Why are you going? You know you’re not fit.”
Alex’s wife, Hannah, was looking at him like he was an idiot. It was a look he had unfortunately grown used to in recent years, and which seemed to accompany his every attempt at doing anything that hadn’t been organised/suggested/endorsed by her.
“Yes I am,” he protested.
“No you’re not!”
“How do you know?”
“Well, um, let me see… because you haven’t taken any exercise this millennium?”
“I take the children to school.”
“That’s five minutes down the road.”
“I go to meetings.”
“On the Tube.”
“I walk the dog.”
“We haven’t got a dog.”
As he kissed her goodbye, he noticed the faintest glimmer of a smile. She had always found him irresistible in polyester-viscose mix. He was, he must say, rather pleased with the retro Dennis Bergkamp shirt he had bought on eBay. Although that might change once he started to sweat.
Buoyed by encouraging smiles on the Bakerloo line – more for the shirt than the knee support, he supposed – Alex walked through the darkness towards the tungsten glare of the all-weather pitches feeling full of beans. If he floundered a little when he saw 20 fully grown, high-net-worth alpha males doing a shouty warm-up drill, he didn’t let on.
As his old school friend Tom (who, unlike him, had remembered that the whole point of their elitist education had been to go into banking) jogged towards him in top-to-toe breathable Nike, Alex’s heart sank. So much for the fun kickabout. These guys – all sporting the fluoro sock boots worn by South American forwards half their age – clearly meant business.
Business! That, he reminded himself, was why he had joined the West London Wanderers, a Tuesday-night football team made up of the most successful middle-class, middle-aged men in town. Men who just might – especially once they saw his nifty footwork – want to invest in his film.
Two hours later, laughing over warm pints of beer in a grotty, very-much-not-gastro pub, Alex felt the warmth of male camaraderie flood over him as he tried to ignore the searing pain in his left ankle.
“You’re pretty mega on the wing,” said Andrew, a handsome South African who, according to Tom, had last week floated his telecoms business for more millions than Alex had pounds in his pocket.
“Coutinho eat your heart out!” chimed Lawrence, who Alex was sure he had seen as he slipped in and out of consciousness watching Newsnight last week.
“Alex is a screenwriter,” declared Tom through a mouthful of Wheat Crunchies. “He’s won awards.”
“And some trophies, I bet,” smirked Andrew.
“Only my wife!” Tom laughed. A little too loudly. Maybe it was the endorphins.
By the time he got home that night, Alex was as high as a kite – the direct result of a heady combination of warm beer, exercise-induced euphoria and a healthy dose of hope.
“Tom says that Tim – the captain – is back next week and he is the head of one of the biggest digital streaming networks in Europe,” he yelled over the sound of Hannah’s electric toothbrush as he lay, triumphant, on the bed.
“Good God, what’s happened to your foot?” she screeched, as she came out of the bathroom.
“Please don’t start your melodramatics, Hannah. It’s fine.”
“Alex, it’s purple!”
Fourteen hours and a sleepless night in A&E later, Alex wasn’t feeling quite so chipper. “Adrenaline is an amazing thing,” declared the doctor, who couldn’t quite believe Alex had managed to walk home with a fractured ankle.
“You’re an idiot,” was all Hannah could say as she helped him into a taxi the following week.
“I’ll go in goal,” he winced. “I have to be there. For Tim.”
He arrived a good half an hour before kick off, in plenty of time to hobble to the goal. With his tracksuit bottoms covering his splint, nobody need ever know.
“Don’t get too comfortable in there,” yelled Tom, when he pulled up in his new Porsche a few minutes later. “Tim’s coming tonight and he’s quite the taskmaster. Makes us do 15 minutes of agility training before we get to even kick the ball…”