In his office, idling, Roy read that at the age of ten Blaszczykowski had seen his mother stabbed to death by his father and was then raised by his grandmother and his uncle in a tiny Polish village.
Roy imagined elder daughter Leila transported through time and space to the murder scene: mask, latex gloves, collecting blood samples, hair, DNA, impressing the native cops with the skills she was sharing while on career development secondment from the Hertfordshire constabulary, where she was building such a promising career.
He watched a replay of the Pole’s equalising goal, the ball’s rising, rapid curve beyond the goalkeeper’s fingers and inside the post. He learned that Blaszczykowski, a Roman Catholic, reads the Bible every day and dedicates each of his goals to his late mum, believing she is watching over him.
Roy sent his younger daughter Lucy an email: “Hello! How are you? Love, Dad.”
He went home, sat in the living room, and from the contents of the envelope marked “Roy” found a photo of himself in his Coulsdon primary school football team. He could remember every name and shirt number: 1 Woolley; 2 Nash; 3 Stenner; 4 Paine; 5 Simmons; 6 Dines; 7 Dark; 8 Jones; 9 Bridges; 10 Jarrett; 11 Hill. No subs in those days. No vests under shirts either, never mind how cold it was. He worked out the season – 1965/66, also his final year at primary school. Roy had never been picked for a football team again.
Denmark and Portugal kicked off the second set of matches in the Group of Death. Portugal went one up, a fast glancing header from a near post corner kick, and Roy felt a playground yearning to kick Ronaldo between the legs, a comedy clod-hopper whack in the knackers – that would take the strut out of his stride. And then it was two-nil to Portugal, a low cross lashed home.
The phone rang: his wife Kristie calling, right on time.
Roy muted the telly and took the call, eyes still fixed on the screen.
“Hello, Roy. It’s me.”
“Yes, I thought it was.”
“So, how are you getting on with the sorting out?”
“Well, I’ve made a start.”
“Good. What time is it there?”
“That’s very precise. Are you watching the football?”
“Oh. It’s after midnight here. The kids and Leila are asleep and me and Mum have sat up to have a chat.”
“Yes. Still a bit jet lagged, but we’re getting straight.”
“You’re not missing me by any chance, are you?” Kristie asked.
“It’s probably a bit early for that.”
“I suppose. Well, we’re all missing you.”
Roy doubted it. “That’s very kind of you,” he said.
“It’s beautifully warm here. How is it there?”
“Cold and wet.”
“Did you watch the cricket?”
“Only on the weekend. The last day was rained off.”
“That’s a shame.”
It was, but Roy was relieved to respond to a question truthfully. “What are you all doing tomorrow, then?” he asked.
“We thought we might visit the zoo,” Kristie said. “Or maybe the mosque.” But Roy had stopped listening because the Danes had pulled one back.
“Sounds good,” he said.
“Which one sounds good?” Kristie asked, innocently.
“Well, ah, maybe let the kids decide,” said Roy.
“Probably the zoo, then!”
“OK, as long as you’re alright.”
“Yes, I’m alright. Have a good day tomorrow.”
“Any message for the others?”
“Yes, give them my love.”
“I’ll do that. Goodnight then.”
Kristie didn’t hang up straight way and Roy didn’t either, because he wanted to see if Kristie would. She didn’t. Roy hung up. He felt ashamed, went upstairs, sat on the toilet, stayed there, felt half dead, remembered what happened to Elvis, got up again, thought of ringing Kristie back but told himself that she would be asleep.
He opened the loft hatch, pulled the ladder down, climbed up it, felt for the switch on a rafter and flicked it on. A strip light struggled into unaccustomed life, turning shadows white. Roy, head and shoulders through the portal, trunk and legs below, peered around. Objects, some picked out as by a spotlight, others still lurking in shade, lay about the space in half-arrangements Roy himself had devised but long forgotten the meaning of.
It was a start. He went back downstairs to see Ronaldo miss two golden chances. The Danes equalised on 80 minutes, Roy jumped off the sofa and punched the air. In Liviv, Ukraine, the final whistle ticked nearer. In Outer London, England, Roy begged for a heroic comeback draw. But Portugal scored a third goal three minutes from the end and won the game.
Roy took a turn around the garden to calm down. He noticed that the peonies were beautiful. Noticing that he had noticed this made him glad and made him sad. His Purley melancholia called once more.
Later, he unwound to the Germans sinking the Dutch, Gomez scoring sumptuously twice. The Germans topped the group with four points, the Dutch were bottom, with none. This was the way with the Germans, this was the way with the Dutch. Unlike his relationship with peonies, some things did not change.
All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.
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