Dog Shit Heroes

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I played lots of football and was in the school team from the first term. It was an unsuccessful team, even though we played only one other private school called Mill Hall. That school had a pupil whose Dad was a professional footballer and he helped coach them. We lost for years, exacerbated by the dubiously large kids who played for the opposition’s under-fourteen team.

In order to compensate for this, when I was a striker for the over-fourteen team, the sports teachers put me in the younger squad. They had lost every game for nearly three years and, being on the small-side, I was brought in as a legitimate-looking under-fourteen. We played at our home ground, Grayfolds, and held our own until mid-way into the second half, when I received a pass and struck it into the top right-hand corner of the goal. A defender hand-balled it away and the whistle blew for a penalty. I left it to the captain, who insisted I took it. I placed the ball on the spot, looked up, walked back a few paces and stopped for a moment. My heart raced as everyone looked at me. Then my breathing calmed down. I ran up and kicked the ball exactly where I had originally struck it. The ball hit the net this time. My teammates jumped on me and celebrated their only lead for years. We hung on to the final whistle and the team went wild, half-dragging and half-carrying me off the pitch. Our sports teachers stood on the touchline with folded arms. They caught my eye as I flowed away and nodded.

A year later and we were to play our last match for the over-fourteen squad before leaving school. Our senior team had never won against Mill Hall, but we kicked-off with an unlikely determination. We took the lead in the first half and they equalized within minutes. I was put through down the wing, but ended up being badly fouled and flew head over heels. A good friend of mine called Dave Kane, I’ll always remember him, was the first to make sure I was okay.

In the second half, they scored another goal. Then we passed the ball about until, just over the half-way line, a mate slotted the ball to me. I took it down the right wing and eyed an opposition player to my left, who swung across the pitch. I slipped the ball through his legs and accelerated. Within ten metres, I was faltering as the bigger defenders caught me up. Just outside the box, I hoofed the ball as hard as I could and fell face down. I looked up as the ball dipped under the bar. It was 2-2.

Nothing came of the remaining ten minutes until almost the final whistle. On the left-wing, a scraggy blonde-haired lad who scored our first goal, stormed through their defence and kicked the ball across the penalty area. It bounced and was too far ahead, so I slid though some dog shit and bundled the ball awkwardly into the net. Dave Kane helped me up and screamed “You did it! You fucking did it!!” We won our last and only game 3-2!! We actually won. Leaping around in excitement, we were heroes for a few minutes. Some of the opposition sunk to their knees, others hung their heads in shame. After years of defeat, we came through to victory! That meant so much. I still remember the claps and smiles from our teachers as we left the field.

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