An email arrived from Kevin Branley: “Greetings! It’s been wonderful to meet so many old friends these past few months. I can now share some more details of the reunion party on September 8th.”
There was link to a Facebook page. Roy didn’t look at it. A string of other people had been copied in. Roy didn’t look at that either. He still couldn’t remember Kevin from his schooldays.
The radio was all anticipation of the England-Sweden game. Hodgson had picked Andy Carroll, a towering spearhead. The pundits probed the cases for it and against: shrewd move to exploit Swedish weakness in the air or proof that we lacked finesse? Roy anticipated a comic tragedy of cock-ups with the usual howled recriminations in its wake. He almost relished the prospect, the sullen satisfaction of I-told-you-so.
He stayed home to nurse his pessimism and fret about Lucy in Cambodia. The US Open had begun – he’d forgotten, all about it – and he indulged himself with highlights. McIlroy was 11 shots behind. They’d overhyped him. Bloody typical.
Walking to the corner shop, he spotted St George flags in windows, noticed two brown boys with their mother, her wearing a sari, the boys in England baseball caps. Modern Purley. He ran his eye across the front pages laid out on a low shelf, all hope and hoped-for glory. Not a chance.
He bought a Telegraph, went home, spread the paper on the kitchen table and starting reading from the back, just as he had for nearly 50 years. Taking courage, he again went to the second box of mementoes from the garage and drew out old treasure: a stack of Football Monthly magazines, a stack of its competitor, Goal; a slim, cheap A4 hardback book previewing the 1966 World Cup.
Roy had been eleven that monumental summer, the one between leaving primary school and starting at secondary. There was a girl he’d liked in his last term, Andrea Way, but she had moved away. He could recall his disappointment to this day. He’d been frightened of her, though, with her short skirt and little ankle socks.
Time dragged. Roy dug a few weeds from the flowerbeds. Ukraine versus France was suspended for an hour due to torrential rain, then France took charge and won two-nil. The home crowd booed. The co-hosts would have to beat England now to qualify. Roy considered this an almost-certainty.
England manager Roy Hodgson took his dugout spot, the game got underway. After 23 minutes came a heat-seeking Gerrard cross, a warrior leap from Carroll and a thundering header home. Hodgson turned, jigging, arms aloft, like a portly diner joining the dancing at a Greek restaurant.
Hodgson’s fellow Roy knew things would all go wrong and laughed hollowly as Sweden’s centre back Mellberg scored twice. “Ball-watching,” his father Don would have remarked of the second goal, a finger raised in knowing admonition. It was what Don always said.
It didn’t impress Roy that Walcott, coming on as sub, equalised within five minutes then crossed for Welbeck to score a winner. From where he was sitting Welbeck’s heel flick was lucky and Walcott’s shot a fluke, and there was no point pretending otherwise.
All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.
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