Ever had “a moment”? One of those little passages of time where it seems like a series of jigsaw pieces move all at once into perfect position, confirming their compatibility with a satisfying “click”?
I have. And it happened just last evening.
To the untrained eye, it may sound a little overly-romantic, even insignificant, but trust me, this makes sense to me. Honest.
So there I am, doing something I have done a million times before. I’m parking my car in my driveway, bringing in the wheelie bin from outside the gate. In a world of my own, no concern from the outside world, no concern for it. The noise of my Liverpool estate is confined to the background (to tell the truth I still have Bon Iver ringing in my ears from an iPod day in work). I fancy an afternoon nap actually, straight to bed and then up at six to make some tea. Mundane. Routine.
Then, “Hey, Neil”.
Stopped dead in my tracks. I know this kid, I know him because, being brutally honest, he is an absolute pain in the arse. A complete pain in the arse. Nine or ten years old. Noisy, cheeky, disrespectful, and with an incredible ability to come up with rather witty look-alikes for you as you walk past (Leighton Baines is mine; I suppose it could be worse. Just ask Phil Neville three doors down!). Kieron his name is. A scally kid from a scally family, no chance. So what does he want?
“Tell these will you? Who’s the best midfielder in the world?” Now that question alone usually provokes hours upon hours of debate across message boards, forums, newspapers, phone-ins and general chit-chat. There are cases to be made for plenty. I won’t bother making any, it isn’t important. What is important is what comes next. “It’s Xavi isn’t it? Best passer in the game”
Now you might be surprised that a nine year old would possess such a seemingly keen eye for a midfield schemer (particularly as he is wearing a Liverpool away kit bearing the name Torres), but it shouldn’t surprise me. A week or so earlier I had discovered this kid’s football in my front garden; with him sheepishly hanging back awaiting its return. Rather than throw it back (that’s for women and rugby folk), I had produced a pinpoint twenty yard pass to feet. It impressed me, arrogance took over. “Don’t move son. See that? Xavi. Best passer in the game”
I don’t know why I said it really. I mean, I happen to think it’s true, but why say it to a kid who, quite frankly, I don’t like? It’s not like it’s going to have any sort of effect on the lad is it? After all, this kid is more interested in black hooded garments and Xbox live than tiki-taka.
But no, here he is a few days down the line informing me that, actually, he has had a good look at this Xavi character and yes, he is impressive. It struck a chord with me. “It’s the way he fires it to feet, Gerrard, Carrick and that are always chipping it, makes it harder to control for the bloke receiving it. Xavi plays it on the floor” Argue with that. There’s more: “And when he plays it, he always moves into space and asks for it back, like Alonso does. Lucas doesn’t do that though, he just stands still. That’s why he fouls people all the time, cos he is never alert”
Now you may wish to agree or disagree with this kid’s statements- personally I think he is spot-on- but look beyond the rivalries, the personal opinions on players, and see the bigger picture. Here is a kid who shows very little intelligence in the way he conducts himself, by all accounts is not the sharpest tool in the shed, academically speaking, yet who is channelling his energies into a chosen passion, and actually expressing himself with lucidity and balance.
Of course you people don’t know this kid, so it is perhaps hard to see my angle here. But to me there was something wonderful about the way football, and all that comes with it, can not only create a bond between two people who otherwise would never share one, but also encourage a child to dig deeper and broaden their horizons. A throwaway comment from a grouchy neighbour (me) has prompted a cheeky scamp (him) to have a look at “this Xavi fella” and see something he likes. Better still, it has encouraged him to share his opinions, to consider the aesthetics and nuances of the game- as opposed to who scored how many and who has the best Hummer. He even asked me who else I was a fan of, so he could go and check them out*. The seeds are sown, the kid wants to learn, I am happy to teach.
It hasn’t meant to, but football has probably made my life a hell of a lot easier. No more back-chat when I go for my morning paper, no more sitting on my wall, no more wolf-whistles for my girlfriend. “Neil likes Santi Cazorla, he’s alright”. What football has also done is give a child (and this is just an example, this kind of thing will be happening the world over I’m sure) something to channel their energies into, in a positive manner. Where some kids will be roaming the streets at 8pm on a Saturday, I’d like to think this fella will be making notes on Sevilla v Valencia, ready to dissect my notion that David Silva & David Villa are the best attacking partnership around.
Of course I could well be proved wrong, distractions are freely available through high school and adolescence. Women, drugs, fashion, alcohol, cars, crime, travel will all rear their heads at some time or another, but for now it is comforting to think that the innocence of football can give you one of those warm feelings inside on a dreary Monday. Especially after that draw at Anfield on Sunday.
*if you were wondering, I am enjoying the form of Malaga full back Jesus Gamez, and James Beattie is a fantastic signing by Stoke, he could well be the man to keep them up.