The Ginger Kid In Centre Midfield
13 January 2016
I played on the school football team in Primary 7. There were twelve of us available to play, and I alternated with one other kid as substitute. The day they took the school photo, I wasn’t picked for the match, and there were only eleven jerseys to go round, so I mumped off somewhere in a classic eleven year-old’s sulk. Then Mr Sadler came and found me and ordered me into the photo.
Somewhere in the world that photo still exists, and I’m the one in the obviously different yellow football top, with enormous hair and a pissed-off expression.
I only remember one game we played, down at the now long-departed ash pitches at the bottom end of Duke’s Road, against another local school. There was one of our team who lived down in that area, which meant we were able to use his house as a changing room, and that he had the inside gossip on the opposition.
There was only one player of theirs of any interest. A lad who played in midfield, a large, ginger kid who’d been spawned in the pits of Isengard. Being a ginger kid myself, he was one of my people, so I thought we might have some sort of competitive bond. As it was, we only once came near each other on the field. I ran into him, causing him to stop, and me to bounce about thirty yards away onto my arse.
I remember Mr Sadler awarding him the foul, and at the time I rationalised this as probably the correct decision; possibly, however, Mr Sadler was as scared of him as everybody else was.
After the game we all went back to Chick’s house to change. His parents weren’t home, and Mr Sadler had gone off to lie in his Teacher Coffin. And then, as we got our stuff together in the front room, out the window we saw the Ginger Kid arrive at the front gate. He didn’t come in, he just stood there, waiting for the wildebeest to emerge. Like all true bullies he was accompanied by a couple of scrawny henchmen.
We cowered in the sitting room. Eleven of us, three of them, the odds somehow, in our heads, stacked in their favour.
Finally we found the mettle to leave, and we filed solemnly and silently out into the bright afternoon, with me somewhere in the middle. One by one the cohort of my teammates and friends inched past the Ginger Kid, and he let them go. Then, as I walked through the gate, he took one step to the side and stood in my way.
Nothing was said at first. The rest of the team moved past, and were off. They didn’t all run, but as they walked casually along the street you could feel the wave of relief.
It was reminiscent of one of those moments in a wildlife documentary. The wildebeest are flying around in a mad panic, and then suddenly the lion brings one of them down, and the rest of the fleeing animals instantly stop, turn, casually look at what’s happening, and start eating grass. Immediately you hear the cry going up, ‘It’s all right, they’ve got Uncle Stan, we can relax.’
I was never bullied at school, which was always a surprise. I was a pussy, with stupid big hair, and absolutely ripe for it. Never happened. I didn’t understand it until years later, when my wife pointed out that I permanently wear a fuck-off expression, and no one anywhere wants to speak to me about anything ever, bullying or otherwise.
This moment was the one very, very minor exception and I wilted pathetically. Forty years later, the incident plays out much better in my head. I tell the ginger kid to get the fuck out of my face, he backs down with a whimper, I walk after my mates and tell all of them how pathetic they are, and then I sign for Rangers, win the European Cup, score the winning goal for Scotland in the World Cup Final, and become President Of Everything.
What actually happened was the following short exchange.
Ginger Kid: You fouled me.
Ginger Kid: Say you’re sorry.
Me: I’m sorry.
Ginger Kid: Are you going to do it again?
Then the Ginger Kid stepped aside, and I scurried off after my friends, and when I reached them nothing was said of the matter. I was embarrassed by my pusillanimity, as I expect they were embarrassed by theirs.
I never saw that Ginger Kid again. Nor, in fact, did I become President of Everything.