from Pantperthog to Knockando

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Another Sunday story

Given the hugely popular reaction the last time I did this (thanks, Viv for being the only person who commented!), I've dusted off another oldie to entertain. Feel free to comment, even if you think it sucks.

Beckham(TM)

The message that popped up on Mill’s computer screen was innocuous enough. The subject-line ‘Vital Information for Immediate Action’ could have related to anything, but the call-sign in the sender’s box – three lion’s heads in a revolving shield - wrested Mill’s concentration away from the property description he was writing.

He felt his heart miss a beat.

A rapid glance across at his boss’ work-station revealed Mr. Harmer was wearing a virtual reality headset; a second look confirmed that his cantankerous employer was dozing rather than mapping a VR tour of a prospective client’s apartment. Mill hit the button to enlarge the message. It was a news item stolen from the club’s official web-page and sent to everybody on Gumboy’s list. The headline said it all: TOWN SIGN A BECKHAM™ it screamed.

Quickly Mill scanned the story for details. The Beckham in question was no.148, officially licensed as a ‘grade 2’ and had been signed from West Brom. The Albion had originally paid 7 million eurosterling to the originators and accelerators Beckham Bionics.

Mill paused in his reading. Beckham Bionics were a good company. Not as good as Beckhams Unlimited who kept both Manchester United and Real Madrid supplied with a new model every year, but better than any of the other corporations or the cheap foreign imports that flooded into Europe from the genome factories in the Far East.
No. 148 had played seventeen times for West Brom but had yet to hit the net for them – a poor return ratio for an average clone, let alone a grade 2 model. Now, with the Islamist Alliance organising protests outside every home game, the Albion had been forced to sell their unnatural play-maker.

And Town had somehow found the money to sign him!

Mill moved the message into his desktop scrapbook where he kept everything sent to him about his beloved club. He had never bothered finding out what it was supposed to be used for, but he had e-clips going back years stored in there.

With the message filed, he tried to get back to the task in hand, but found he could not concentrate. This was a huge gamble for their small club – cloning was still an inexact science and the burger bars and supermarkets of London and Manchester were allegedly full of Beckhams who had not made the grade. No goals in seventeen games? Why had the board signed him?

Mill checked his watch. He was now into the ‘lunch window’ and the reserves would shortly be kicking off down at Rowley Park. Of course no.148 would not be playing today, but he might get a glimpse of him. He hurriedly struggled into his threadbare suit jacket and silently left the office.


No.148 was not present, but Gumboy, Hoots and Dom were there, watching the latest bunch of hopefuls looking for a contract do their best to impress the Town coaches. The season was a week away and there were apparently still squad vacancies to fill.

Mill nodded to Dom and Hoots and snagged Gumboy’s elbow. The two of them began walking along the terrace as Mill opened his sandwiches. “So, we bought a Beckham, then,” commented Mill.

“Yes. He’s been a failure at West Brom and the religious nutters forced him out,” replied Gumboy. As ever, Gumboy was chewing nicogum vigorously as he talked.

“Will he be a failure here?” asked Mill through a mouthful of what transpired to be mainly bread. Fillings always proved elusive in the sandwiches supplied at work.

“He’s on a one-month according to the guys down there I’ve talked to. He’s got five matches to prove himself.”

“Your opinion?” asked Mill.

“He’ll play five matches,” said Gumboy, ever the optimist.

They watched the game. The reserves beat the opposition – a local village side – 4-2, but the game was less thrilling than the score-line suggested. Then Gumboy suggested the four of them go to the Cross. Mill hesitated, but then figured that he could lie to Harmer and say he had been out on a circuit of the properties all afternoon.

The Cross Bar was the pub attached to the stadium. It was deserted except for Len the barman and Old Yarrold. Whether Len or the old man ever left and went home was a matter for some debate among the fans who were usually found in the saloon. Slowly, as the offices in the business parks emptied, other faces appeared, Statto, Moggs, Ant, Carwash, Col, Yak, the regular crew.

The main topic of conversation was the new signing, the only definite signing of the close season so far. After several seasons of mediocrity in the lower leagues, this was the first time in ages that the club had put so much faith in the form of cash into a player. Everybody had an opinion on no.148 and rumours abounded as to the origin of the money. Moggs swore blind it was the result of a drugs racket, but no one believed anything Moggs said anyway.

For once Old Yarrold had no trouble in making himself heard. The younger fans, some of whom couldn’t remember the bad old days before the new stadium had been built, let the old-timer speak. He was, as ever, getting into some of his favourite reminisces, about the last truly great Town squad that had taken the club to the brink of what was then known as division one before running out of money.


Mill had heard the stories before and was only half-listening as Yarrold spoke. “Back then we didn’t have cloning. All the best players were unique. Never had to sign no knock-offs neither. We had players back then you wouldn’t believe. Like Rocket Rogers and Tow-truck Tolley. Now old Rocket once hit the ball so hard from close-range it took the goalie into the net with him and Tow-truck, why he could stop a man going past him by just leaning at him ever so slight.

“I was once sitting in the very front row at the old Meadow when Tow-truck went in for a tackle right in front of me. The guy flew up, I think he was playing for Macclesfield - this was back when they were in the league of course - and he flew up and over the advertising boards and right onto me.

“Now, I’d just come back from the buffet with a boiling hot cup of Bovril - this was before they banned meat you see and we used to have this beef drink called Bovril - and this poor fella got the whole cup of Bovril all over him. Not only had he broken his leg, but he had to be rushed to hospital and treated for scalds as well. And you know, Tow-truck, he never got a booking or nothing.”

Mill cast a sideways look along the bar to Gumboy who stopped chewing for a fraction of a second and rolled his eyes. “Hey, Yarrold,” asked Gumboy, leaning back on his stool, “What do you think about the new signing?”

“Them wide-eyed religious fellas in the togas might have gotten it right, you know,” said Yarrold darkly. “That’s what’s ruining the game these days. Seeing the same old players year in year out.” And with that he sipped his beer and stopped telling stories, a happenstance so rare that the regulars found it unsettling.

“We’ll see in a week,” commented Gumboy privately to Mill as he popped a fresh tablet of nicogum into his mouth.

Dawn broke on the new season. For Mill this meant waking from a nightmare where he had been mistaken for the new Beckham and was being pursued by a torch-bearing mob of fans wearing long Islamist robes around the pitch at Rowley Park. He shivered as he jerked awake and then turned the radio on.

The cheery news presenter was describing the possible impact of the Town’s new signing. Mill lay staring at the ceiling until his ‘phone rang. It was Moggs asking when he would be down the Cross. Mill sighed and got up.

The lucky Town shirt went on first, closest to his heart, followed by the tour T-shirt from the summer he had travelled around Malta watching his team beat various nonentity sides in a pre-season tournament three years ago.

Then this year’s replica shirt went on over the top. Dressed in three layers already, he pulled on his match jacket, the denim hidden beneath an armour coat of pin-badges. His club baseball cap completed the outfit. He checked the pockets. His season ticket, special ‘writes on all surfaces’ autograph pen and an assortment of objects to bring good fortune like the battered trading card of Town legend ‘Tricky’ Mickey Brown, were all in their correct places.

Heaven knew how Beckham no.148 felt, but Mill already felt sick with anticipation. He skipped breakfast and left the house to catch the bus to the stadium.

He was psyched. He was ready. He needed a beer.

No.148 received the loudest cheer as the line-up was read out, which was disappointing for Town stalwart Hugo Ralphs, making his record-equalling four hundred and fifty-eighth appearance for the club he had represented for nearly fifteen years.

Standing in their usual space, Mill and Gumboy looked around the ground, marvelling at the unusual sight of a full house. The excitement caused by Town’s new number 7 had brought the stay-at-homes out of the woodwork in their thousands.

Kick-off came and went and it seemed that, with the ball being pitched high over the midfielders by alternating sets of defenders, Town’s new signing was never going to get a touch.

Then it happened. Ralphs went up for a header and returned to Earth with a cut forehead, the culprit being the burly centre-back with the high-flying elbows. A defensive wall formed, trying to screen out the danger.
Slowly, deliberately, the player placed the free kick, with the white seven standing out on the blue and amber shirt like a beacon in the night.

Three steps backwards.

The wall shuffled nervously.

A look up.

A sudden hush.

And then, so quickly that the crowd could barely follow it, the run up, and the dull thump of boot on faux-leather. The ball flew from Beckham 148’s foot the most amazingly fast and accurate free-kick Shrewsbury Town supporters had ever seen. The ball flew past the goalkeeper who saw it far too late and into the top corner of the net.

The crowd erupted. The tiny section of the crowd with the Islamist placards proclaiming judgement on the abomination disappeared in the euphoria. No.148, number 7, the grade 2 Beckham, had scored a most spectacular goal.

Mill stood open-mouthed as Gumboy and Statto danced a jig of delight along their row. Moggs was shaking him, pounding him on the back and yelling in his ear. Col was standing on the barrier cheering. Dom, of course, was hurrying back from the toilet.

Beckham 148 had two hands raised accepting the praise as the crowd mock-bowed to him.

Rowley Park had found its messiah.

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1 Comments:

At 6/12/06 19:59, Blogger Annie Porthouse said...

hey - i enjoyed this! as a not-even-remotely-interested-in-footie person, I still found this interesting. I reckon more dialogue would liven it up a bit, and removal of a couple of cliches: his heart missed a beat, and suchlike. Make the dialogue more realistic: people are more likely to say: yeah, than: yes, etc. don't think i don't make all these mistakes all the time... i do! it's just that it's so much easier to spot other peoples!!
I love futuristic stuff, even tho i'm female... i could almost 'see' what you've written here... seems like the making of a good film... fever pitch meets Dr Who, or similar! well done Jon... write more, get it published... become rich n famous... don't forget yr friends (or those you once met on a writing course in the middle of nowhere by a lake!)

 

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