One’s innate lack of ability was soon recognised by the better sportsmen who were invariably selected by the teacher to be the team captains and who then alternately picked their teams from the gaggle of youths shivering in their shorts and plimsolls.
Naturally, they selected the best players who were quickly nabbed, followed by the rump of indifferent players and leaving invariably last of all myself and one other youth, a gangly, freckly boy christened the ‘stick insect’ by the sports teacher.
Being the last to be selected was by no means the worst humiliation. Far worse was having to endure the argument that then ensured between the team captains, neither of whom wanted either of us on their side.
‘Go on,’ one would shout at the other, ‘I’ll have the stick insect and you can have Weed.’ This last comment was a reference to my nickname at school.
‘Oh no!’ the other would yell back. ‘I ‘ad ‘I’m last week.’
Eventually, the dispute would be resolved by the sports teacher and I would be placed in one team or another and then stuck in goal, that being the place where I could be reckoned to do the least damage to the team’s chances.
This, however, rested on the assumption that the opposing team would never get through the defence. Sadly, this proved to be an arrogant error on the part of my team captain because sure enough the time came when, despite the superior skills of my team, the other team won the ball and came charging down the field towards goal and towards me standing uncertainly on the goal line.
When my team recovered themselves sufficiently to recognise that the unthinkable had happened, they all, with one voice, turned and yelled at me, ‘Stop them!’
Quite how that was to be achieved was not mentioned, but as luck would have it when a gloating opponent came charging towards me, savouring the prospect of an easy goal, he kicked the ground instead of the ball and fell flat on his face, the ball trickling at a snail’s pace into my hands.
Exultant, I held the ball aloft. It was my moment of triumph which went straight to my head and instead of clearing the ball, drunk the power I foolishly held on to it not wanting the triumphant moment to pass.
That was my undoing. My enraged opponent had risen to his feet and charged at me like a wild bull. I remonstrated by wagging my finger at him and calling him ‘a naughty boy’, but as I did so I inadvertently stepped back over the goal line.
‘Goal!’ shrieked our opponents as one man fell to the ground laughing hysterically, whilst my team’s joy at my success in saving the goal turned to fury.
It cannot often be the case that a goalkeeper is carried from the pitch on the shoulders of the opposing team. That is what happened to me.
Given my ineptitude at both team games and ball games, it is surprising that I took up polo at the age of 50, but more of that later.