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Three Fetes
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For me, most impressive of all was the player's tunnel - which looked suspiciously like a drainage culvert. It cut through the grass bank, joining the changing rooms to the pitch. Presumably to cater for those times when the crowd became too thick for the players to push their way through. I think the designers of the ground were possibly a tad on the optimistic side concerning the club's future.

Fifteen minutes later, I was running onto the park in the red and black of Racing Club. With my number seven on the back and a swimming pool manufacturer on the front, I felt very professional.

And very old.

A quick scan of the other players revealed a handful of teenagers, an armful of players in their twenties, one or two in their early thirties ... and me, who, according to which rumour you believed, was either the referee's dad or Bobby Charlton on a goodwill visit.

Unfortunately the truth lay somewhere in between - I looked like Bobby Charlton and played like the referee's dad.

The match began. I had been hoping for one of those slow-paced summer matches, where the players stroll around in the heat, exuding great skill interspersed with occasional bursts of speed. A less accomplished version of the 1970 World Cup finals, perhaps. I was quickly disabused. The game began like an English cup tie - fast and furious with tackles flying in from all angles. It was tiring just watching the ball.

And as for pacing myself, that plan evaporated with the first attack. It was end to end football with no time to settle on the ball. A game I knew very well. Especially the bit about it not being particularly suited to unfit forty-year-olds who hadn't played for four years.

I slotted into position and started playing from memory, running off the ball, creating gaps, tackling back. All the time hoping that I was fitter than I imagined. And that somewhere I had some deep reservoir of untapped stamina - like a spare fuel tank that I could switch over to in time of dire need.

And then it happened. The ball flew towards me. My first touch. Was this the moment I stunned the crowd with unimaginable feats of skill? ... Or the time that stupid Englishman let the ball run through his legs for a throw in?

I think I froze the ball in mid-air with the power of concentration. Certainly there was no way I was letting that ball past me. I brought it down and then set off. Ideally, it should have been one of those mazey dribbles where the ball appears attached by a silken thread to the educated feet of the right winger.

But I hadn't played for such a long time and, besides, the last time I'd dribbled in public had been when I got drunk at the Tuco fete.

Not to mention that a few weeks practising in the back garden dribbling over hummocks and piles of stones is not ideal preparation. A few touches and the ball flew ahead of me. If there'd been a hummock on the pitch it might have been different - but there wasn't. And my back garden hadn't had defenders either - two of whom were now bearing down on me from different directions. And both likely to reach the ball before I did.

But football is a game of the unexpected.

The first defender lunged forward and tried to clear the ball but only succeeded in driving the ball against my shins, whereupon it flew towards the second defender, ricocheted off his knees and came back to me. The next thing I knew, I was stepping over bodies, the ball at my feet and the penalty area fast approaching.

If only it had been deliberate.

With my confidence returning, my next move became clear. The hard low cross, whipped into the penalty area with a hint of swerve to curl around the remaining defender and land at the feet of the advancing centre forward. I could see it all.

Unfortunately my right foot couldn’t.


I whipped the ball in hard and low, evading the remaining defenders ... and everyone else. It was one of those embarrassing moments when you pray there's someone in midfield backing up the attack.

But there wasn't. Instead, a huge gap had opened up between the penalty area - now swarming with expectant players - and the centre circle. In between - nothing. Except a ball carving a solitary path towards the far touchline.

Which is what you get for trying to be too clever and bending the ball around defenders when the simple cross would have sufficed.

I made a mental note not to try that again.

A few minutes later we forced a corner on the right and I found myself being handed the ball while everyone else shot off into the penalty area.

I would like to say that it was the quality of my cross that created the goal. That I picked out the only unmarked player, placed an unerringly accurate ball into his path and there was nothing else he could do but score.

But you’d need to be my mother to believe that.

In truth, I was concentrating on not leaning back, not hooking the ball, not slicing it and not pushing it too close to the keeper. The fact that I picked out the only unmarked player was fortuitous - and because he wasn't standing next to the goalkeeper or any of the other places I was trying to avoid.

We were one-nil up. Against the run of play and I’d had a hand in it. Three or four beers and a couple of rounds of Ricard and I might claim total credit - it hadn't been his shot, he'd merely deflected my corner. A pretty solid deflection from the edge of the penalty area, but a deflection nonetheless.

Alcohol can make great players of us all.