Coronavirus and the Football

Coronavirus and the Football

It might surprise you to know that I love playing football. This is awkward for me to ever do; it is a pleasure rarely enjoyed. Why? Because, here it is: I am forty-three and of modest fitness, I have four children who I lovingly (used to) shift here and there and everywhere. And I am a writer. This involves less ball kicking and more pencil pushing – you should see how quickly I can cover a page. Certainly it is with more fluidity than I can run down the wing. Still football, whether I miss or score, is a great delight.

And on Saturday I got to play.

Everything is cancelled except the energy to play. My feet are now smaller than two of my sons. I find a discarded pair of boots and pull them on. I wear a ramshackle collection of sports gear – above all clothing must be warm, blustery and cold being the norm in Orkney. I add a body warmer belonging to my daughter, who is also now taller than I am, just to be sure. No shin pads though, those essential, tacky, unhygienic items. I hope my boys will refrain from crunching tackles.

They do.

It’s simply brilliant, jotting to and fro, chasing a ball and then chasing someone else with the ball. Holding the ball and trying to slip it past which I manage a couple of times and trying to score. So many shots are damp squibs or totally off target, but I don’t care. I make mistake after mistake, laugh at myself, jostle, fail and oh, my goodness fail again. But in the midst of it all there are a handful of sweet connections with the ball that totally make my heart sing. I love it – even though I am mindful that we are a spectator sport for any car that passes by. These are regular, but few in East Mainland. We are the only football. This is Match of the Day.

Three and in anyone?

Needless to say I do not get in the goal except out of charity. This is fine. The boys squabble, but this is fine too, there aren’t crunching tackles, we are in the moment, in the game. The ground is soft underfoot, the breeze is cool and clean. This is luxury that cannot be bought. It connects me to myself, that nugget of who I am.

It is miraculous that the next morning my body is uncomplaining. Sunday – with no mass. We walk instead to the top of Wideford Hill. My steps like prayers. My left-footed half volley a miracle.

Gabrielle Barnby