Tim Key: I didn't want to kick the Spaniard off the pitch. But he didn't have an in

 

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The Independent Online

I sent a Spaniard packing last Sunday. Well I didn't, but you know... I was in a group of people who did and I didn't step in and I didn't stop it, so as far as I'm concerned, yeah, I sent a Spaniard packing and I'm as bad as the rest of them.

It was on The Heath, at midday. I'd been seconded into a game of five-a-side football. They weren't my people – I should flag that up at the outset. They'd invited my mate, Idola, and Idola had invited me. I'm not trying to distance myself by saying that; I'm just trying to paint a realistic picture of the dynamics that were at play. Basically, there was clear social water between me and the athletes I would be joining for this kickabout. Clear water, but I did have an 'in'. That would become crucial.

We were warming up at the appointed hour. I introduced myself to these new men. My voice dank with an ugly hangover, I shook their hands and peered into their eyes, trying to discern whether they might be better, worse or about the same at football as me. And at this point, out of nowhere, a Spaniard arrived.

Tall, beautiful, and with his pale blue socks pulled up three inches over his knees, I stopped whichever hand I was on and made a beeline for his. I shook his hand for a good minute, delighted that he'd made the trip to the UK and then, somehow, to us.

But there was a problem. Not only had this guy not received a text inviting him to play, but in addition – unlike me – he didn't have an 'in' of any kind. He was a lone star. Wandering the Heath, enjoying the rays of the UK sun, and looking for a game of football to join. That became more than apparent when he asked me: "Can I join the football?".

It was beautiful to hear. His Mediterranean lilt, his big bushy eyebrows bobbing up and down. I was immediately powerless and emitted an inaudible "Yes".

But my inaudible "Yes" was drowned out by four or five "No"s from some of the group and, when they we were done, another louder "No mate" from the main organiser. This tall, bronzed Continental outsider had had his dreams of a kickabout whipped away from him. He stood, head bowed for a moment. Then he looked at me. Imploring. Like he thought I could help. I mouthed, "These aren't my guys". He mouthed something in Spanish, and then he turned and walked slowly up the hill. Sent. Packing.

I could see it from their point of view. Of course I could. Someone had sent a group text and this Spaniard was threatening to compromise its aims. Because it wasn't a jumpers-for-goalposts operation per se. These guys had brought along a set of bibs and four 1.6m-long poles to jab into the ground for goalposts. They had even numbers and more or less the only thing that could ruin the hungover kickaround for these 10 overweight English guys, was an eleventh bonny Spaniard. But even taking all of this into account, I couldn't watch his powerful shoulders slump off into the midday sun. I ran after him.

"Excuse me mate. I don't know those guys."

"I just want a kickaround. To have fun."

"Sure. I'm on your side, buster. Just wanted to say that."

He smiled. He appreciated me coming over. I smiled back at him and punched his shoulder playfully. And now he beamed. "So I play?"

Of course he couldn't play. I simply didn't have that kind of sway. "No. No you don't mate. Not this time." I winked empathetically. I couldn't help him.

I jogged back to the group and hauled on a bib. And we played a 40-minute game of fairly one-sided football because the teams were a bit uneven.

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