By Luke James
In a world before the Internet …
The glass that the Guinness was in was wrong. The Guinness was Guinness all right, but the shape and size of the glass were slightly different. Still and all, it was the nearest thing to a pub pint mug that he’d been able to find, stuck between the novelty cocktail glasses and the genuine, plastic champagne glasses on a lower shelf at the back of Beverages ‘R’ Us.
He found the game right after a sea bass fishing special, the rolling deep rolled right into a TV producer’s idea of British fanfare music over a special effects montage of flashing boots, diving headers, balls rocketing into the backs of multiple nets. Feeling slightly dizzy he reached for his pint and caught a cameraman’s accidental ghost flash of the outside of the stadium. Villa Park. In Birmingham. And that ain’t Alabammy Sammy. Rather, that’s where the Men of the Midlands drink gallons of Brew XI, smoke Park Drive plain, and take no guff from anyone about anything in general and the claret and blue of Aston Villa in particular. Beer, cigarettes and football – the three working class comforts – fought for as hard, and guarded as jealously, as any trade union. From the assembly lines at the British Leyland plant to the saloon bar of the King George V.
He spent one afternoon, at the age of fourteen, glued to the 1966 World Cup semi-final game between England and Portugal, Charlton .v. Eusebio, the Lion .v. the Panther, locked with his mother and kid brother in a tiny bubble of perfect patriotic fervor. Only one of millions of such bubbles scattered that day throughout the green, grey, and unpleasant land, all held within the loving embrace of a nation-sized bubble. Except that is for his father, who was out embracing the oily attempted salvation of their fourteen-year-old car, trying to coax another trouble-free 10,000 miles from an engine that barely had any of its original parts. His father’s particular form of escape. Down at the dead end of their street, legs protruding from beneath the front end of the black and chrome car, his shoes scuffed, his trousers rucked and oil stained, lay his father, a bone white hin exposed to an uncaring and heavy sky.
And after Eusebio had ghosted between the stout oak hearts of the English defense, flowing like a black ribbon to strike the ball into the back of the net, it was his duty as eldest son to carry the bad news to his father. He moved slowly up the deserted street. Every street in every city in the land was deserted at that moment. He was the only soul stirring in all of England and he felt the dread weight of his progress along that sunless street. He dawdled past the bleak, faceless cement of the street’s apartment buildings, hoping he wouldn’t share the fate of the messenger who was executed because of the tidings they bore. Up ahead he saw the car. It looked for a moment as if the vehicle had fallen out of the featureless infinity of the sky to pin his father to the tarmac. When he reached the car he spoke the words almost fearfully, almost apologetically, to the bulls eye holes in the soles of his father’s shoes.
‘Portugal scored Dad.”
There was nothing more to be said. He turned and trudged back to what he prayed was nothing worse than the 1-0 down England had been when he’d left. But then halfway down the street he imagined, could see quite clearly in the dull, grey air before him, Bobby Charlton letting loose a blazing shot from twenty-five – no thirty yards out, a net burster, an equalizer, surely. He ran the last half block home. Three times more that day he carried news of the game to his father’s feet but this time each of the trips were occasions for joy, And, yes there surely was a God in Heaven and today He was a spitfire pilot and the English were surely the happiest of his children. For the boy’s vision had been played out not once but twice, there on the flickering monotone of their twelve-inch TV set Bobby Charlton had unleashed two rockets, both had found the back of the net, and mighty Portugal lay at England’s feet. It was war in its purest form, without the shitty behavior and the stink of corpses.
The last visit to his father’s legs was with the news that the final whistle had gone and that England had reached the final of the greatest football competition in the world. The World Cup. This news provoked in his father’s legs what he assumed was some brief, celebratory jig. But despite the momentous nature of the occasion he knew that his father would not return to the apartment until either the light went or the engine submitted to his will.
To be continued …
Excerpted from Just Another Game by Luke James published in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, Dept. of English, East Tennessee State University (1997)