There once was a boy, an only child born to busy working parents, who often felt lonely. For every day he felt fulfilled with the level of human interaction, be it at school or at home with his family, he felt he had to pay with ten days of loneliness. It was these long periods of isolation, especially during school holidays, that made him yearn to be part of something. The boy desperately wanted something that he could focus on, even when he was all by himself.
Then one school day, on the first day back after the summer break, a PE teachers, Mr Shufflebottom, stood up at the end of assembly to deliver a notice. He declared the previously disbanded football team was to reform due to the school extension and the extra hundreds of pupils now attending the school. Mr Shufflebottom felt there were now enough students, and a good crop of potential athletes, in the school to resurrect the football team. Deep down Mr Shufflebottom was more interested in football than anything else in life, he once had a trial with West Ham and essentially became a PE teacher to earn a living through football. Those who can do and those who can’t – teach! Nonetheless, the boy’s interest was piqued.
The following Wednesday afternoon, the school cancelled all classroom lessons to allow students to try out for all the school’s various sports team. The PE teachers, Mr Shufflebottom, Miss Strider and Mr Vault, were due to walk around the basketball courts, rugby pitches, tennis courts, football pitches, the indoor gymnasium and swimming pool noting down the students that demonstrated they had met the level of sporting prowess required to represent the school at sports.
The boy was immaculately turned out in his bright yellow school sports jersey, black shorts and black socks, which had two white horizontal stripes at the top and were displayed once folded near his knee. He donned his brand-new Adidas Predator football boots, the same ones worn by all the star players across all the football leagues in Europe. He assembled at the football pitches with all the other boys. He noted some were taller and stronger than him, and also noted that some were smaller and fatter than him. He started to slowly fill with doubt, like a glass being filled with water; he wondered if he had what it took to be selected for the school team.
Mr Shufflebottom was supposed to be walking around with his clipboard, but appeared to be exclusively involved in the football trials and wasn’t keeping an eye on any of the other sports. Shufflebottom picked the teams himself, and to look all teams look evenly matched. He then gave direction for the team opposite the boy to be the skins, and when these boys removed their jerseys, the majority had fit bodies, ripped like Spartans, some appeared to be airbrushed! The boy didn’t fancy his chances. The games commenced and at the end of the session, Shufflebottom started to read off a list of names. The names of those who had been selected for the team. The boy felt he didn’t play well at all, he rarely touched the ball and when he did, gave it away within seconds. Each time a name was called out, the feeling of missing out, sunk deeper inside him. But too his surprise, his name was the last to be called off the sheet attached to the clipboard held by Mr Shufflebottom.
Although the boy had been selected for this year’s football team, he rarely played in the first team and was a squad player. Although it was bittersweet, the boy didn’t mind, he enjoyed the company of his peers, new friends from different year groups. Even though he didn’t play, the training sessions greatly improved his game and he spent most of his free time at home practicing ball control and kick-ups in his back garden.
Towards the end of the season, and academic year, a tournament took place between the top 100 school football teams in England and was held at Wembley Stadium. The home of football! The boy’s school had qualified for the tournament, but several of the older players were unable to participate due to upcoming exams. Mr Shufflebottom informed the squad as they sat on the school minibus on the drive down the London that they didn’t have enough players for any substitutes, and that all the players will have to play every minute of every game, unless they got injured. He also told them not to get injured. With confirmation that he would be playing and his friends by his side, the boy knew that this was his chance to establish himself in the team and be selected again for next year’s squad. Not being in the squad would send the boy back into the lonely abyss, of having no-one to talk to and playing Scrabble for one. The stakes were high.
Very early on in their first game it was evident to all that the boy was a much better player than he had been at the trial. The boy was confident and strong on the ball. His control, passing and shooting were accurate, which paid off for his team. He scored in every game and his team didn’t even concede a goal in the group stages. The boy’s school team were unstoppable, winning each game easily. However, there was also another team playing with a similar winning streak, and these two teams were to play each other in the final for the cup.
The final was a very even game. With each team holding possession for long periods but unable to get a shot on target when in the opposition’s penalty area. However, in the last minute of the game the boy played a beautifully chipped pass over the two opposition centre-halves and played his mate Lofty in on goal, one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The goalie came off his line and pushed Lofty wide, but before Lofty could get passed the keeper his shirt was pulled back and he fell to the ground just short of the six-yard box. Every man and his dog turned to the referee, who simultaneously blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot. It was a penalty! Roderick, head boy and team captain, ran over to the boy and said, “It’s all yours!”
The boy put the ball down on the penalty spot. Keeping his gaze down as he took four short steps back. The keeper had spread his arms and legs wide, turning himself in to a wall, and was constantly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The boy ran up with the intention of firing the ball into the top right-hand corner, something that he had practiced again and again in his back garden when he returned home from school to an empty house. But at the last second before striking the ball, he changed his mind and shot towards the left. The keeper dived the right way and palmed the ball on to the post. The boy fell to the floor, punching the ground and wished he hadn’t changed his mind at the last moment.
Had he lost them the cup? They still had time, or so he thought. But to make matters worse, when the ball rebounded off the post, it landed outside the penalty area at the feet of their lean, six foot tall, right winger who hoofed the ball down the pitch and then outran everyone to be the first to reach his own pass. Like poetry in motion, he did what Lofty couldn’t do and rounded the keeper before passing the ball effortlessly into an empty net. He ran off down the wing holding his arms out horizontally by his side, like the swept wings of an aeroplane.
The referee blew his whistle. Not a hint of offside. The goal stood. The referee blew the whistle some more. The final whistle. They lost. The boy was a runner up, so close to being a winner. His team mates and friends came over to consolidate him. No spite or negativity. They did well to get this far without any subs, and would no doubt be better prepared next season.
Sometimes in life you win and sometimes you lose, but in life you have to take the rough with the smooth.