I was nine years old when I realised how smart I was. I was ten when I discovered I was a fool. Perhaps you know the feeling. Let’s start with smart.
My new football boots were something special: Gola with white polyurethane soles and ‘screw-in’ studs, not black moulded rubber like my previous pair, now too small. I added tartan inner soles for a snug fit and also devised a simple way to prove the boots were mine – a premonition perhaps? But more of that later.
School closed for summer and I played in my precious boots every day for six weeks in the local park. In Liverpool, where I grew up, ‘footy’ is not a sport, it’s a religion: you play morning, noon and night. Win or lose, you don’t go home until it’s dark and your kit is black with muck. Paradise! Unless you lose your boots. Even today, I’m not sure how it happened, but this is how it happened.
One afternoon after a hard game, I was sitting with my mates. We unlaced our boots and tossed them aside while we inspected our blisters and watched the pink sky turn purple over the city. Near me sat my best friend Simon – our winger who ran like a cheetah; his brother Martin – midfield dynamo in a Brazil shirt, and Steve Sweeney – our brave skinny goalie who was always getting hurt. Altogether there were about twenty kids, including a blond stranger who had made my life hell that day. I played central defence and not many people got past me, but this newcomer had, more than once. I could only hope he would attend our school in the new term and play for our team, but alas, my enquiries revealed he was a not a Catholic like most of us, which meant he would go to a different one. Oh well.
At home time, I stood up and was stunned to discover that my boots had vanished. “Maybe someone pinched them,” said Simon, as darkness descended.
Definitely, maybe. I spent the rest of the summer playing in a pair of worn out tennis pumps, slipping on my ass in the grass. I pleaded with my parents for new boots but money was tight – my dad rode a bicycle to work night shifts in a factory. Lost your boots, son? You’ll lose your head, if you don’t screw it tight.
Summer ended and classes resumed. I was captain of the school team and scrutinized our autumn fixtures: one game per week against other schools in north Liverpool. I wondered which school that new striker would attend, and how I was supposed to stop him without boots? My parents made me sweat until the last minute but when I led my colleagues out for our first game, I had new ones: cheap with black rubber soles. My fault for not being vigilant, right?
The weeks passed. Some games we won, some we lost. Simon scored a sweet volley. Martin scored an own goal. Steve broke his thumb. We were kids for whom every game was a cup final. I soon forgot about that clever striker until the day I spotted him warming up for our local rivals, a big Protestant school. His hair was longer and he did not return my greeting. By half time he had netted two goals, a hero to his colleagues. Like I said, I was central defence so you can blame me, but here’s my alibi: his unusual boots with their floppy tongues and classy white soles distracted me. Gola Europa? Definitely maybe.
We lost 0-4 and Blondie scored three. I changed quickly and was waiting for him in the school car park when he emerged with his grinning teammates.
“Well done,” I said, blocking his exit, “And nice boots.”
He played dumb. “Thanks, now can I leave?”
“After I see them,” I said, with my hand out. He gave me a dirty look, told me to get lost and tried to push past. I grabbed his bag and we scuffled, surrounded by our peers, all happy to see a scrap. A teacher yelled and pulled us apart, demanding an explanation. Blondie pointed at me.
“He took my boots, because I scored three!”
“Is this true?” said the teacher, steaming. I told him about my missing boots and reached into Blondie’s bag. The boots inside it had tartan inner soles.
“Just like mine,” I said. The teacher stared at me as if I was mad.
“Doesn’t prove they’re your boots!” howled the blond kid. So I lifted the inner soles to reveal a slip of sticky tape, stuck to each boot, with my name on it.
“But this does,” I said and watched his face fall. Simon, Martin and Steve patted me on the back as my indignant young rival vanished from the car park.
Smart eh? I found my boots and the ace striker lost his reputation as a cool dude. That’s all from the sports desk. Next month, I’ll tell you about the time I discovered I was a fool.
(First published in FHM, October 2009, by S.C Sanoma Hearst Romania SRL)