Stuart Campbell is currently writing a novel based on his latest passion for Walking Football; a world-wide phenomenon aimed at encouraging men and women over 50 to return to the sport they loved. Stuart currently plays in goal for Glasgow Sport in a national league.
Three Touches (working title) tells how a team of misfits and oddballs eventually win an international tournament.
Here are the team members as they first appear in the novel.
Danny, unemployed with a drug problem, learned to play in Barlinnie.
‘Dinnae tell me. I can see the changing room in my mind’s eye. A’ they mobility scooters lined up, a’ they wee trolley thinks, a neat stack o’ walking frames all stacked in the corner. And inside, the smell of embrocation being plastered ontae prosthetic legs, a queue at the lavvy, catheters being emptied doon the pans. Mair bandages than an Egyptian mammy…’
‘Have you finished?’
‘And then the gemme starts. In slow motion, Match of the Day for dafties. Wan or two o’ the players are deid; they’ve pit them on the wing, oot o’ harm’s way. Wandering the touchline like wraiths. The ball goes right through them. Spooky…’
‘It’s walking football for fuck’s sake!’
‘And then there’s a fracas. Someone speaks tae the referee. He holds his ear piece. Then he whistles. The gemme’s a bogie. Ineligible player. Wan o’ the boys is only 89. Cheating bastard!’
Danny finished his drink and slammed it down on the table. ‘Mine’s a pint.’
John stood. The recruitment drive was not going well.
Davy, in his 70s, suffering from early onset dementia. He lives with his daughter who is desperate to move him into a care home.
Amy looked at her grandfather quizzically. He shrugged and moved them further down the path. There was a smur of rain in the air. Somewhere an ice cream van chimed out its desultory call to arms. He never understood why the tune depressed him. Greensleeves or was it that Bond theme? Was it a sense of time’s passing, a painful yearning for a childhood that, despite its difficulties, was the only one he would ever have? He had no idea. He kicked a cigarette packet from one foot to the other, once, twice, three times then crushed it. He stopped and looked back but the action in both games was now well away from the footpath.
There was no formal game on the final pitch, just coats on the ground, a dog with its leg raised against the goal post, and two gangly lads trying to get the ball off a man much older than Davy.
He’s doing no bad, the old fella, thought John watching him use his belly to great effect as he kept the boys at bay. The best they could do was to kick and flail hopelessly at thin air. Grandsons might have been better he thought, then glanced guiltily at Amy and Fiona who were busy niggling each other. The old fellow was providing the commentary. ‘They cannae get near Simpson, getting on a bit but he hasnae lost it. A wizard in his day, he can still show the youngsters a thing or two.’ The boys tried another lunge. ‘They’ve been reduced to fouling but they cannae get the ba’ aff the big man.’
John recognised him now. Davy Simpson had played for the Accies in the seventies. A legend.
Martha, early sixties, kept as a virtual slave working and living in a Glasgow bar. Her kids were taken into care, she owes £5000 to a money lender.
John watched in astonishment as Martha walked back into the bar with a barrel balanced on her right shoulder. Tales of her strength were legendary, but this was the first instance he had personally witnessed. When a punter claimed his car had been illegally clamped she had apparently lifted the vehicle off the ground while the owner attacked the restraining bolts with a sledgehammer; when two drunken lads had howled with laughter during a particularly maudlin rendition of Danny Boy she had carried them out of the pub, one under each arm and dumped them on the pavement. John remained sceptical about the claim that she bundled a pit bull terrier into a sack when it started growling at her customers. Still, she undeniable had a way with barrels.
Having stowed the Tennent's below decks, she stood in front of the TV nestling on the shelf next to the Toby jugs and a stuffed trout in a display case. The fish had given rise to much speculation over the years. Some claimed it was the biggest fish to be taken from the Kelvin; the more cynical said it was donated by a local fishmonger to settle his tab. Jake who had stood on a bar stool for a more thorough inspection claimed that it was crawling with maggots. ‘Fat green yins, coming oot its mouth. And from its wee legs…’
‘There fins, no wee legs, you dippit waster.’
Martha stabbed the remote in the direction of the set until it sprung into life. It was some game from the English premier league that held no interest for John. All that money. Prima donas busy crashing their Lamborghinis when not shagging grannies and blearing to the tabloids. It wasn’t real football.
John, late 60s and unhappily married is the team manager.
‘I’m just popping out,’ said John. He had eaten as much of his tea as he could manage. There was no point raising the issue of Margaret’s cooking. Not after thirty years. Peas like shrapnel that threatened his fillings, a slab of something unidentifiable on his plate with very little indication if it had swum, flown or wandered happily through fields in its earlier incarnation. He knew it was his own fault. Decades previously he had colluded with her acceptance of the traditional roles inherited from their parents on both sides. Margaret cooked and cleaned, he worked. After a recent episode of Bake Off he had disingenuously suggested that he wouldn’t mind a shot at making the Folie de Lesgumes. Margaret’s exhaled breath would have extinguished candles in a Victorian parlour. John had wondered how it was possible to project such powerful disdain into a single exhaled breath, and later practised on his own but failed. Disguise was always an option. Uneaten meat or fish could be moved to the side of the plate and hidden under whatever leafy garnish had been randomly chosen as adornment, lettuce or cabbage or something utterly inedible that she called curly kale; on offer at Morrisons apparently. Disguise accompanied by some ritual statement of satisfaction usually worked.
‘Popping out where?’
What football? You’re not playing again with those wierdos are you.’
‘No, but I need to find another player.’
No sooner had he embarked on the sentence, John braced himself.
‘Who do you think you are? Jose bloody Mourinho? Are you at the centre of an international scouting network? Are you about to unearth the next Kenny Dalgleish, playing with his pals in the Tollcross arena?’ She clattered the plates away from the table, noticing the nice bit of fish hidden beneath a small mound of peas. ‘Or…’ She paused to give extra moment to the imminent alternative. ‘Are you up to something?’
Lazrus, John’s final recruit is a Big Issue seller.
The seller was black. This was unusual on the streets of Glasgow, and despite the chill in the evening, the man was only wearing a football shirt. As John felt the edges of the coins in his pocket, wondering if he should give more than the expected £2, he looked at the unfamiliar badge.
‘What country’s that then?’
‘Namibia,’ said the man pulling the badge up to his mouth so that he could kiss it. John smiled. He associated the gesture with overpaid footballers who approach the touchline cameras after scoring.
‘I played for my country.’ John’s expression invited a longer explanation.
‘Paris. 2011 in the homeless world cup. Man, it was the proudest moment of my life. In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Streamed across the world man. The flags and the singing. Na – mib – ia, Na – mib – ia. He punctuated the chant by punching his fist on each syllable.
‘Who did you play?’
‘We lost to Palestine, Argentina and France, the host nation. Drew with the republic of KyrgyZ. It’s in Asia. And beat Greece and Slovenia. I scored eight goals. Nor bad for an old man in his forties.
Title: Three Touches (working title)