On the Green
Updated: Apr 15
We were, in the words of the song of the day, ‘Football Crazy’. Back in our formative years my mates and I had little time for anything else, although speaking for myself I seem to recall a burgeoning interest in school chums Sarah Hope and Barbara Robinson roundabout this period.
But in truth the game held sway at this stage of our lives and our heads were more likely to be turned by a Dave Mackay sliding tackle than a female classmate’s flirtatious toss of the hair, our loins more stirred by the thrill of a Gilzean header smacking into the back of the net than our sly glances at the netball practice which was in progress adjacent to the school football pitch. Yes, at school we had a pitch, but at home – in a well-to-do but isolated village – while there were well-maintained cricket facilities, bankrolled by the wealthy residents from the ‘hood where the big houses sat, for football fun we relied on the traditional jumpers-for-goalposts. We annexed the bottom end of the cricket field for matches.
(Mrs Bryer has drawn a helpful map which the faithful reader might find useful in following subsequent events.)
The jumpers were fine, although there were the usual disputes;
“Never. It hit the post.”
“Goal, I tell you.”
“It went in off the post.”
Never mind arguments about the position of crossbars. Apart from these Brexit-like stand-offs there was also the added hazard of a mangy local dog who, finding its attempts to join the game thwarted by a volley of divots, stones, and occasionally footwear, took revenge by cocking its leg and slashing all over whichever unfortunate kid’s jumper was nearest.
We hatched a plan. Suddenly there was wood about, I can’t remember where we, ahem, sourced it from, but with the aid of a borrowed saw, a hammer, and a few nails, we banged out an approximation of a goal. Obviously we couldn’t be digging fixing-holes in the hallowed cricket turf, so the addition of stanchions meant we had a couple of free-standing, but not absolutely stable, football goals over which, of course, we slapped generous amounts of white paint which had also been freed up from a lonely and pointless existence in some parental shed.
When the paint dried, or more likely some time before, we took our goals - complete with crossbars and posts which would brook no argument about the validity of goal attempts - up to the top of the village in a fair-to-middling imitation of the procession to Golgotha. We couldn’t know then that this seemingly innocent act of innovation would have ramifications.
Because now we had reasonably permanent fixtures for our fixtures, the tendency to roam about the cricket field and drop jumpers in random positions was history, but by staying put we were scuffing up the sainted greensward of Midsomer, and as the ghosts of Hutton and Hobbs looked on, creating two dirty great patches of mud. Which I can see now rather spoiled the vista. We would generally remove the goals before the cricketers had a match, but on one occasion we didn’t and were shocked to see a couple of flannelled-fools scooping up our beloved goals and unceremoniously hurling them into the rough undergrowth on the other side of the road which encircled the cricket field. This led to us making some emergency repairs to the goals and adding a few choice comments about members of the village club in thick black felt tip. Clearly something had to give.
We were summoned to one of The Big Houses on a Sunday morning. Our delegation made its way up the wide-gravelled splendour and we were admitted through the back door to the kitchen, where the G&Ts were being mixed (although not for us, you understand). The offer was this, the local bigwig in whose kitchen we were so carefully corralled, would provide us with proper posts – made from steel piping – and sink them into the ground in the bottom field. The one with grass a foot-deep and which played host to an old horse called Jack. We asked about the grass, and the big cheese said the cricket club would cut it and maintain it for us.
“What about Jack?”
“Jack, the horse. We can’t play with a horse on the centre spot.”
“Ah, yes. I believe a place has been found for Jack on a nice farm somewhere.”
We were thrilled that Jack was going to be looked after. And considering events today from within this hard-earned carapace of cynicism, I see now that Jack would have indeed been ‘looked after’.
True to their word, they put the posts in, they mowed the grass for us. Once. After that we were never granted access to the bigwig’s kitchen and shy enquiries about the promised pitch maintenance were met with the bum’s rush. So, we had posts and a football pitch but we also had a grass problem (although a different one to that which some of my old pals went on to develop later). What to do?
I don’t have to shut my eyes to transport myself back to a summer evening all those years ago. I can see teams of small boys, backlit by the setting sun, ranged across the field pushing manual rotary mowers, the heady smell of the freshly-mown grass which is being raked up by a back-up team is in the air. We mowed the pitch so that the long grass formed the touchlines, an initiative which I would like to see adopted at the highest levels of the game – perhaps with the random addition of predators.
The moment of the first game we played on it after we had done the groundsman duties was exciting beyond measure, well it was for boys of our age who had little with which to compare it. A vital 3-and-in tournament was in its final stages and being played out by torchlight, in blatant disregard of the ‘Be home before it gets dark’ rule. But on that occasion, I think we got away with it.