The Hoofer | Peter Conchie

The puckered goalie: a tragic tale
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The Independent Online

In the mid-1990s I played for a team whose Saturday-afternoon fixtures introduced me to some of the peripheral pages of the London A-Z. We assembled for matches in faraway places that only appear in the special larger edition used by sales reps and people who plan bus routes.

The team in question, like most I have played for over the years, lost at least as many games as they won. Thankfully one of our best players was the goalkeeper, a fellow with deep-set eyes and a melancholy demeanour.

At a party one night, one of our players got chatting to his girlfriend. Sadly for her, talk turned to football. Apparently this particular goalkeeper – I'll call him Ron, because that was his name – used to take defeat badly. While the rest of us would take a hot shower and bemoan our bad luck and the referee's incompetence over a couple of pints and a plate of sausage and chips, the keeper would slip away into the evening.

This much we knew, but none of us had suspected the depth of his post-defeat despair. Apparently when the poor fellow arrived home, typically after picking the ball out of the net half-a-dozen times or more, he would go straight upstairs without a word and run himself a bath. However, what marked Ron apart from the middlingly-miffed league footballer was the fact that he would then remain there for the rest of the evening with the lights off. Only when the water was cold and the moon had risen did he deem his penance over.

Shortly after this bizarre revelation, Ron started playing for another team, no doubt mentally debilitated by long, dark evenings of self-loathing and lukewarm water. The rest of us were thus relieved of a burden of responsibility – when attempting a back-pass or playing the offside trap, defenders would no longer be troubled by the image of a shadowy, naked figure with goosebumps on his knees.

Here at Oxygen FC we take a rather more phlegmatic approach to defeat. In light of our record this season, it's probably best it stays that way.

On Saturday we crossed the river for a game against Wandle. We were missing Josh, our captain and midfield inspiration, as well as Lee, a lean, mean sharp-shooting centre-forward. Into Lee's smoking boots stepped the versatile and – how can I put this – experienced Chris. (Age can be a sensitive issue; suffice to say that Chris is older than Gary McAllister but younger than Dave Beasant.)

Chris emerged as a very able deputy, snapping up his first goal within half an hour. A second followed shortly after half-time, and he completed his hat-trick with a flawlessly executed penalty. Afterwards, celebrations were hearty but muted. While we were pleased to have scored three away from home, Wandle had somehow managed to score five.

After the match Chris, newly crowned as top scorer, wearily peeled off his socks and wondered if he had just scored the last hat-trick of his career. For the sake of the team, we can only hope not.

Another defeat, then, but one to mark with a slap on the back rather than a night in the bath.

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