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He lies in bed.
It is the cold dark of another anonymous night.
In a year that has cost him a job and a father as well as an arm and a love, his body has finally betrayed him. His only respite is in the toxins that have deprived him of his health and sanity.
The seventy square feet of the chamber have become a cell and as the poison courses through his veins, he hopes for a sentence of life.
And while both hands lie on the right hand side of the clock, he stares into the void.
Over in the corner of the room is magic window shows him a world that is in reality further from his reach than the miles that intervene.
And what a world it is.
There, in manicured fields of green, in 1250 square feet is escape from the prison of his unkempt bed.
And this is what he sees.
Left back only in name he has never been left anywhere and he is everywhere to reclaim with ease a ball that was always his to possess.
Once Captain Courageous has weathered the storm. Though captain no more he has honour to prove and on the pitch assay finds him true.
Now Captain Courageous, he has put his battling past behind him and when he is needed he leads from the front.
The man-boy with King Edward’s face has it all. The skill, the drive, the strength. He wants everything and everything is his.
And what he sees gives him hope.
In four months time it is a time of champions.
In four months time the poisons will be part of his body’s memory.
In four months time he will swap the bars of his cell for simple bars.
In four months time he will be in a different place.
For what he has seen in his monk’s cell has given him hope.
Hope of health and sanity restored, the hope of a new position, the hope of another love.
And somewhere, on a foreign field, there is the hope of victory.
And he will be there to see it, new and whole.
For what he has seen on those anonymous nights has given him hope.
It’s coming home.
We take our seats and I hear you tell me.
“It’s about time we ‘ad a decent referee”
It’s Dad’s flask and the bogs.
You feel the need to remind us all.
“See what ah mean?” you cry, demanding provenance for your arcane knowledge. “We ant ad a good ref all year.”
After our best result this year,
And for the thirteenth time this season
You tell me all you can.
“That’s the crappest referee we’ve had all year.”
He sits in the pub.
From his extensive wardrobe, he has chosen the 1996 shirt. He had hoped it was not tempting fate, but the fates had another agenda on this day and the game was never within a parsec of penalties.
In front of him are three glasses, one for each lion. One warm, another warming, one cold and new. His newly rebuilt body seems permanently two beers behind the pace.
Recently rediscovered friends, all in white, gather around him.
The Cleric rants and rages using words disapproved of by his faith, but safe in the knowledge he can confess them later.
The Teutonophile tells him they were the better team and they’ll be there or thereabouts. There’s no shame in losing to the eventual winners
The Intellectual looks for reasons and finds them in a poor choice of team and tactics. There’s too many foreigners in the Premiership he says.
The woman asks him questions.
But he doesn’t answer.
His body sits in its clean white shirt, but his mind travels in time
He remembers that day in the Day Room, watching the draw. It should have been so EASY (England, Algeria, Slovenia and the Yanks). Unbowed, qualifying in style, progression assured.
Laying in his late night unkempt bed, untroubled by sleep, a bright glass in the corner showed him reflections of warriors, gladiators all, unbeaten and unbeatable.
And there, in the dark of his darkest hour, he began to believe. At a time when he needed hope, he found hope.
This time, more than any other time, we can do it. This time, he believes. This time, it’s coming home.
His mind returns to the pub and his distant dreams dissolve into the three glasses in front of him
On the screen, he sees them bowed and fallen and he knows.
He knows have failed.
But more than that, they have failed him
The cleric bangs the table and the three beer glasses jump.
Beer splashes from the warmest of the three and lands on the badge of his white shirt.
The three lions look unchanged by their shower, the droplets hardly showing, but as he looks down at these symbols of our pride, he sees something else.
He sees tears.