John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Sunday 10th June 2012). Caribbean Low Spirits

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Sunday 10th June 2012). Caribbean Low Spirits

Roy woke at nine o’clock and weighed himself nude. Still 13 stone two. He dressed in joggers, T-shirt, sweat top and running socks, went downstairs into the kitchen. The unopened box was still there on the table. Roy found his trainers and pulled them on. He looked through the window at the sky, which was grey, but the grey was pale and high. He went outside and walked slowly down the centre of the lawn. He sniffed the south London suburban air and nostalgia ambushed him.

Roy remembered a different lawn not far away, the one he’d played on as a small child. This little boy Roy wore cotton shorts and a short-sleeved Aertex shirt that he wanted to tuck in, but Gwen had told him no; he was chasing a plastic football, and Don, his dad, was chasing him; he was giggling, reaching the ball, stopping it under his foot, turning and looking up at Don who was looking down.

Then Roy had the ball at his feet; feet in brown Clarks sandals and ankle socks. Don’s feet were bare, wet from the paddling pool where Roy’s siblings Brian and Nerys splashed with buckets and boats. Don loomed, arms wide. The space between his feet was wide too – comedy wide. Don looked down at the space, grinned at Roy, stared down at the space again. A hint. Roy swung his right leg, scuffed the ball through the space, Don made a cartoon puzzled face, Roy ran around him, giggling harder, reached the ball, fell over, giggled harder still, braced for a tickling, the wee-wee leak of anticipation, the fright and thrill.

“Stanley Matthews!” Don had said.

Roy reached the bottom end of his own lawn, where it gave way to bare earth round the shed and a heap of clippings mouldering beneath the lowest branches of a fir. The smell hit him, he sank to his haunches. He felt a tear form and let it flow.

Back in the kitchen, Roy found a pen and made a list on the back of a junk mail envelope. He wrote: garage; office; loft. He went to the garage, squeezed past the car, fetched two more boxes from the stack and placed them on the kitchen table next to the one already there. He looked at the three boxes narrowly, straightened them, felt pleased, made tea and toast, took the food through to the lounge, switched on Sky, and watched Rampaul fall for two, leaving the West Indies on 283 for nine and Ramdin, the wicket-keeper, stranded on 63 with number eleven, Best, for company.

Best got off the mark. Then he hit a four through mid-off on the up, a beautiful stroke, as beautiful as Roy had ever seen, and Best held his follow-through position for an age, perhaps blending bravado with self-mockery, perhaps from genuine shock at the unscripted lovely thing he’d just achieved.

Roy laughed. Best slashed another four, his bat a flashing cutlass curve. Nasser Hussain, in the studio, was admiring but amused – the comedy tail-ender chancing his arm. Then, four more through the covers, the ball coursing to the boundary fence all along the ground. The next four was a fluke, an edge that hurtled through the slips, yet Best was mastering luck as well as England. With Ramdin accumulating at the other end, he reached a beaming 50 by lunch.

Roy felt the presence of the three boxes, still unopened. The first, thin layer of guilt settled on him as he let himself watch Best blast on into the afternoon and Ramdin grind his way to a judicious century. Completing the run that took him to three figures, Ramdin produced a piece of paper, held up for the cameras. A scrawled message read: “YEA VIV TALK NAH.” The imperial Richards, it emerged, had disparaged Ramdin earlier in the tour.

Roy felt Ramdin’s rage, but was distressed by its display. He was distressed too, by Best’s demise, failing in his attempt to complete his own hundred with an extravagant six, instead seeing the ball plop meekly into the England captain’s waiting hands. He was gone for 95, crestfallen suddenly, and Roy wished he could have whispered into the younger man’s ear, urged him to pick a careful route towards a ton.

Showmanship had got the better of discretion and Roy wondered if Best, and Ramdin too, would look back with regret at the self-inflicted stains on their glorious day, those stains growing bigger in their minds with the passing years until, looking back from the helpless infirmity of old age, the stains were all that they could see.

Roy felt his spirit shrink under a low cloud of depression. Kick-off time was his sanctuary: Spain versus Italy, absorbing, sobering, the champions and favourites against the possible dark horses, who rarely failed to threaten to take the prize.

Tomorrow, England would be playing their first match and Roy was confirmed in his low expectations as he watched the Mediterranean neighbours probe and thrust: slow, slow then rapier quick, both teams flowing through perpetual changes of shape like amorphous warm water organisms, brilliantly and perfectly evolved. Italy took the lead on the hour, Spain eased up a gear, equalised three minutes later, pushed for a win, but a draw was an equable result, the equivalent of a pragmatic peace treaty between major powers.

Roy gave up his struggle with his conscience, submitting to his sloth. He sank into news drone: at Edgbaston, England had wobbled, then stabilised, ensuring a flat draw; Lewis Hamilton had won Canadian Grand Prix. Croatia beat Ireland three-one, it was easy, a pity, the third goal helplessly headed in by goalkeeper Given after the ball rebounded at him from a post. He was as blameless as he was hapless, and Roy took the Irishman’s misery straight up with him to bed. He was 57 years old and, for all he knew, he might not wake up the next day.

All instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport can be read HERE.

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