I have never liked sporting events, especially team games. Every Wednesday afternoon my class, of around 28 pupils from Sir Philip Magnus school in North London had to muster outside the school gates for the obligatory torture session. All or most of my class mates absolutely looked forward to this session of purgatory, but I hated it!
At the allotted hour the coach would turn up and on we would by directed by our geography teacher, a Hitler acolyte. We were counted onto the coach, in regimented fashion and told to “sit, be quiet”. The coach went to the London schools football pitches at Friern Barnet near Finchley. Almost every boy was excited at the prospect of playing football, but I hated it. Each of us had our kit bag with a pair of shorts socks and a top to change into. I didn’t like this silly ritual. I would get dressed every morning with my kit under my outdoor clothes. I absolutely hated undressing in front of the other kids.
Spewed from the coach, our demented teacher couldn’t wait for the class to get changed. We met him on the field about 200 yards from the changing/shower rooms. More than a few times I got on the wrong side of his enthusiasm to get the game started and told loudly, “get moving boy, or you won’t be playing”. He had no idea how those words gave me hope.
I would dawdle, in the changing room, whilst the other kids seem to think these sessions were the very highlight of their week. Often I would be the last player ready to leave the room. The others were already scampering across the muddy grass to the so called pitch. I would linger, in the hope that I’d been forgotten. Being last out, I could slip behind the changing rooms and watch ‘Mr Hitler’, telling his devotees, “This is the beautiful game, and that I want to see you play with your utmost vigour”. ‘What a twat’, I used to think. It seemed to me that he was fixated on blowing his whistle and pointing aggressively. It seemed to give him omnipotent powers.
If I was lucky I could avoid the banal activity of kicking a silly ball up and down a field. Otherwise Hitler and the other kids screamed at me some incomprehensible advice that more often than not I would deliberately ignore. Usually with selective deafness.
On the occasions that I managed to slip through the visual net, rather than run myself ragged on the silly football pitch, I hid behind the changing building. There I had a smoke of my Player’s Weights cigarettes, whilst the idiots were enjoying themselves, out on that cold field of misery.
After whatever time it took, for Hitler to satisfy himself and his storm troopers. Having well acquitted themselves, under his excellent tutorage and whistle control, he ordered a return to the showers. At that point I had to find a suitable point of muddy grass to smear my legs and boots and get into the changing rooms first. Heaving, like my lungs would burst, I would be animated, as though I had ‘given my all’.
With only a few small mud stains on me I maintained I didn’t need a shower and that I would clean up at home. The coach ride back to school was just as tedious as that outward journey, but a least I knew the rubbish was over for yet another week.
On discharge form school one Wednesday, with my muddied boots hung round my neck by the tied laces, I was walking home along Upper Street when an old bloke in about his thirties stopped me and asked “have you had a great game today”? He seemed perplexed when I just walked on past, with a stony face.