A Football Try-Out.
At the tender age of 9, full of beans and Heinz Spaghetti Hoops, I was bundled into the car and taken down to my first ever football training session. I loved the idea of football. I particularly loved the idea of slotting goals with pace and trickery in the mould of Michael Owen. Owen was a saintly figure in my mind, thoroughly doing it for the more vertically challenged of men, which I myself was destined to become. Michael stuck his stubby middle finger up to the sporting archetype of the tall Adonis, darting about at alarming speeds for a little white man.
So much was I ensnared by Michael Owen’s talents that – presumably after a particularly good IT lesson – I would even go home and create a PowerPoint presentation about how great a player he was. The PowerPoint would only ever be presented to myself. Children are strange creatures. With Custom Animations and Word Art aplenty, this faux pro-Owen conference merely delayed my crushing realisation that Michael Owen is, in fact, a total arse. Today, videos of him bullying a 13-year-old goalkeeper are readily available for all to see on YouTube. Each time he slots it past the poor child, every fibre of his being is filled with pure ecstasy, thus further swelling that big head of his. So much so, fellow responsible adult in the video, Neville Southall, feels compelled to say, “Well done… he’s thirteen”, to which Owen responds, “Game, set and match Owen!” The PowerPoint seems even sillier now. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqOxNspUPyE ).
Back to the golden child and my football try-out. Inspired by Michael Owen (the big phony) and transported by my dad, I turned up to the AstroTurf of Bemerton Heath Harlequins with eyes aglow and a tummy full of nerves. My palms were sweaty, knees weak and my arms were heavy. My sweater was stained with mom’s Heinz spaghetti already, though this was nothing to do with nerves nor football.
I’d probably score a hat trick, I supposed. Chat to the other boys, I thought, but not too much. They’re your competition. Do your skills, but not too much. You’re not that good (you actually are wicked but they haven’t seen you on the playground at lunchtime). Perhaps most importantly, show interest in actually playing football. That way, the coach will know how keen you are to compete in Salisbury’s special Badger League, home to the local area’s brightest young talents.
There was, however, something much more exciting going on. Way on up-high, a canopy of floodlights was beaming down onto the AstroTurf. Clustered into individual nests of four lights apiece, the resulting effect was that every young would-be Owen’s shadow was elongated and multiplied into quadruplets. Pivoting around a central point, the shadows transformed and bent when I cantered around gawping at the ground. This prancing about the sandy turf allowed me to make my own shadow puppet show and, like that, the plug was pulled. My attentions were entirely drained – away from football – towards AstroTurf choreography. Towards twirls and jumps and skids, towards pirouettes and spins. Towards a bit of Michael Jackson crotch-thrusting. With every move, a new contortion was projected onto the turf, with the immediacy required to waylay any child’s feeble capacity for concentration. This was shadow art of the highest order, and I was having a bloody whale of a time.
I heard, bellowed from the side-lines. It was my father, no doubt impressed by the routine. I trotted over.
“If you wanted to dance, I’d have taken you to ballet class with your sister, mate. Why are you just jumping around on your own over there? Go and play football!”
Pfffffftt. Sure thing, Dad. He obviously just didn’t get it. I got it.
Time went by, the seasons changed; Michael Owen went to Real Madrid, and would later crash down to Newcastle and eventually Stoke. I spent 5 long years plying my trade in the Badger League.