Gary Browne pretended to take it all philosophically when he discovered he had been dropped from his factory football team, not for the first time either.
He was beginning to have serious doubts about his footballing ability.
Well, there was nothing else for it, he thought, I'll just have to grin and bear it - left-back when the team's travelling, again!
He could picture the reaction of his mates, especially Billy McGowan, on hearing the news later on in the pub.
The match and the day's outing that accompanied it, was now a shattered dream.
An away trip to play a team from the Banbridge shoe factory was to have been the highlight of his summer.
He had talked about nothing else to his girlfriend and his family for weeks.
Gary remembered the warm summer's evenings spent on the beach in Lisfannon in Co. Donegal, preparing for the game.
He had sweated and slogged his guts out doing press-ups, sprints and circuit training.
He had endured lectures about team-work and the importance of holding on to the ball.
He had mastered the art of the through-ball and could tackle with the best of them. Scoring goals came naturally to him. Many a night he was one of only a handful who bothered to turn up for training at all.
Harry Johnston, the self-appointed trainer and manager, fancied himself as a young Bill Shankly.
If truth be told, thought Gary, he was a tube; a wastrel; a long-haired hippy, who thought he was George Best one day and Kevin Keegan, the next day.
He couldn't beat a man to save his life, not even if he had a bull-whip. Yeah, and what about the favouritism he showed to the slackers, people who bought him drinks in the pub and called him a brilliant player.
After games in the past he and these lick-spittles would tell each other how brilliant they had been even when they had lost and had been woeful.
These were the guys who made sure they ran only so far, while Harry was watching, to pretend they were fit.
At every opportunity they passed the ball to him. Training my eye, though Gary! A fish supper and seven or eight pints after five minutes running, two days before a match, proved nothing. The match was on Saturday and there was still Friday's night's drinking session to come. Some preparation! The more he thought about the situation, the further depressed he had become.
It was Wednesday dinner-time in the shoe factory when the team-sheet for the trip to Banbridge was posted on the notice board beside the clocking-in machine.
There was no mistake. All the signs had been there. He had been discouraged at every turn. He dreaded this day coming. He studied the list carefully and turned away angrily. He felt like ripping it off the notice board.
“Sorry about that, Gary!” said Harry, putting an arm around his shoulder, as the others looked at the names.
“But, you see, I promised Ciaran Kelly a game. No hard feelings, I hope!”
No hard feelings. You're not in the least bit sorry! I'd like to knock your block off right now, you smarmy sod, he thought, but he pretended to be unmoved. He was getting good at that, keeping his temper.
“Not all all, Harry!” he replied, smiling weakly. “Sure, you know best!”
I'm a hypocrite, he thought, a hypocrite! Why don't I tell him how I really feel, tell him to go to Hell!
He walked slowly back into the factory.
The others were all whooping and telling everyone how fantastic they felt.
On Friday afternoon the final preparations were being made for the big day.
Mini-bus time of arrival, pick-up points throughout the city, everything was discussed in detail in front of Gary.
The factory management had bought a new team strip, the same colours that Brazil wore, blue and yellow.
The storeroom where he worked was a kind of unofficial meeting place; a 'boot-room' Harry described it as.
Gary felt like booting the lot of them out but then that would be sour grapes and he would be forever looked on as a sore loser!
Still, he felt like packing it in altogether, especially when he saw people taking the new rigs from the plastic wrapping and holding them up against themselves.
It was then that he made a decision - he knew another factory team who were looking for forwards.
That's it, that's what I'll do, I'll go and play for some team that rates my talent. I might even get a new job there! A change is as good as a rest they say. Sod this lot, he thought, I don't owe them nothing!
“Did you hear the news, by the way! One of these jerseys will be going spare! John Doherty won't be playing!” announced Billy McGowan.
Gary looked up from his desk.
He had been pretending to fill in order forms and stock card records.
God, that's an incredible turn-up for the book, he thought.
Maybe this was the news he had been waiting for all week.
He stared at Harry Johnston waiting for an instant reaction but he didn't bat an eye-lid until everyone began staring at him.
“What's wrong with him?” asked Harry. “Is he ill or something. I was wondering about him a minute ago! He didn't come in this morning! That's not like him! I thought he'd be a certainty to be here!”
“Naw! And ye know why he isn't here! He was arrested for being drunk and disorderly last night. Busted a wee barmaid's mouth, so he did, the coward! The man's a disgrace, an eejit with drink in him!” said Billy.
“He was drunk as a skunk. He stole a car too. Pissed as a newt he was when he was lifted. Did nobody hear about it. One thing's for sure, he'll not be showing his gob around here for quite a while, I'm telling you. The manager in here will fire him and I for one wouldn't blame him! That's the end of him!”
“God, this is awful, terrible! Who's going to take his place?” asked John Magee, winking at Gary, thumb up!
“You're elected Gary, son! About time, too!”
“Here! Hold your horses a wee minute, John! I haven't decided nothing yet!” announced Harry. “I'm still the manager here you know!”
“Eh!” declared John. “What's to decide! Gary here, should have been selected in the first place. Tell us this - have you something against him? Didn't he show up for every training session you ran. And never mind that – he's a good player, isn't he? Can't you recognise that. Call yourself a manager!”
“Aye, but...,” stammered Harry. “Ye can't just...”
“Aye, but nothing. Catch yourself on!” snapped John. “I'm sure everyone's agreeable in here. Aren't we lads? Gary should play!”
The rest of the team fidgeted uneasily but one by one they nodded their approval.
Gary got up from his chair, put his pen behind his ear and began loading up some bags of core blocks for delivery to the production line.
He could see Harry was under pressure and he hoped for a favourable reaction.
Harry waited for the rest of the team to file past him back to their jobs.
Finally, as Gary wheeled his barrow through the door he stopped him.
“Well...” he said.
Gary stared Harry straight in the eyes. Come on! Ask me, ya slabber ye, he thought.
I'll not be long in telling ye where to stick your precious team. Go on, ask me, I dare ye!
“We're really stuck, Gary!” pleaded Harry. “What about it. Will ye play? We'll be glad to have ye! I tell ye what – you can play centre-forward! Come on! What do you say!”
Gary picked up a bag of core blocks and slung it up unto his shoulder.
“Sure thing, Harry!” he smiled. “Anything you say. That's fine by me. Thanks, you're the boss!”
With that he wheeled around, delighted.
In doing so he tripped over the trolley and broke his ankle.
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