There is one final twist in the tale of my visit to Milner Court: I ended up writing Ibrahim an extra poem. You might remember, in my last post, I mentioned that he asked for one about the physical and mental benefits of sport. The problem was, I’m a lazy poet, and I really don’t do much exercise. I asked him if he would recommend a sport and he told me to go and play some football.
As luck would have it, my friend and neighbour, Richy, had been trying to get me to go to his weekly five-a-side match for months. But I kept turning him down, for the reasons I’ve always turned down playing football: A) I don’t know the rules B) I’m not very good at running, or kicking, or catching C) I’m not very competitive. In fact, I hadn’t played football since I was forced to do it in school and I don’t remember having ever played a five-a-side match in my life.
But, in the interests of research, I decided I was going to take Richy up on his offer. On a Tuesday night, I went with him to an Astro Turfed pitch in a place called Kenton. I met the rest of the regulars, who I didn’t know at all. I was pretty nervous about this to be honest. I don’t own any football gear, so I went in swimming shorts and Doc Marten boots. I think it’s fair to say I stood out a bit…
But you know what? I actually really enjoyed it. Everyone was proper friendly and it felt good to do something out of my comfort zone.
I decided this was a good subject for Ibrahim’s piece. But the next day was the day I had to catch the train to deliver the poems in Birmingham. I tried to write something on the way down, but I just couldn’t finish it in time.
Instead, I e-mailed it to Ibrahim a few weeks later.
On Playing My First Game of Five-a-Side, at 29 Years Old
Nothing scared me more than playing football,
I’d only ever done it in PE
with boys who treat it like the FA Cup,
who kicked me in for missing every pass
in polyester shorts that never fit.
But the time had come to face up to my fears,
I had to learn to swim, or maybe drown.
I decided I was going to ‘Bring It Home’,
I was going to ‘Have A Match’, I was going to ‘Kick About’
with some strangers on the other side of town.
And I really want to say it wasn’t me.
That after all these years, it’s still the same;
To speculate that it’s how I was raised,
or maybe I’m just not wired up that way.
But the truth is that… I really kind of liked it.
No one tried to tell me what to do,
no one made me spend the match in goal,
no one screamed if I forgot the rules,
we didn’t even play to win or lose-
just had a bit of fun and lost our breath.
And yes, I let more goals in than I scored.
And no, I don’t think I’ll be getting signed.
But at 29, I’m pleased I took the time
to realise a game can be this way.
In fact, I’m going back again next Tuesday.*
*I can confirm that I did actually go the next week as well.