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Chewing fingernail smacks a little too much of cannibalism to me, so I was glad the lads didn’t give me cause for grief last Sunday. Could’ve got bloody. With no TV snacks left, I might’ve bit them down to the quick and drawn claret, like I almost did on Thursday during the semi-final. I was nibbling skin when Febregas got the last kick of the penalty shootout into the onion bag as it was.
If the news hasn’t reached your part of the world yet, the other night saw one of the most exciting events in the history of soccer. The final of the Eurocup, Spain against Italy, was fought in the repressive republic of Ukraine.
In the end it was a doddle and, like the rest of Spain, our pueblo yet got another chance to forget financial ruin to celebrate as wildly as possible out on the streets.
By the time Anji and I arrived at the lion fountain it was filled with overjoyed teenagers gleefully drowning their friends. Cars were tooting, whistles were blowing, pensioners in red and yellow football shirts were dancing. Red and yellow streamers, scarves and flags were everywhere. We couldn’t get anywhere near the new fountain down by the old arch. The one with the rusting sculptures of cubic tuna leaping into an everchanging rainbow of coloured lights. Reminds me of old fish cans lying in a puddle with a thin film of oil on its surface. A hysterically ecstatic crowd steaming serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine blocked the ancient entrance to the town. World soccer champions Spain had claimed the European Cup for the second time in a row with the most decisive win in history slamming four goals into the net while conceding not one against a forlorn and battered Italy. They had proved themselves to be the best soccer team the world has ever seen. Heady stuff, even Anji and I felt our bodies tingle with excitement.
Although I never got a proper handle on the rules, I loved playing soccer as a boy. After shovelling a few sandwiches down my gullet I’d spend entire lunch hours playing on Victoria Park opposite our school. I supposed it stemmed from being one of those toddlers who keeps on accidentally sticking his foot out and kicking the ball from his hands each time he tries to pick it up.
But the main game at my school was rugby. Or rugger, as they used to have us call it for some weird middle class reason. Being the tiniest boy in the class at the age of eleven, I wasn’t quite so fond of it. In fact, it gave me nightmares. On the rugby field the other boys appeared – and behaved – like monsters to me. I spend most wintry Wednesday afternoons running this way and that, desperately trying to avoid coming into contact with the ball. Looking busy and getting dirty, praying the ball wouldn’t land in my hands by accident, wan’t so easy as it sounds. Sod’s Law had it sometimes it would. And when that happened I would run for my life in any direction being pursued by a snarling mob of prepubescent meseomorphs and endomorphs. It was like being hunted down pack of rabid dogs. Once they caught up, as they inevitably did, their legs being longer and stronger than mine, they would leap on me as one, crushing and pummelling me into the mud in what could only be described as an attempt to slaughter me.
And then with summer there came cricket. Beach cricket is fine. A gentle, civilised sort of game in which it’s really hard to suffer anything more painful than stubbing your big toe sharply against a pebble. Whacking a bald tennis ball with a toy bat as far as you can is great. Girls can play too. Only if there aren’t enough boys, of course. Or if your Mum and Dad forces you to let them. Even then they aren’t allowed to hog the bat too long. But real cricket with real hard balls is just another licenced torture sadisitic teachers are allowed to practice on the underweight and vertically-challenged.
When they first kitted me up with outsized gloves, pads and gave me a bat I could hardly lift, let alone drag to the crease, I knew I was in for another experience of the angst-ridden kind. I was not to be disappointed. The first mistake I made was to think the batsman stood behind the three spindly wooden sticks they called wickets for protection from the madman hurling rocks covered in leather from the other end of the pitch. It makes sense if you think about it. But no, as the target you had to stand out in the open. And the English claim to have invented fair play. I can’t help but think cricket developed out of the sport of stoning people to death. They probably gave those being stoned a stick to make the fun last a bit longer.
Thinking about it, as I just have, most of my many present day traumas appear have been born and nutured on the playing fields of England. Perhaps they should be levelled to the ground. I think I might give the Olympics a miss this year and take up train spotting again.
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