Things are hotting up at the bottom half of the Support Services Five-A-Side League. The top of the leaderboard was decided weeks ago, so all eyes have turned to the City Kickers, the ancillary staff from Stein Alloway Securities – stalwarts of the post room, the security desk and the IT helpline to the last man – who are languishing at the bottom of the league table.
Like Henry V’s band of brothers, despite rain, snow and bouts of swine flu, the Kickers have valiantly sallied forth every Wednesday evening. Sadly, they’ve been fighting a losing battle, notching up one goal all season – which, strictly speaking, shouldn’t have counted, as it was a deflection off a kit bag someone had left on the sideline. Team captain Marc Bullock, head of software support, is hoping to pull something out of the bag (or at least put something in the net) for the final match of the season.
As self-elected coach, captain and star striker, Marc carries a heavy burden on his shoulders – with scant support from his team-mates. While other teams have tapped into their firm’s international workforce, recruiting Brazilian traders and Italian analysts here, and the occasional Cameroonian accountant there, the only foreign signing Marc has made for the Kickers is Gavin, the Australian temp whose upfront dribbling skills only come to the fore over a post-match pint.
With lacklustre midfield support from Jamie, a spindly post-room boy, and Tom from in-house catering, Marc can only be grateful he’s got Harvey in goal. The 6ft 6in, 18-stone man mountain, who by day is the security firm’s guardian of the lobby turnstiles, only need position his considerable bulk in the goal area and the Kickers have a 50-50 chance of withstanding any attack. Close scrutiny of their goal deficit, however, reveals that the strategy hasn’t been overly successful. Between Harvey’s lumberings and Tom and Jamie’s inefficiencies, frankly a pile of jumpers could put up a sterner defence.
But that’s about to change. This Wednesday, they’re drawn to play The Dodderers, a motley crew of Bought Ledger geriatrics. Marc is confident that the Kickers’ teamwork, a little focus and a prevailing wind can see them off.
Things get off to a shaky start. What The Dodderers lack in speed they make up for in accuracy, passing the ball backwards and forwards to each other with pin-sharp precision, and Marc and Gavin just can’t get on the ball. Marc’s frustration finally boils over and he bawls Gavin out over a bungled interception that sends the ball out of play, returning possession to The Dodderers. With Jamie and Tom cowering in the midfield and Harvey wondering what’s for dinner, it seems nobody’s eye is on the ball.
Now, The Dodderers didn’t reach the average age of 58.4 without knowing when to seize an opportunity. As play resumes, they lurch upfield, catching Jamie and Tom frozen with fear, like two rabbits on a motorway. Marc realises that there’s nothing between the attacking Dodderers and all-out victory. Except Harvey.
Despite instructions from Marc to hug his goal area, Harvey has decided it is time to strike free from his comfort zone. A shoddy chip from a Doddering striker lands the ball at the goalie’s feet and, rather than scoop it up, he decides to run with it. Like a bull in the back alleys of Pamplona, he thunders down the pitch, carving a track through all in his path. Within seconds, Harvey finds himself somewhere he’s never been before: at the other end of the pitch, in front of the goal, with the ball at his feet. Marc sprints to his side, imploring Harvey to simply tap the ball his way, and let him do the rest. But this is Harvey’s chance for glory and he won’t be denied it.
Harvey pauses. Gathers his thoughts. Life stands still as he stands perfectly poised, taking stock. Deep breath, then he shoots, he slices. The Dodderers goalie dives as the ball ricochets off Harvey’s size 13, smack into the top right corner of the post. Marc groans as the ball shoots straight off the bar, back at Harvey. It bounces off his chest, taking him unawares, before rolling slowly, woefully, between the posts, finally coming to rest in the net.
It’s been a small victory for a big man. Though, as Harvey lifts his shirt over his head and does a lap of honour, Marc reminds him not to hog all the glory. Coming second bottom of the league isn’t down to one man.
At the end of the day, it’s teamwork. And it’s done them proud.