December 01, 2010

Crying Game: A Vignette

‘The winter is hard in England’, thought McDuff, as he looked in on his players warming up before the big match. There wasn’t a great deal of stretching, or indeed any physical activity of any kind, but gloves and scarves (or snoods, so he’d heard) were being donned uniformly. He thought back on his youth in Aberdeen and reflected that the dark months must have been much warmer then.

Each player scrupulously adjusted himself in his personal mirror, making sure that the Nike logo on his snood faced the front, and that his earrings weren’t obscured by the deliciously synthetic fabric. Wantona Bandon, the £15m striker from Ivory Coast, turned to his Brazilian teammate, Preeno, and asked if he thought his eyebrows were evenly groomed. ‘These tweezers will never do’, he said, waving the twenty-four carat diamond encrusted implement in the Brazilian’s face. Preeno grunted – a masculine show of irreverence – and continued to fuss over his tights, which he’d laddered in the processing of putting on. He cursed his fingernails to the room at large, and made a mental note to fire his manicurist after the game.

McDuff called order in the room. The players sat down on cushioned benches, while the young and willing youth squad silently attended to the laces of the stars’ personalised pink football boots. The only sound was the oily slurping of hair gel as it was liberally applied to the players’ heads by the team coach, Sean Itall, a Yorkshire man who no longer understood his life. As McDuff glared at his players he reflected that he didn’t shout as much as he used to do. A sharp glance seemed to bring tears to their eyes and, for all his accomplishments, he knew not how to handle snivelling.

‘This will be a hard game’, he said. The European Champions had drawn non-league side Bighoof United in the cup – a pub side from Barnsley – and McDuff wasn’t sure that his players understood the task at hand. ‘They know only how to kick, punch, and tackle’, he went on, ‘and they won’t much care if you’ve got the ball or not. They’re impervious to cold – they don’t even wear shirts when they’re out on the town – and they will mince you and make you into pies if they sense weakness.’

Anxious looks ensued. A rustle of paper from just outside the door alerted McDuff to the presence of the players’ agents, who were flicking through their clients’ contracts to see if there was any way that they could be weaselled out of the game. They need not have worried. An epidemiological singularity occurred at that moment, as each of the star players was suddenly struck with an acute virus, the symptoms of which included hyperventilation, vomiting and syncope. Like so many Victorian ladies, their constitutions failed them at the eleventh hour. One after the other they expressed their wish to lie – to lie down.

McDuff had seen it before. He clicked his fingers at the bewildered youth squad. ‘Boots on lads,’ he said. ‘You’re going on’.


  1. A very well crafted story. So sad that it is so true.

  2. Excellent. And, unfortunately, insert any other sport and the story would work just as well.

  3. Grim smiles ahead. But one begins to suspect England deserves it.


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