Last week we caught one in the park when we was having a kick round. Big old geezer. He was taking a short cut on the path through the park. Looked like he was in a dream. Mick kicks the ball at him and hits his rear wheel. We all go “Yesss!” He stops and he goes: “Who did that?”
“Who did that?” I holler as I get off my bike. I’m not angry, just a bit shocked. There are five youths, with a girl, standing around the grassy area beside the kids’ playground, and looking at me. They are all about 16 or 17. Some of them are wearing those loose parkas with hoods that make them look like delinquent monks on Asbos. The others wear baseball caps.
I suppose the parka hood helps to make them anonymous on the street – hides their acne as well. As for the universal baseball cap, this topic came up the other day at one of our old lads’ pub lunches, because George was wearing one, and he’s nearly seventy. He said it was America’s gift to young and old across the world, along with Coke and jeans and trainers. But I digress.
So the parka nearest me replies “She did”, pointing to the girl. I give a quick grin to show I can take a joke, and get back on my bike, heading towards the park gate. Then two footballs whizz past my head in quick succession, clearly aimed at me. I feel a jolt of anger and I cycle over to one of the balls. Awkwardly trying to hold my bike with one hand, I scoop up the ball with the other. I hold it up. Now what?
This old bloke’s well tall. He’s got an orange anorak and a woolly hat with a bob on top. Shame the balls missed him. But at least we made him lose his rag all right. You could see it on his face. Not a word – he just stands there with our ball in his hand, like he was saying come and get it. Trace gives me one of her looks and I know it’s up to me to make a move.
I’d often wondered what it would be like to tangle with a gang of yobs. Up till now
I’d kept clear of the Friday and Saturday night pub crowd by crossing the road or walking fast and tall with eyes straight ahead. But as I get older I can’t help feeling nervous when I see a group of youths coming towards me down the street. Not that this group I’ve stumbled into are yobs of the worst sort. They aren’t drunk or drugged or foul-mouthed. I suppose the girl being there helps to keep things cool. But the boys would be out to impress her. What do they call that stuff that makes them act tough and cocky ? Test…something or other. I can’t remember the word. Anyway, there’s plenty of that in the glands of this lot. Their faces wear the kind of look that winds up anyone in authority — policeman, referee, teacher or parent. I mean that mocking look, with hooded eyes and tight mouths. Young louts. It makes you want to……… Easy now, cool it. One of them is coming towards me. Don’t say anything – yet.
I’m well cool as I tool up to the old geezer and stop to look at him. He looks back at me and then bounces the ball and catches it and looks at me once more. He thinks I’ll say “Can we have our ball back please?” like a kid. But I just stare at him with the look I give old blokes, know what I mean? I never know how old they are. Like, they just look old. This one has glasses on, and bushy black eyebrows – a bit like my old man to tell the truth. He’s got a scar on his cheek. He looks more of a hard man than I thought. Trust me to pick a tough old git. But, like, I got to show Trace and my mates that I can get the ball back on my own.
The one who’s come up to me is trying to stare me into giving their ball back. The others seem to be leaving it to him, but I know they’ll come and help their mate if need be. If it comes to a fight, I wonder if I can hold my own. I mustn’t get into close quarters. But I‘m not going to run. I have my pride. I’m the offended party, not them. I look down at my hand holding the ball to check it’s not shaking. Good – it’s steady. Suddenly my mobile rings – it’s my wife. I switch off. This is no time to discuss shopping. I look back at the youth. He seems a bit older than the others, pushing eighteen maybe. The wind blows his hood back and I can see more of his face. It’s spotted with acne, but not bad looking. Have I seen him somewhere before? Looks a bit like Justin, my own teenage son – maybe they went to school together.
I’ve got to do something, but what? How can I give the ball back without being a loser? I could try booting it high over their heads with a mighty kick that would show my anger and maybe even get their admiration. That would leave us honours even. But I might miss my kick and get jeered at. I could hold the ball high above my head and let acne-face try and get it. But that might lead to violence. I could, of course, just ride off with the ball. But that seems a bit childish and wouldn’t settle the matter. They’d come looking for me with those ugly brutes of dogs they keep on the estate.
I wonder about a more verbal approach. Sweetly reasonable: “Now look, lad, what’s all this about? Can’t a man cycle across the park without getting bombarded by footballs?” Or the sarcastic: “You trying to impress your girlfriend?” Or the abusive: “You do that again, you toe-rag and I’ll have your guts for garters.” No, on second thoughts, best shut up.
I’m getting totally pissed off by all this. I hear one of my mates jeer at me. I quit the big dumb stare and go off to pick the other ball up to give me time to think. I could, like, mouth off at the old git and make him see he’d get a good kicking. But Trace don’t want that. She don’t like me swearing. I could, like, just spit at his feet and walk off. But that looks like I’m bottling out. Well, I think I’ll just go and grab the ball back. Then spit on his bike. Maybe get a shot on my i-phone. Yeah, I like that. Sick, man. Let’s do it!
Oh-oh, acne-face is coming back. His mates are moving up too. It’s decision time. Suddenly I hear a whistle blow in my head and I‘m off. They’re all amazed as I run towards them dribbling the ball. “Come and get it then!” I shout as I gather pace and bear down on acne-face. He tries to tackle me but I dodge round him and on to the football field. The others are running towards me. I weave round two of them as they lunge at the ball. Soon I’m badly out of breath – the old ticker’s not what it was. But I’ve still got the ball and I’m just like Schweinsteiger, twisting and turning with it, showing skill I’d forgotten I had. I see goal posts ahead. It’s all coming back to me. I shape up and shoot, and the ball curls into the top right-hand corner of the net. “G-o-a-l!” I scream, as I fall on my knees with arms out wide before the cheering crowd.
At first I thought he was a real nutter, know what I mean? But Trace had a chat with him after. Turns out he used to be a striker for the local team and all that stuff. Like, I still see him out on his bike. He gives me a wave. I wave back. Silly old git.