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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
13.4 (Fall 2013)
NEW SHORT STORY
courtesy of artrenewal.org
David Z. Crookes
Arthur Trench was a very happy man.
Geriatrics United Football Club had been established twelve years before. The idea of the founder members was to allow really incompetent footballers, such as they all were, to play a proper match every week. One of their number was a headmaster who provided them with a pitch and a pavilion. Another was a myopic non-playing doctor who loved dressing up in black and pretending to be a referee. Every Saturday the club’s ‘A’ side (red tops, black shorts) would take the field against its own ‘B’ side (black tops, red shorts). Each player had two kits. Membership of the different sides was determined by lot on the day of the match. In general the standard of play was outrageously bad: OGs were quite common, and the word ‘offside’ was unknown.
From time to time the club would play an away fixture against a ‘Proper Team’. Its twelve-year record in serious matches of this class was not impressive: played 39, drew 5, lost 34. Nonetheless any team that played against the Geriatrics quickly came to respect them for their fearless ferocity. ‘Boys, you play a real hard game,’ said one limping enemy at the end of a fiercely fought match. ‘You’re a very physical team,’ said another. More than once the Geriatrics had hospitalized a promising young player. As a local journalist observed, ‘These men take no prisoners.’
At Hallowe’en, four years before, they had gone on their first ever tour. One enterprising member of the club, who happened to be an architect, sent off a printed letter to his city-dwelling friends all over the UK. ‘The members of Geriatrics United Football Club intend to visit your city on one of the dates shown below. We invite you to put together a team of utterly incompetent footballers, and play us a match.’ Four of the targeted cities took him at his word, and eventually the challengers found themselves booked up to play in Glasgow, Durham, Newcastle and Carlisle. Against the expectations of everyone, they drew one match and won the three others.
That first tour changed everything. Fifteen gentlemen, all of them under forty, applied to join the club. Then the Geriatrics took over a disused shed beside the school pitch where they played, and converted it into a barless clubhouse. They began to enjoy the respect of their families, colleagues, and friends. The biggest change that they noticed was at home. There were no more complaints about the washing of their kits. Four magic syllables — ’won 3, drew 1’ — magically altered the minds of ladies who up until then had regarded their menfolk as deluded Quixotes. One night a group of wives stormed into the clubhouse. At their behest the Geriatrics reconstituted themselves as Teign and Dart Football Club. The wives immediately established a hockey-playing Ladies’ Section, and elected as their first president a lady dentist whose hobby was heraldry. Before long The Secret Project was under way.
It started as a great joke. Over time it took on a notable gravity as the women organized various social events to raise money for ‘Club Development’. How much the whole thing cost very few people knew, but six months after their first tour the renamed Geriatrics were presented with dark green blazers whose opulent badges had been made in the Far East . (The badge-motto, IAM SENIORES SED CRUDI, was adapted from Aeneid VI by Arthur Trench, who at twenty-seven was the youngest of the original members.) Reckoning themselves to be armigerous, the seniores immediately commissioned a multitudinous array of club blazers, ties, scarves, cufflinks, key-fobs, hand-painted wooden shields, and pewter tankards. TDFC memorabilia appeared in the windows of two local sports shops, much to the rage of a certain rugby club, and sold rather well.
There was no stopping the Geriatrics. After deciding to accept ‘social members’, they started up a monthly Supporters’ Night for the enjoyment of tea, sandwiches, buns, and old films. Someone gave them an ancient piano, so they formed a choir. Then, sensible of their new dignity, they panelled the clubhouse entrance hall with oak plywood, and displayed their fantastical blazon of arms in a glass case on one side. ‘You ought to have a trophies cabinet on the other side,’ the dentist said wistfully. She was overheard by a club member who taught technology. That man said nothing, but he worked for four months in his spare time to provide the club both with a worthy trophy (the Steel Cup) and with a worthy cabinet. He presented the cup to great acclamation at the club’s first proper AGM. Those present voted to establish an annual competition in which the ‘A’ team would play the ‘B’ team for the Steel Cup at some point between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
As it turned out, the competition might better have been held at another time. Several players would be away over Christmas, several would be entertaining visitors, and others would be out of action by reason of indulgence. Thus it happened that once a year Arthur Trench found himself invited to play for one of the Geriatric sides. He was always home for Christmas, he was an utterly useless footballer, he paid his dues and wore the club blazer, so he was an obvious person to ask.
Today he was playing right back for the ‘B’ side. At nine o’clock Janet and he had swum to the harbour mouth, and then run home. Nearly anything felt good after the harbour. But physical well-being was only part of Arthur’s pleasure. He felt wonderfully at ease with the idea of two thirty-minute halves. Furthermore, he was the second youngest man on the pitch. Ten of the other players looked as if they had discharged themselves from hospital an hour before. There was one enormously tall customer on the ‘A’ side whom he had been warned about. (‘Watch that big boy Charlie, Arthur, he plays for the ‘B’ side of a Proper Team.’) But presently, six minutes into the first half, the big boy didn’t seem to be much of a threat. Like Arthur, he hadn’t had a touch of the ball yet. Charlie was standing in the middle of the park, doing something to his bleached hair with three inches of broken comb. Arthur smiled grimly. Not much to worry about there. And then —
‘Get back and defend!’ the ‘B’s keeper was yelling.
The comb had disappeared, and Bleach Boy was in possession of the ball. He was coming down towards the goal like a killer whale, with four of Arthur’s team-mates gasping uselessly behind him. In a moment he would shoot. There was only one thing to do. Arthur ran straight into him, hard. The ball wandered off harmlessly to the right.
‘Referee!’ Bleach Boy was lying there like the Dying Swan. Arthur held out a hand and helped the fallen hero to his feet. Had that been a foul?
‘Play on,’ said the man in black.
Arthur relaxed. The doctor wasn’t taking any nonsense.
‘That fellow’s an evil animal,’ said a lady spectator.
‘Do you really think so?’ asked Janet in a frigid voice.
‘Yes, I do.’ The lady was silent for a while. ‘Is he your husband?’
‘I’m sorry. The other man’s mine.’
Charlie took his revenge by scoring two exhibition goals before the end of the first half. All the spectators applauded him in a fair-minded spirit. But when Bleach Boy knocked in a contemptuous back-heeler at the start of the second half, and saluted his own brilliance with a crude guffaw, not everyone was amused.
‘Bestial,’ muttered that paragon of local gentility, the doctor’s wife.
Janet wondered if all was lost, but for the last twenty minutes of play the ‘B’s fought back against a three-goal lead, and showed what they were made of. Two lucky crosses, both majestically put away by a forty-year old bus-driver, were in due time followed by an own goal from the ‘A’s left back, and the score was even with less than a minute on the clock.
The ‘A’s seemed to be collapsing. Apart from Bleach Boy they all looked desperately ill, and they were letting pretty well the whole ‘B’ side assemble around their goal-mouth. Arthur Trench and the two other backs were up there with the rest, enjoying fantasies of glory.
Suddenly it all went wrong. The ‘B’ captain moved backwards to take a header, and knocked over the referee. The bus-driver from Arthur’s team took possession almost by accident. For no reason he passed the ball to Bleach Boy, who began to run slowly up the left of an empty field.
‘Get back! Get back!’ the ‘B’ keeper cried out in anguish.
One of the ‘A’ midfielders, the youngest man on the pitch, started to run up on the right to take the cross.
Arthur sprinted up the field after Bleach Boy.
Then, as the referee was putting on his glasses, there was a most appalling piece of play. The bus-driver, trying to make amends, hurtled off to the right at amazing speed. He overtook the ‘A’ player who was running to take the cross from Bleach Boy, and brought him brutally to the ground in a manoeuvre which he would later describe as ‘the flying crowbar’.
The referee looked at his watch. ‘Play on!’ he said.
With upheld hands and upturned faces the victim’s team-mates implored heaven to witness.
‘Don’t worry, boys, Charlie has it in the bag now,’ said the ‘A’ left back.
Flying Crowbar began to race across the pitch towards Bleach Boy.
‘Go right of him, Arthur!’ the ‘B’ keeper called.
Arthur obeyed, and ran in a great arc.
Some men would have tried to go for the ball, but not Arthur Trench.
He knew his limitations.
He refused to endanger his own team by committing a Little-Boy-Blue act of theoretical rectitude
Above all, he believed in the Geriatric policy of total war.
So once he had overtaken his quarry, he turned suddenly and charged right into him, hard.
Bleach Boy crashed to the ground with a moan of impotent fury.
The ball trickled away slowly
‘REFEREE!’ screamed the woman who was standing beside Janet.
The doctor favoured his interlocutor with a friendly wave. ‘Play on!’ he said.
Flying Crowbar sent the ball into enemy territory with a classical toe-pointer
Ten seconds later the ‘A’s right back shouted, ‘Keeper!’, and headed in the second OG of the match. Three blasts on the whistle sounded for full time. Bleach Boy was helped to his feet. The ‘B’s had won the Steel Cup.
What followed bore witness to the essential goodness of the players.
The two teams clapped and cheered each other.
The captain of the ‘A’ team presented the Steel Cup to the captain of the ‘B’ team.
Everyone applauded, and cameras clicked.
Bleach Boy slapped Arthur on the back, and said that he always respected a dedicated killer
Then the twenty-two footballers shook hands with each other. They even shook hands with the referee.
Farewells were exchanged, and ladies came up to claim their menfolk.
‘Well played, big boy.’ Janet took her husband’s arm. ‘Now listen. There’s a woman over there who wants to meet you. Come this way quickly, dear, and don’t ask me any questions.’
Arthur Trench was a very happy man.
David Z. Crookes resides in Northern Ireland, where he combines a mastery of several languages ancient and modern with an equally impressive skill at many sporting endeavors. The present story (which he advises us is far from fictional) embodies not only the diverse interests, but also the humane sense of humor, of a Renaissance man.
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