John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Thursday 21 June 2012) Crystal Palace memories

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Thursday 21 June 2012) Crystal Palace memories

There was still no clear space on the carpet, so Roy spent another day at home picked through the fragments of his past. He became engrossed in his Crystal Palace collection: programmes; match tickets; the autographs of Steve Kember and Roger Hoy. On YouTube he found Big Match footage of Palace versus Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 1969. He remembered all the names: Woodruff, Hoadley, Jackson, Sewell. Kember got his name taken encroaching at a free kick. Hoy scored a brilliant goal. The match finished one-all.

He’d watched the match at time, but only highlights on telly. He wasn’t allowed to go to away games in those days, but often caught the train up from Crawley to go to Selhurst Park. By then, his occasional match days with Don had fallen victim to his adolescent withdrawal. He began going instead with his school friends Alan and Paul.

Like Roy, neither of them was in the school football team, or its cricket team or any other. They, also like Roy, were already reconciled to a future of spectating and drew comfort from becoming minor connoisseurs of sporting excellence and, where football was concerned, embracing the rituals, torments and absurdities of the terrace, almost like members of a dissident cult – supporting Palace wasn’t a fashionable thing.

Roy returned his brother Brian’s call, picking a time when he knew he would be out. He left a message: ”Sorry to miss you, Brian…”

Evening came. Roy summoned the Panasonic panorama. The cameras did their national anthem scan for the first quarter-final, Portugal v Czech Republic, and there was Ronaldo’s face, hair slicked and gleaming skin.

Roy thought about Kristie. “Who’s a pretty boy, then?” she had remarked the first time she’d caught sight of the young Portuguese with his shirt off, all pouty-smooth and torso ripple.

“He thinks he is,” Roy had replied, a bit too fast and sharp. His and Kristie’s younger daughter Lucy had moved abroad by then, bestowing on her parents the exacting freedom of an empty nest. Kristie had archly remarked that she would be at a loose end that night.

“Give him a call, then,” Roy had said.

“Maybe I will,” she’d replied. “Sometimes a beautiful young man craves the special knowledge of an older woman.”

Roy had been shaken: not by what Kristie had said, but by the effect it had had on him. They  made love that night. The next morning, Roy had felt embarrassed. Ronaldo: bedroom stimulant, trigger of erotic jealousy. He’d put his head under a pillow for a while.

The match got underway. Roy had read that none of the Czechs had shaved in order to sustain good luck. Their stubble made Ronaldo’s smoothness look smoother still.

It was quickly obvious that he meant to run the game, even heading clear a corner from right beneath his own goalkeeper’s hands. Then, a fast in-field run, a flicked pass, give-and-go, lightening quick, into the box, a shot parried by opposition captain Cech; another scampering dart, five defenders swarming, half the team; an overhead shot, scuttling backwards, just wide; a free kick from far out, rugby union type ritual, wide again, a wipe of the nose with his sleeve; a chest trap from a lobbed cross, first touch turn, a half-volley snapshot against a post.

Half time. The star turn left the pitch, complaining. Roy exhaled, a little glum. It was The Ronaldo Show, though he should have passed inside with that last chance.

The restart. Another hit on the woodwork, this time from a free kick. The cameras showed Ronaldo beseeching the gods. Was he thinking about the billions of viewers at that moment, each of them glued to his every move?

Roy watched on in sulky wonderment, and at last there came a goal, a Ronaldo goal, a predator’s header, powered downwards, the steepling bounce carrying the ball above Cech’s leaping grasp.

Ronaldo showboated to the touchline, making growly tiger shapes with his hands, blowing a kiss, thumping his chest. Girls always seemed to like a sporty, pretty boy, one of life’s unfairest combinations. It was the only goal of the game.

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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