The Life and Times of a Modern Footballer

* Please note that some of the names in this story are fictitious, as is the story itself.

The small, skinny boy passes the ball slickly to the neighbour’s kid with whom he was playing football in the street. He runs forward and the neighbour slides the ball back to him before he shoots. GOAL! He tugs his shirt over his head and celebrates in the style of the people he’d only seen on TV. He wants to be like them. A sweet boy in a wholesome family, Steven James Damon loves nothing more than to play football with his mates in the street.

“Oi, JD! Get your butt inside here now. Your dinner’s getting cold,” hollers his sister. “And you shouldn’t be playing football when you know you’ve got to finish your homework.”

He looks at his friends apologetically and one answers, “S’alright, JD. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, school is such drag. Who knew second grade would be so bothersome.”

School, football, sleep, school, football, sleep; such was the pattern of each day and once in a blue moon it would change to accommodate homework somewhere in there – always neglecting Anne Frank so he can go kick some balls with Alex, Tom and Matthew.

Eight years pass and JD is still scoring at the Arsenal youth academy, famous for producing the likes of David Bentley and others, his name destined to join theirs. The story is the same now except now he squeezes time in for socializing because, yes, he’s a teenager. The dreams are different now: he wants to earn the big bucks and have an entourage of babes. The guy’s got style. Of course he can’t do that just yet because he doesn’t have enough money to afford sin and his girlfriend would kill him in any case.

A year later and getting a decent paycheque, JD has ditched his girlfriend because he can afford two others. The words “I play for Arsenal,” is the “Open Sesame” of any girl’s pants, regardless of whether it’s Arsenal Reserves he’s playing for or not.
“So what you doing on Saturday night, Jess?” beguiles JD.
An annoyed Jess replies, “I’m sorry, I’m…” she pauses for a period not long enough for the boy to notice the hesitation, “working on a Science project.”
“Well how’s about you and me make some chemistry at my place?” No, dude, you’re doing it wrong. Smooth talking is meant to be, in one word, smooth.
“Uh, yeah… I can’t.” Perturbation clearly worn on her face.

Come Sunday morning, Jess leaves her lace bra and dignity at JD’s apartment. Good Biology lesson, that one. Attached to the bra was a promise of more satisfaction.

“Look what the cat dragged in: JD!” Matt shouts from across the road and, man, has life been so hectic that they haven’t seen each other in months. “Dude, am I glad to see you. It’s been forever, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah, we live only a few blocks away from each other and yet I never see you. Life is strange hey. Ten years ago my sister was shouting at me to come inside, stop playing football with the guys and now I’m playing alongside Cesc in Arsenal’s midfield. Things with you have also changed, yeah. Now you’re.” hesitates JD, unsure what his childhood best friend is doing with his life.

Sensing the gap, Matt adds, “Wow, the first-year Psychology course is a killer. I feel like I’ve been mentally raped after every exam, poking in parts of my brain where I never knew information even was. Yeah, but Lisa is a major relief for my stress.”

He has a girlfriend? Lisa who? “Oh, yes, Lisa Atkinson. Man, she was hot from what I remember. She’s got nothing on Elise, though. She’s on fire every night.”
“Elise? Aren’t you going out with Jess?”
Shit. Okay, play it cool. “Yeah, what did I say?”
“You said Elise. It’s alright. I mess up sentences also. Wanna grab a pint?”

Womanising never led you anywhere and she sure didn’t lead JD into any sort of comfortable place. She led him straight into the family-planning clinic when the home testing kit turned blue. A father at nineteen. He tells Jess this in what way? In an ‘I cheated on you and now my mistress is pregnant’ card? Sorry, Hallmark’s fresh out of them.

One birth later, a first-time father looks at his beautiful baby girl’s ice blue eyes and vows to give up all that is bad in the world. In that moment of pure euphoria, all the rape allegations and charges of match-fixing is relieved from his thoughts. Sarah, my baby. That beautiful, bewildered stare makes him think all will be okay and that he and Elise will be good parents. Who would have thought the stare from someone who is but two hours old can make a sinner repent? That’s it, he thinks. No more foul play or bad behaviour. I’m a father now and I should act like a good one to give my child any sort of values in this world.

Of course a leopard can’t change his spots and though Steven James Damon wants to be the best dad ever, he can’t be a very good one when he’s not around for his child. Even when he is around he manages to mess it up. Out of touch with his family, the only relatives Sarah sees are her parents, in the midst of a strenuous and bitter relationship. Forced together by circumstance and not love, their marriage was an unhappy one which would only ever have one result.

“Daddy, where’s Mommy?” enquires a precocious five year old while sitting in a car on the way to her grandma and grandpa’s house.
Unsure how to answer, a father who’s lost his footing says, “Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting along so we’ve decided we can’t live together anymore. But you don’t need to worry, sweet pea, because Mommy and Daddy still love you very much and we’re going to give you the best life possible.”
“But I miss Mommy.”
Flashing lights and a siren prevent him from replying. The policeman signals him to pull over.

“Sir, do you know you’re going at 100km/h in a 60km zone? I’m going to have to ticket you. It’s dangerous to drive that fast especially when you’re not allowed to.” The concerned but stiff cop puts pen to paper and —
“Please forgive me. I’m in a rush and I really didn’t mean to go that fast.” JD looked at the official’s face and he clearly didn’t budge. He takes out ₤50 and asks, “Will this make it better?”
The policeman takes the cash and bids the Mercedes goodbye.

Five weeks later and the Mercedes is still involved in other sorts of offences, now involved in adultery.
“You sure your wife won’t mind that you’re screwing me while the divorce papers are going through?” Nancy buttons up her shirt while struggling to get her shoes on unassisted.
“Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Where should I drop you off? I’ve got to run to pick up my daughter,” came the exasperated, breathless reply.

Nancy was just a series of girls drifting in and out of the home (or car) in the past month. And when Sarah asked who the latest one was, JD snapped at her out of shock of poor concealment and shame. She pulled ₤1 out of her pocket and asked, “Will this make it better?”

This leads to JD questioning how he had chosen to live his life and how this would impact Sarah’s. JD had grown up with a loving, tight-knit family but as soon as he hit 16, he left the family home and got caught up in acts too shameful to mention. He’d gotten his dream and earned all the money he could but where had it gotten him? He’d stopped being Steven James Damon and had become the brand JD©. In all honesty, he’d never realised his initial dream from when he was eight because he’d lost the joy of football and surrounded himself with its scandalous culture and immorality.

And he had still gotten some 16 years of a loving family but if Sarah has received none of this in her crucial, earliest five years of life with no promise of ever receiving it afterwards, how was there any hope for her in the future when she’s stuck in a dysfunctional family with a bitter mother who is grieving a marriage and a fraudulent, adulterous father? What has JD done to his child?

Written by CLB, originally published here.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).

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  1. BD Condell 26 October, 2008
  2. CLB 30 October, 2008
  3. BD Condell 31 October, 2008
  4. Ahmed Bilal 31 October, 2008
  5. Ahmed Bilal 31 October, 2008