The Hoofer | Peter Conchie

Whose turn is it to do the socks?
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The Independent Online

Last Saturday I made my first serious mistake of the season. It was the sort of schoolboy error that comes from not having played regularly for a while, and I can only hope that it won't affect team spirit in the cold months ahead.

Our opponents were Hyde Park Thursday. I guessed from their name that they were going to be useful; it probably alluded to their training arrangements, a fitness regime that might intimidate sides called, say, Kings Head Tuesday. Worse, when they took the pitch few of the team had grey hair. Or bald patches. Too many had dark hair, and too many of them had plenty of it.

So, from an ageing centre-half's perspective, the game was never going to be easy. Morale was lifted, however, thanks to a new set of bright-red shorts and socks that one of my Oxygen FC team-mates had acquired.

In the first half we played the offside trap – a prudent tactic, given the speed of our opponents (and the fact that the linesman was our substitute, Brian). In the second half we had to change the gameplan, as Brian came on to play at left-back. Thursday started to play the ball in behind us and, as we dropped deeper to defend, they began to push through from midfield. Midway through the second half, my left hamstring as tight as piano wire and my right calf feeling like an overstuffed sausage, we were finally undone.

Thursday's youthful striker skipped through the heart of the defence and beat our keeper with a fine strike from the edge of the area. No one admitted responsibility for giving him space. Still, I could have kicked myself, as the centre-half, but my legs were too painful.

Nevertheless, post-match spirits in the Oxygen FC dressing room were relatively high. A 1-0 defeat to last year's league winners was no disgrace. Feeling a bit Gustav Klimt I offered to wash the kit (my share of the match fee was £5, it could be dodged by offering to do the team laundry). At home I hobbled into the kitchen, dumped the kitbag on the floor and, after sharing 20 minutes of match anecdotes with my partner (my, how she laughed), I pulled back the zip and fished out its fetid contents for the washing machine.

First out were the brand-new shorts. I did what I have been trained to do when I wash an item for the first time. I looked at the label. It was then that the magnitude of my mistake became clear.

"Hand wash separately" – 12 pairs of shorts and 12 pairs of socks. It was an elementary mistake, and one I should have been experienced enough to avoid. "Never offer to wash a new kit" is a cardinal rule of park football.

At this point, instinct overcame instruction. Sod that for a game of football, I thought – mixed wash, hope for the best. They're still sloshing round as I write this, so I'm not quite sure what colour we'll be playing in next week.

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