I’ve been playing 5-a-side football on a Thursday night now for the last 8 years. Initially it was an office game, and the squad consisted almost entirely of people who worked in my department, but even then there were a few unfamiliar faces in the crowd, friends of friends who had turned up to make up the numbers. We would turn up every week with a light shirt and a dark shirt, and we would pick teams. If we ever picked the same teams two weeks running, then it certainly wasn’t deliberate. The great thing about the game, and the thing that made it attractive to me, was the fact that it was so friendly. In spite of the fact that there were quite a large variety of skill levels in the squad, with a couple of players being really quite good, everyone was very patient and nobody was made to feel as through they weren’t welcome, no matter how unfit they were or how bad their first touch was. I hadn’t played football for a while when I started, and I’ve never really been much good at it (I have the turning circle of an aircraft carrier and all the ball skill of a yak with a wooden leg), but it was fun and I’ve stuck at it.
Somehow, I inherited the heavy responsibility of being chairman making sure that the pitch is booked and that we have enough players. It’s not a job that takes up a great deal of my time, and basically consists of maintaining an email list of players and sending out a one line message on a Monday asking them if they fancy a game. The hardest part is keeping the numbers up in the squad. There aren’t many players left now from that original squad I joined in 1998, and I don’t think that anybody is actually working for that old department anymore. I’m not even sure where some of them come from or what they do, and yet I’ve been playing football with them for five years. It’s that kind of a game.
One of the guys who was there when I first started playing and is still playing now is probably about ten years older than me. His lad used to come along with him on a Thursday night in the hope of getting a game. Rich was only about eight years old then, but occasionally we would let him play when we were short or as an extra man. He still turns up to our games, only now he’s sixteen years old and is getting a bit too good to be left unmarked. Watching him play with his dad though is just priceless. I’m sure they love each other to bits, but you wouldn’t think so to hear them playing together: every misfortune is greeted with tremendous glee and they are at each other like hammer and tongs for the whole game, even when they are playing on the same side.
As loads of teenagers do, Rich has been growing his hair. I think partly this is to annoy his dad, but it’s also partly him expressing himself. I think it must be in something of a transitional phase at the moment: when he walked into the changing rooms last week, he seriously looked like one of Harry Enfield’s scousers [YouTube]. Everyone had a good laugh at him, obviously, but a bit later on I had a chat with him out on the pitch:
“So are you growing it then?”
”What look are you going for?”
I looked at him, and I could kind of see what he meant. The Kooks are a pretty good band, but their singer has this long-ish, unruly curly hair that he sometimes hides beneath terrible hats. As a haircut to aspire to, I could think of better but I could certainly think of worse. At least they are a decent band.
”Oh yeah, I can see that”
Rich looked at me in amazement, “Do you mean you’ve heard of the Kooks? You’ve actually heard of the Kooks”
“Yeah. I’ve got the album”
“You’re the first old person I’ve said that to who has known what I’m talking about!”