Wherein a milquetoast sends dispatches from the continuing kitchen sink drama of poorly organised sport…
“LEFT FOOT! LEFT FOOOOOT!!!”
I paraphrase, but that’s more or less the sum of my experience in playing Sunday league football against ‘clever’ right-backs. I am left-footed, and play as a left-winger. I occupy the philosophical space between derring-do and swashbuckling. I run at terrifying leg-speeds. When congested, I run so fast that it loosens phlegm, and leaves blurred lines trailing from my nose as I run, like lines of motion arcing from the limbs of a comic book character that is clearly moving very quickly indeed. Spectating old men watch in awe of this greyhound of a winger, fulsome in his old-fashioned wing-play, harking back to the days of Stanley Matthews, before he sold out and became a “Sir”. The fact of the matter is – I favour my left foot.
Sunday League football is awash with empty platitudes that can be screamed at unnecessary volume across soggy, woebegone pitches, in an effort to appear tactically insightful. Some of the more ambitious players attempt to target individual threats without modern essentials such as punditry and television replays, and try and rely on their own observational nous. The target of such men is to convey this message: “I HAVE SPOTTED A GLARING WEAKNESS. EXPLOIT THIS AND WE SHALL TRIUMPH.” Nothing captures the essence of this intelligence and cunning more than successfully identifying a player who favours his left foot.
Nobody ever shouts “RIGHT FOOT! RIGHT FOOOOOOT!!!” do they? Imagine it now. Imagine a 16 stone hurly-burly hulk of a centre-back shouting that as they furtively jog backwards, anticipating attack. It never happens, because nearly everybody is right-footed. Left-footed players, as I have found to my immeasurable benefit in my lifetime, are harder to find. Right-footed players can get by using their left feet of course, because there’s more of them. They all join up during the summer holidays, the right-footed players, and practise kicking footballs with their left feet, and puzzle over how anyone could do this all the time? They struggle to comprehend how different the lives of these people must be like to their own, if there is anything about them that resembles normalcy. Do they have regular jobs? Do they still have pudding after the main course? Have they ever truly felt this emotion we call love?
To them, the left-footed player represents everything they stand against. The left-footed player is alien, awkward, anathema. They see them in the warm-up, juggling footballs using their left foot, the right one just planted there, collecting mud, looking listless and pathetic, and this insults them. “What are you trying to say?” they implore wordlessly between neanderthal grunts. The ball comes to the left footed player and they control it, they dribble with it, their head rises, looking for space, and they realise that nobody is moving. Has the game stopped for an injury? No. The captain of the opposing team is shouting “LEFT FOOOOOOT!” and everyone stops to observe that, yes, this is correct. This is where tactics come into play in real life, when a ‘defender’ attempts to ‘force’ the ‘player’ onto his ‘weaker foot’ so he can’t inflict any ‘damage’ ‘.’
That player is me, and eventually I am ushered into uncomfortable positions, and I have no use but to attempt a shot with my right foot. It turns out not so much a kick, but a vague implication of menace as my leg swings wildly. The ball dribbles tamely away. The captain nods sagely and shouts again: “NO RIGHT FOOT!”.
* Further reading, poindexter: The Sinister Ones