John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Saturday 9th June 2012). Return to Purley

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Saturday 9th June 2012). Return to Purley

Roy woke at six, still sad for the Poles, still wearing his clothes from the day before. He sat up, stood up, looked down at the front of his trousers: two fading vertical creases on the legs, three lateral furrows round the groin.

He stripped, showered, put his dirty clothes back on, left the motel, walked across damp slabs through sodden morning air to the café, where he ate a full English and received another text from Kristie. It said, “We’re here!” and was accompanied by a photo of their elder daughter Leila and her children Tom and Ella, all airport gifts and happy teeth.

Roy sighed and replied, “Well done!”

He went out to his car and drove at a sensible speed through southern Greater London, through Twickenham, Teddington and Hampton Wick, across Kingston Bridge borderlands then into the villagey fringes of suburbia that he had called home since 1980, a year of council house sales, Coe and Ovett, and finally to the hinterland of Purley. Roy turned into his drive, activating the garage’s automatic door, which had been such an innovation in its day. He nosed in, switched off, sat listening to engine parts click and tap as they cooled, then got out and walked to the section of the garage where a neat pile of boxes was stacked.

Roy picked one box up, carried it into the house and into the kitchen. He placed it on the table, neat and square. Then he went into the living room, which greeted him with a cavernous stillness that felt half like a submission and half like an embrace.

The Panasonic widescreen was a clean slate. Roy lined up the remotes on the low, glass coffee table, stood with the backs of his knees against one end of the sofa, let himself fall back, measured his length on the leather upholstery, breathed a long sigh of relief and switched on the third Test, England versus the West Indies from Egbaston.

The first two days had been rained off – it had been chucking it down in Birmingham too – but now, play at last.

The Windies were batting. Michael Holding was speaking, assessing the state of play, his voice avuncular and Caribbean. Roy thought back to when Holding had played: silky, scary, a long, long run-up; so very long, it had seemed, just because it could be, just because no one could stop him; long, cool, effortless menace, delivering to England ethnic dread. Hearing Holding these days, joshing on air with Beefy, Bumble and Nass, his voice comforted Roy. Back then, Holding had been one of the blackwash men. Don, past 60 by that time, had sensed history’s revenge.

“They’re getting us back for the Empire,” he’d declared over Sunday lunch, traces of Blitz cockney, grim satisfaction squeezed through resignation.

“Oh, Don, do shut up,” Gwen had hissed, glancing anxiously at Kristie whose father was from Kuala Lumpur. Kristie had simply given a light, indulgent laugh, applied another wet wipe to Leila’s little hands and let her pat the tummy bump that contained her forthcoming sister, Lucy. Nerys, Roy’s own younger sister, had rolled her eyes, her way of saying that Dad had been listening to the phone-ins again. But Roy’s older brother Brian, Home Counties urbane, had concurred: “We gave them the game, but they don’t seem terribly grateful.”

And Roy? He’d felt pushed towards a solidarity he didn’t want to feel. Though needled by Brian’s drawl he’d seen insolence in that slow, slow Holding walk back; arrogance in the slow, slow over rate the slow, slow walk back ensured; defiance in captain Clive Lloyd, whom Roy had previously categorised as a languid cricket scholar; saw imperial intimidation in Vivian Richards’s gum-chewing swagger to the crease, protective helmet scorned, his dazzling, brutal dispensation of no mercy as certain as the setting sun.

The world had changed, but not forever. And now Roy felt sorrow for those doomed to labour in the shadow of the lost Windies’ superiority, left to drag some dignity from a series already lost – sorrow, mingled with relief.

The top order batsmen got chancy starts, then fell. Seats were empty, skies were grey. At lunch, Roy went upstairs and ran a bath. It occurred to him that Kristie’s last message had hardly been for him at all, but mostly to please grandchildren Tom and Ella, four and three. He slopped some of Kristie’s bath cream under the running taps, then stood nude on the scales: 13 stone two. He would lose the two, he vowed.

The bath water was too hot. He climbed in anyway, squatted, getting his legs acclimatised then lowered his backside, holding his breath and balls. He sank into Kristie’s bubbles, submerged his head. Eyes closed, he heard the inexplicable clank and flex of copper pipes he’d never seen, disappeared into a green and perfumed world.

Dressed in a towelling robe Roy returned to the couch and watched Samuels cruise to 50 with a serene six over long on and an effortless cover drive for four, its grace and correctness giving Roy hope that, in spite of basketball and rap, classical values were not dead.

At tea, Roy ate a sandwich and googled Samuels, learning of a misdemeanour with a bookmaker and an icy intolerance of bowlers’ banter. He liked him less for the bookie business and both less and more for his cool. On 76, Samuels fell to Bresnan, leaving the Windies on 208 for six and Roy, conflicted, switching to the Euros, where Holland were playing Denmark in Group Two – the “Group of Death” as one group always had to be called.

The Dutch, the Danes, their nations synonymous in the mind of younger Roys with, in the first case, windmills and cannabis cafes, in the second, dairy farms and porn. Also (in the first case) with Cruyff, also (in the second) with Schmeichel. Also, respectively, with punctured hype and surprise wins. There was comfort in being certain of what the build-up talk had been, the re-acquaintance with common knowledge football history, those things the pundits always said every four years, every two if you counted World Cups, the things every coach potato fan knew.

And Roy knew what would happen; knew the Dutch would dominate, and Denmark win. At least, he knew he’d always known it straight after it occurred, after the Dutch had danced and dazzled but failed to score and the Danes had poached a neat goal on the break.

“I knew it,” Roy said, to no one there. He knew the result of the next match too, in the same way; knew that gifted Portugal would buckle to the knowing Germans in the end.

And so it was that the flair teams trailed in the Group of Death, as precedent and life seemed to demand. Contemplating this, Roy looked again at the box on the kitchen table, then made his way to bed, feeling as if the emptiness of the house had entered him, and not really minding at all.

Roy’s Summer of Sport will continue tomorrow with Sunday 10 June 2012.

On London strives to provide the best possible writing about the capital city. Become a supporter for £5 a month or £50 a year and receive an action-packed weekly newsletter and free entry to online events. Details here.

Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.