The Hoofer: Bestie never played the pyjama game

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The Independent Online

In the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch there is a scene where Colin Firth's character is being shown around a house he hopes to buy directly opposite the Arsenal ground in Highbury.

The estate agent notes that the price is lower than the average for such a property, as some people don't like living so close to a football stadium. Firth, out of earshot, comments that he'd pay extra.

The proximity of a football pitch isn't why I moved to Hackford Road, SW9. But in the long winter break – a frustrating time for the amateur footballer, exacerbated by the large number of matches on television in the same period – it has been a source of comfort.

Since our last game, at the start of December, it's been reassuring to have a kitchen from which I can overlook floodlit games of five-a-side. I spend many evenings gazing out of the window between six o'clock and nine, cooking the tea, catching up with Mrs Hoofer over a glass of red wine while wincing at – and, less frequently, applauding – the action below.

As well as keeping me in touch with the game, it's perhaps evidence that I should get out more. But that's another story.

Our kitchen is an intimate vantage point, as the pitch it overlooks is only 10 feet away. To avoid being considered unhealthily fixated by the huff and puff below, it is important to watch the game from a side-on stance while avoiding eye contact and pretending that you just happen to be glancing the players' way.

The first thing I've noticed is that, although the game is commonly known as five-a-side, more often than not it's four-a-side. On occasion it's three-against-four or even two-against-three, the missing players delayed at work or mugged on the way from Stockwell tube.

Then there's the question of fancy dress. This is acceptable. Last night one chap appeared to be playing in orange pyjama bottoms, while another was wearing brilliant white ankle-socks and shorts, the latter ill-advisedly brief for such a bitter evening. It was as if he'd packed his daughter's kit by mistake.

On the same night one man was wearing a red No 25 England shirt circa 1966 with the name Best on the back. This was confusing. Not only was George Best from Northern Ireland, he wore the No 7 shirt.

Could it have been a tribute to West Ham's Clyde Best, star of the east London side in the late Sixties and early Seventies? Doubtful – he was a Bermuda international.

Then there's that strange rule regarding goalkeepers. Of course, in five-a-side nobody wants to play in goal, and there is inevitably some policy of rotation.

For a reason I've never understood and which may date back to the playground, the goalkeeper is relieved of his duties when he concedes a goal. This disincentive to perform Shiltonesque feats of heroism at least keeps teams from freezing to death in the bleak midwinter.

The contrast in standards can be sharp, with some teams well-drilled and expert, others quite the opposite. For the past few years on a Wednesday, for instance, a civil service team have been playing between 7pm and 8pm.

Initially it was evident that these women had not kicked a ball since childhood, and it has been fascinating to watch their progression from toe-ending the ball and slicing clearances – much in the fashion of my beloved Sunderland this season – to happily slamming each other into the wooden boards and shooting from the halfway line.

Next week it's my turn. Our first match of the new year is in Battersea Park against a side called Unity. After a month without a game, a lesser team might be intimidated by a name like that. Here at Oxygen FC, it's time to take a deep breath.

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