Growing up in Liverpool in the 1960’s, I was like most children, football daft. On Saturday afternoons, I could find out the score at Liverpool’s home games, at Anfield, by standing in my back garden. The sound of 60,000 fans crammed into the old ground used to erupt when the reds scored.
My brother and I used to play football in the street. He used to pretend to be Real Zaragoza and I used to pretend to be Real Madrid. My grandfather was Spanish but I was also fascinated by the Great Real Madrid team which starred Gento, Di Stefano and Puskas. It was Gento that inspired me to become a winger. My brother and I would visualise ourselves, playing in the great stadiums of the world, rewriting the history of football.
The Art department of my school, De La Salle used to try and get us, to use our imagination, by memorizing a flower or human figure, removing it and asking us to draw it from memory. This is harder than you think. If I asked you to draw a strawberry would you be able to? Most people could not.
The evening before a mid-week school football match, I decided to see if I could visualise my self in the game scoring the winning goal. This is what happened the next day.
Rain; torrential; blinding; freezing; rain. Dwerryhouse Lane playing fields in West Derby Liverpool was an oasis in an urban desert of council houses. These red brick, uniform, duplex, squares were constructed in the I940’s, to transport people out of the inner city slums in Liverpool. The city slums were a blight on a once great city. The one thing they possessed in abundance, which the council could not engineer, in these new, pristine, red boxes was the sense of community and the collective soul that emanates from spirited people, living cheek by jowl. In less than a decade, the council had replaced a city with a bleak, landscape of urban sprawl.
Dwerryhouse House Lane was cold that day. Wednesdays always seem colder than other days. This is probably due to the fact, that the warm feelings of the previous weekend are lost in one’s psyche and the weekend ahead is as conceivable as locating El Dorado or Shangrila.
The year is 1974 and the 1st eleven football teams of De La Salle and St Francis Xavier are locked in mortal combat. As evening descends, the lush green football pitch is half illuminated by the powerful, yellow Sodium lamps which warm the road sitting along side the playing field.
The gladiatorial, battle of chess is reaching a climax. The match is eighty-seven minutes old and both teams have kicked each other to a stand still. The biting cold, shards of rain, dance off the green pitch and transform into a billion diamonds. The steam from the players breath, hover above the pitch. The cold rain, refreshes lifeless limbs and invigorates tired minds. A strange paradox is evident. The tiredness, collective effort and mutual respect, derived from the contest and the elements, unconsciously unites the protagonists. In fact, for a spilt second, the teams seem locked in a hynoptic trance, that transcends the mundaneity of a mid-week, meaningless, school boy football match.
One player seems immune to this collective coma. In actual fact he seems to have known that this moment would arrive as surely as night follows day. Great players possess an awareness that others do not. That is why they are great players. Steve Howard was not a typical English grammar school boy. Steve was a willowy, blonde haired, blued eyed, adolescent, seventeen year old teenager, with a penchant for playing Classical music, art and poetry. He was though as incongruous as the other boys on the playing field that day.
Steve was about to change the course of the match, that dark, dank, winter evening.
He had rehearsed this moment in his mind the previous day as painstakingly as Fred Astaire rehearsing ‘Putting on the Ritz’. He had composed the script in his head and directed it with Hitchcockian precision. He had even composed the soundtrack in his mind. All great dramas, he pondered, need great music. Steve’s soundtrack was courtesy of his hero, Francisco Tarrega. Football, Steve decided was like a tango: a tango, conducted by the player and the ball. Steve would compose the final scene of the match by dancing a Tango. The Tango, danced by Steve and the ball. The soundtrack to the dance would be the wonderful minuet by Francisco Tarrega; Tango. Steve was a competent, Spanish Guitarist. He also happened to be a talented football player.
The football match, had now moved inexorably into the ninetieth minute. The ball moved across to the left hand side of the pitch, exactly as Steve had foreseen. The moment had arrived. Steve and the ball, took to the stage. He looked down. The glistening, damp, white football was in his possession. For the next few seconds, they were about to mesmerize the opposition with speed, alacrity and purpose. He did not disappoint. The rhythmic, hypnotic chords of Tarrega’s Tango, flooded into his mind and took control of his body. His left foot pushed the ball at lightning speed to the left flank of the football pitch. The flank was unguarded and he moved with the speed and grace of a gazelle.
Tarrega’s Tango, galvanised his spirit and fortified his soul. His body and the ball were bearing down on the opposition’s goal, with a sense of purpose and menace which transfixed the St Francis defenders. Steve was now bearing down on the eighteen yard line. In the corner of his left eye. he saw the right full back moving closer, in an attempt to tackle him. He turned inwards. He sprinted across the eighteen yard line to the far side of the ‘D’, the semi-circle that is attached to the penalty area.
This sudden change of direction and the resulting increase of pace and trajectory, left two defenders kicking fresh air. Steve felt the pulsating rhythm of Tarrega’s Tango in his head. The last act of the scene was now being played out. His sense of purpose and the total belief in his destiny, had brought him to the apex of his plan. Steve and the football were now positioned, like a howitzer at point, on a battle field, one yard to the right of the ‘D’. The final act of the piece was to lift his right foot and guide his partner, the football into the lower right corner of the net.
Steve knew the conclusion. The fire-crack that resonated from the ball, echoing around the wet playing field was enough to tell him. He opened his eyes only to enjoy the moment. The ball seemed to depart from him, in a sense of wonderment; joy in its quest but sadness at leaving him. He too, felt the pang of mixed emotions but the die had been cast. The ball sped like a meteorite.
This ballet; this dance of the guitar; this drama, had now awakened the other twenty-one players from their collective slumber. The opposition goalkeeper could see the ball arrowing into his left hand corner. He dived; the ball; with disdain, flew passed him and nestled in the far corner of the net. Steve did not react. The crowd erupted. They knew, they had borne witness to a moment of magic. They may have not heard the music but they had danced, none the less.
If you have any similar stories, I would be delighted to hear from you. My name is Steve Howard. You have been reading the digital circus.