out the pitch, a parody of Paul Whitehouse and his Ron Manager turn. Also among our number was Eric, whose parents ran the Tai Fox Chinese takeaway in the high street. He was an athletic 'keeper, a good outfield player too, and looked like a young Jackie Chan. We called him Eric Cantonese.
That's all true, even though it sounds like something you might read in a storybook. This is all true too: on that same green, my father played cricket for Middlesex schoolboys - the first Twickenham boy to represent his county on the local track for countless years, if not ever. Here's a photo of him, proudly sporting his colours by way of proof.
He was presented with a commemorative bat by Sir Jack Hobbs for best schoolboy average and later offered an apprenticeship at Lords. The lad had promise. He turned it down, though. The job he'd tie himself to for thirty-odd years paid a shilling a week more. Times were hard. Later he'd swap passes with his son, who seemed happier sliding over the grass so as to green his shorts and look like a footballer on the telly than acquiring ball skills. They'd hoof about for hours by the same decaying pavilion he'd walked out from all those years ago with pride, the silver sky yellowing as the Heathrow engines roared.
There's a cafe there now so it stays open when they're not playing a game. They've done it up nicely. Mothers stop for coffee there after dropping off the kids at the school behind it. You see lots of fathers with their kids at weekends, in the generous shade of the horse chestnut trees, trying hard not to hit the plastic stumps or tie their young offspring into knots with their patented body swerves. It's a very happy place now, the only regular sadness occasioned by the floral tributes remembering Amelie, the young French student murdered there.
That was all true. That is all true. So do we really need stories to jazz it all up? Change the young cricketer to a promising centre half, perhaps? The symmetry would suit the narrative better, at least. Why not call him Alex, to mirror the hoped for hero of this season's storyline? But then, why not just shut up and watch the football? Why the need to write at all?
To commemorate, I suppose. To celebrate or mourn. I wrote the following last night, waiting to watch Match of the Day:
Those who do not share the passion for the game see only twenty two grown men chasing a ball about. Looked at logically, one might even be tempted to agree. Why all the fuss over, what is in essence, a game? Why, they might ask, would someone reasonably switched on, politically minded and concerned for the welfare of the planet prefer to watch Arsenal play Manchester United in an FA cup tie at Old Trafford than add their voice to those of the 2 million other opponents of a foolish and illegal war? One could respond, smile perhaps, recalling an unexpected win away, why write a novel about that Saturday either?
As I write this, the BBC shows footage of the latest atrocities in that ongoing conflict. Over two hundred and fifty people are killed in a bomb attack on a small Kurdish sect. It seems aimed at fanning the already rampant civil war and sectarian conflict that has already engulfed the invading force and which suggests that either an occupation spanning generations or humiliating withdrawal will be the price the coalition ends up paying for the removal of Saddam. The marches and the novels and the bloggers have all had their say. The war goes on, the game goes on. Just a different war, another game.
seems to fit in here. Human activIt ity tends to wear away at the same immemorial themes. There is always war, always love, always hunger, always fear. But there's always a game going on somewhere. Jumpers for goalposts, or, nowadays perhaps they really do use mobile phones, there's always someone between the sticks. And someone watching. Someone recalling the particulars.
Thanks to the 'reasonable economy', Bob finally gets to grips with Footman's opus: "I don't understand this ...bit at all..."
I head off to the Goat, which I'm told still has Setanta Sports, hoping to watch the game. They don't have it after all, so I head back towards the Prince of Wales. They're showing the Wigan game. I make towards the Albert, but then it starts to rain. I make the call to get straight home and catch more of the game on the radio, than risk probable disappointment (and getting soaked) by hunting round the pubs.
It's on BBC London, 94.9 FM. The commentary is unremarkable, delivered in that peculiar football speak that followers of all classes lapse into with such ease. There's a 'mental element' in the crowd, it all goes 'a little bit staccato' Repka 'has a howler in him' before limping off still finding time to 'have a pop' at the ref. Arsenal patiently play their 'little triangles' and, apart from one Alan Partridge-esque sashay from Steve Brown in which he gets all tied up in knots with an extended metaphor about how Celtic's draw with Spartak challenges the idea that red is considered a lucky colour in Moscow, before remembering the hardships suffered there under the red flag between the years 1917-1989 and starts to peter off, it's a reasonably event-free 90 minutes. We win two nil and my man Hleb scores. His deft breakaway second away goal, the ball arcing inside the post like a canny golf putt when he looked to have placed it wide, pretty much kills off this tie. So, the story can go on.
L.U.V. on y'all,
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