Looking for Eric

I cannot be compared to Eric Cantona, either as a boy or a man. I would never have progressed beyond the school football team and I never did karate. But I like to think I am a better philosopher. I might even be a better actor. Anyway, bridging to the last blog-post and the search for my former self, it is football and our dissimilarity that concerns me here.

Even in the early nineteen fifties most boys loved football, although few probably had aspirations of playing for their local professional team, in my case Newcastle United. I learned a big lesson from my father, a Captain in the army’s PT corps; practice makes you better at everything and can give a shine even to the most lacklustre of performers. So it was that I practised for hours, days and weeks with balls of all sizes and eventually developed a modicum of trickery. Being tall and liable to be toppled by low-gravity, thickset tanks of miner’s sons was a perennial problem but the plus was that I was never in the last batch to be chosen for the two teams in class games. And being in the middle ground of competence also meant no ridicule and no bullying. Basic acceptance. I could breathe easily.

The culmination of my football talent occurred one day on the sloping field at Blaydon Grammar School in my fifth year. I was playing on the right wing and up against the school’s left back. I received the ball midway in his half, lifted it over his despairing tackle with sumptuous ease and hit it on the half-volley goalwards. It was a screamer. Top corner. Goalkeeper in the mud. The whistle sounded and I turned for plaudits only to see the teacher pointing for a free kick somewhere behind me. He hadn’t seen the goal. He was separating two boys, red in tooth and claw. Nor had anyone else seen it except the goalkeeper and the left back. And they weren’t going to say anything, were they?

Whether that was the source of my recurring, unrequited, fruitless dreams with their unwanted denouements, I don’t know. But when I wake up these dreams often contain the same element; myself as would-be hero, about to wallow in success and approbation but losing it all in a terrible twist of fortune that only a Stephen King or a Maupassant might devise.

This id fixe now percolates my writing. Everything I do has to have a twist ending, bringing the reader up short with a gasp at a story’s culmination. But not necessarily, I hasten to comfort the prospective follower among you, a twist for the worse.

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