Thursday, 2 October 2008
The big match
It was on a drizzle-specked dud of a day that the lads attempted to claim a slice of that golden glazed glory pie they'd heard so much about.
Smigsy, G'riller, Yabbo, Dave and Chatsy where the back four and goalie. Sam, Tony, Hunter, Casey and Chav packed the midfield. Ray was up front on his own.
They'd played every mud pool across the county to reach this moment. Here they were, in a half decent stadium, which usually hosted half decent teams playing half decent football – and the ground wasn't even half full.
"Be packed if it weren't rainin!" That's what Casey said. He's always first in with encouragement for the team. Probably should be captain but the manager, Steve Lennon, is persevering with Tony – sticking with his totem, his good luck charm.
They haven't lost so far on this cup run with Tony leading the way. He doesn't say much, he gets stuck in, he's good on the ball. 'Keep him happy and he plays well, then the lads play well.' That's the philosophy of Steve Lennon.
"That's how it works at this level," he says after five pints. "That's just how it has to be!" Some of the players call him 'Lenin'. He probably doesn't mind.
His team's name is Hanley. Just Hanley. Today they're playing a team that's just called Real Livingstone Rangers. “Young, inexperienced, easy to knock around.”
They're fast though. And skilful. They score first thanks to pace and quality. They only score one more, though, because they get calmly kicked right off the park. Real Livingstone Rangers' second and consolation goal is scored from a free kick, lumped forward onto the head of a striker. It is in a similar manner to how Hanley scored their five goals.
All majesty has been slowly drained from the occasion and, with each passing raindrop to hit the green turf, Rangers' chance to play some nice football literally disintegrated underfoot.
They had a good night, that night, did the lads from Hanley. At last, their name was going to be written on the cup, just as soon as they had enough money to pay for the inscription.
The drinking and singing went on long into the night, and Casey had to go back to the pub the next day to reclaim the trophy he'd dropped there, the night before.
He couldn't believe he'd left that precious trophy behind. The last thing he could remember about the night before was Lenin reliving the tactics which had won his team the cup, saying: "That's just how it works at this level, you see. That's just how it has to be."
‘He really believed in his tactics, did old Lenin,’ thought Casey as he walked home, silver cup in hand. He couldn’t stifle a grin.
After a few minutes he put the trophy away in his sports bag, swapping it for the match ball he’d taken home with him from the final. And Stephen Case kicked that ball all the way home, just like he was a schoolboy. The edge of every fence was a goalpost to him then. Every wall, a goal.