No. 9


You're here. I saw you, I spotted you.

You're exactly at the same spot as the week before the last. Northside terracing, same gate, same step.

Yeah, you're here, you're both here, that brunette with the shrill voice, she a regular one, and you.

I've been expecting you. I've been waiting for you.

OK, for the best part of the last month I was suffering from an light injury I got at the away match against Cloverfield. Coach was kind enough to give me a chance, he knows I don't like riding the pine, knows I can deliver. That evening I just wasn't match for that short Latino guy, Orlando, he was faster. He stole all passes aimed at me. Not good, I know. But I still was in a position to be in for the assist or for a well-placed cross.

At some point – seventy-second minute – I broke away from all defenders. I knew Orlando would slide-tackle me as soon as he was behind me, so I took my chance and shot directly. Not half-bad, missed the near-post by inches. I took heart. Given the chance, I'd try it again and I'd cut it finer. I started towards our half.

And then it happened: out of the blue, among murmurs rather than shouts, the whole stadium resonated as you hollered "you're a wanker, Number Nine". I turned around, numbly. Saw you gesticulating mildly, as if explaining, the spectators around laughing, the brunette gawking at you. Shrugged you off, went on. But the damage was done.

The rest of that match was a nightmare. Not only the guest but also the home fans took it up: a rhythmical "wanker-wanker" was to be heard whenever I was attacking. I think I even saw the linesman stifle a smile. Arse!

Then, at the away match, it seems the news had spread. The same bloody thing. And, despite my injury, I swear I did play decently. No dice, they'd be at it. I wanted to kick and I don't mean the ball!

You caused it. I had to get you. And here you are.

But so are they.

An uproarious "wanker-wanker" accompanies my every attack. I know, it's mostly for laughs, but it does get on my nerves. I try to concentrate. We need the win and the points. I need my break. Coach is a stickler for psychology and morale. Though not my fault, he won't let it be, he'll substitute me. However, our team plays jolly well. We're at sixty-five percent ball-possession, a miraculous feat. But no goals yet. We must concentrate.

You two are just standing there. Our goal for the first half is on your side, northside, and I occasionally find myself in your vicinity when we all play defense. Now and then I steal a glance. Today you're not cat-calling, me or anyone else. I don't think you're even watching. Well, if you're a fan you should take some interest in the game, shouldn't you? What are you up to?

Half-time, no score. Coach is bitching about most everything. Did I say "psychology and morale"? Luckily, he doesn't bring my issue up. Gives instructions. We keep our fingers crossed. A bell rings. We go out. To win, no doubt.

We've changed sides and now I get to see you more often, straight ahead when I attack. It's annoying, though, that my eyes gravitate to you, but we have a bone to pick, don't we? At least, only few jokers still "wanker" me.

Eighty-fourth minute. They play total defense now, they rarely venture into our half. They're hoping to force us to a nil-nil draw. If they piss us off enough, they might just make it, damn it! Concentrate! We attack. Parsons has the ball, lays it off ahead of me, I move on. I look ahead to see who's unmarked, I find them. I spot you two, too.

Is it my idea or are you… being very intimate? Oh, there's something fishy there, you're touching…

"Touch me!" shouts Greenborough. An easy one. We do one-two, we move down the touchline… anyone in the mixer? Yep, Guy and Steele are there. "Spread, Green, gimme space" I shout and prepare to corner. I'm faster now, I got it, I near the endline, I chip the ball, a fine high cross.

Not only are you touching, you're holding each other in your arms… You're kissing!… Oh, babies, now I know your game. Posing as tomboys, coming to watch the match, but you're lesbos. Well, good for you, best of luck!

Shit! Steele's header hits the crossbar, bounces off, Markham and their center-back jump for it, Markie wins…

You're still at it, absorbed in it. You don't give a damn about the game.

You've come here, among the shouting crowd, because you want to be alone!

No other explanation, last time you were watching, shouting, stand-coaching and now… you're just kissing!

Funny how peoples' lives go through changes. I'm positive, last time you weren't… the way you are now, right? You did go through a change, I can tell.

…The ball's still in the air, flying to the left, Markham goes after it, trailed by the back…

Now I know! It's all so clear now: the brunette used to come here very often, but always in someone else's company, a man's – got a perfect peripheral vision, have I told ya? – but you didn't come for the game, now I know.

You came for her.

You came for her, didn't you?

…Chest-traps it… and scissor-kicks it in one movement!… Good, Markie! I'm running towards the box, unmarked…

And what about the bloke? You two got rid of him? For this match, too? Nah, you're acting totally free, so… maybe for good?

…Ball coming my side, I'm in the box, still unmarked, got it, I shoot an outside-curve, it's a banana. IT'S A GOAL!

The crowd goes wild. My team-mates are upon me before I have time to celebrate. They jump on me, three, four, five of them… I can carry them all, I don't mind, we've won, there's no time for the match to turn, we've won, Jesus, we needed that.

But as the palms and bodies and heads of my co-players are all over my body and my face, I remember. I know why I've tried hard all through this match and why, perhaps, luck came my way: to be able to shout back. To shout back at you. Ref's gonna give me a yellow, I wager. I can take it. I can take it for you

Hey, am I going mad? Gonna get me a card for someone I don't know? I don't even have you in my sights, the more you being a dyke. What, do you have a hold on me?

The cheering and the shouting vanishes. I don't even feel the weight of my mates' bodies on me. I'm cut off.

You do.

It wasn't the insult, nor your booming and booing voice. It was that first look of you standing so cocksure, looking me into the eye with yours, green, like uncut emeralds. There was no insult there, no, but there was… a challenge.

I dare you!

I can now admit it, I've been brooding over it for two weeks, but now it's payback time. I take your challenge, I take your dare.

I'm taking hold of myself again. I struggle free from my team-mates' embrace. I walk towards you, my teamies still trailing behind me. Less than ten yards separate us. Fans think I'm approaching them to celebrate together. My eyes are locked on you.

But you're still kissing the brunette. All around you, people acting crazy, but now you are cut off in a paradise of your own. I reach the fencing. I cup my hands around my mouth, my team-mates again all over me.

"Who's a wanker now? Huh, girl, who's a wanker now?" I shout ferociously.

No, you won't answer me, you'll respond to nothing. You have your lips glued to the other's ones, you're just not there.

Despite the pressure of bodies upon mine I'm ready to shout once more. My mouth opens but just remains agape.

No, I won't, I won't spoil your moment. Perhaps… I envy you both. Yes, that's right, I envy your capability to be able to escape while the whole world around you sways frantically. And more than this, I respect you.

But, I wouldn't want to spoil my moment either. I start running parallel to the fencing, waving, shouting. They all cheer, no one "wankers" me, they love me.

I see the referee rushing at me, holding the yellow card, looking stern, but… hey, this one trying to stifle a smile too? He, too, knows?

I stand gentlemanly as I'm being reproved. Formalities over, the match is about to restart. Guests are at the centre spot, looking glum.

I turn for a last time, unamazed to see you still kissing. I smile to myself, I trot towards my position. We've won, I'm the hero of the day and not a wanker anymore.

And, from the bottom of my heart, I wish you the best of luck.