"Team talk," I say. "Gather round."
It’s been a good eight years since we’ve challenged some local youths of north London to a game of football. I glance across the tarmac football pitch of Highbury Fields at the motley assortment of urchins, heads down listening to the music on their mobiles until the last possible moment.
"We’ve got to be firm but fair. Hit them hard enough so they know they can’t push us around, but not so hard that they, um, you know, stab us."
"They already look so angry," one of our number mutters. "If they lose, do you think they’ll rob us?"
"Look, just remember that with our easy going manner and cheerful elocution, we seem just as alien as they do to us. They’ll probably just bicker amongst themselves and steer clear of talking to us. Now, don’t get dragged out of position and we’ll see how organised they are."
I glance at each of our team in turn. We should be alright. Okay, most of us don’t play football regularly anymore, but so far age has been fairly kind: none of us are bald and, give or take the odd 15 pounds (well, just give really), none of us are too obviously out of shape.
We move the ball fluidly – some nice triangle passing allowing us to bypass their midfield – and when things start to get a bit tasty we politely pile into them, ensuring the early scuffed knees and palms are amongst their numbers but that hands are shaken good naturedly afterwards. As predicted, they begin to bicker about who should play in which position, and after fifteen minutes we are 4-1 up.
After those initial fifteen minutes though, one thing becomes clear: organisation and communication alone aren’t much of a match for youthful stamina. They come at us in waves and waves, and soon enough we have wordlessly abandoned the idea of passing to each other, instead wellying it as far down their end as we can in order to get a breather. Soon enough our communication pretty much ceases too as we don’t have the breath to spare.
An hour or so later, we hobble away. None of us are sure if we were defeated in the end, but our legs hurt, our backs are sore, blisters are letting themselves be known, and the pub is a much more pressing concern than scorelines.
The tykes shout after us.
"Come next week, yeah? Come next week!"
5 weeks ago