First Pair of Football Boots

Photograph by E G Brown

“Up the Wooden Dancers” Chapter 3

In a pub called Lavery’s, two shots remaining on the black relaxing nicely in the jaws, Ryan knew he was on for another tenner.  He’d been here since eleven and it was now three in the afternoon and none of these mugs could get him off the table.  “Winner stays on,” they’d told him as he put down his marker.  “No problem,” he’d said, and when it was finally his turn they’d said they played for a ten-spot.  “No problem either,” he’d replied, secretly knowing this would be his day – he’d throw the first game, play like a student, put down his marker again then after a couple more games take the bastards for every penny.  They’d get steadily pissed while he’d nurse his Guinness, staying focused.  “He can play,” they’d said, and as he secretly predicted, the more they lost the more determined they were to win and would lose.
Ryan had taken the monkey Rachael had left him, bought some new gear, thrown his old trackie bottoms and Everton top in a bin which was sacrilege but deemed necessary, trained it to Liverpool and taken a Stena to Belfast.  “I’ve always wondered if he went back to Ireland,” he’d told Rachael when she asked where his dad might be, as they spooned in her bed.  It wasn’t much to go on, but the reason he wondered this was because when his mum died he got a message from his cousin Rob in Omagh saying dad won’t be at the funeral but sends his regards.  “Thanks a fucking bunch,” Ryan had thought, “thanks for fucking caring daddy-kins.”
So he’d headed to Omagh and found Rob living simply with his wife, three kids and a Siamese cat called Simon or something silly.  He hadn’t stayed long, just one night, deciding it was time to move on as Rob said his dad had legged it back to England owing money.  “Manchester,” he’d said.  “Fuck,” Ryan had replied, “All the way here and the bastard’s on my doorstep.”  He hadn’t told his cousin he’d been sleeping rough, it didn’t feel necessary – him and Rob had never seen eye to eye so it wasn’t to be expected for him to care; selfish bastard even seemed reluctant to let him crash for the night.  Next morning he’d got up early, had a shit and didn’t bother to flush, helped himself to his cousin’s weed from the box on the mantlepiece and headed back to Belfast.  With the miraculous monkey Rachael gave him now spent, he needed another float to get him back to England.  He’d called at Lavery’s for a pint the day before and noticed there was pool, so decided that’s where winnings might be pocketed. Come four o’clock in the afternoon he was heading into Bradbury Place with two hundred notes, the smack in the mouth for being so good on the table an occupational hazard.
On the boat back to Liverpool and sometimes choppy seas, Ryan pondered at the stern with a crafty spliff. It’d been a weird couple of days – spooning a fit brunette in her posh gaff in Formby a stone’s throw from the sea, an unspent hard-on in a suburban semi, being given £500 and realising it doesn’t go far (pair of jeans £100, trainers 70, T-shirt 30, the rest on fares to Ireland) robbing his cousin of his weed and recouping some of his expenses from the eejits in Lavery’s after hearing his dad was somewhere in Manchester. A not entirely wasted journey, nevertheless a journey the reason for which was nagging him. Why did he want so badly to see his dad again? Bastard walked out just as his football career was taking off so why should he care? But as the spliff got finished and chucked over the side into the drink he decided the reason was because he wanted to know why. Why did his dad just up and leave? What had he, Ryan, done? Why couldn’t he keep the paternal love like all his mates had? It was once so good, like the day he gave him his first pair of boots, hand-me-downs from Brady generations, kick-abouts in the park, coaching on how to bend the ball, finding the net with a crisp finish, going into a tackle and not getting hurt, letting a defender know he was there with a kick on the calf… And then, suddenly, without a word of explanation… He’d looked for answers from his mother but they weren’t forthcoming and the more she drank the less it became likely he’d get what he needed. So now he’d have to find out for himself and that’s why he was heading for Manchester to look for the bastard. “You thieving twat!” said the message on his mobile from Rob. “Fuck you,” Ryan replied. “Like father like son,” Rob volleyed back. Ryan’s answer was to throw his mobile over the side. A cousin lost at sea.
But when the train pulled into Piccadilly and he headed into the bright-lit glassy concourse, dribbling through the hordes, he regretted doing that. “There are things you don’t know about your dad,” Rob had said the night before amid heated exchanges.
“Like what?” But then one of Rob’s kids started crying upstairs and when he returned he wouldn’t embellish. “You’ll find out for yourself… if ever you find him.”
The words bradawled into Ryan. Things you don’t know about your dad. Seven words that said so much but told him nothing. And the man’s whereabouts in Manchester or elsewhere equally void of precision. It nearly came to blows when Rob said that; it’s one of those things whereby it’s OK to diss your own but when someone else does so it hurts.
Amid this mental torture Ryan emerged from the station onto Piccadilly, and was accosted immediately by some rancid kid wanting change. His first reaction was to tell him to fuck off, he was homeless too, but something snapped in his mind and instead he fished for a pound. What struck him was that to the kid he looked like any of the commuters here, casual but smart, neat and cool, living life with some kind of purpose beyond survival. He knew he couldn’t afford that quid, but felt the affinity of fellow street-dwellers mixed with the feeling of comparative wealth. And he also knew this was his epiphany, right here. With Manchester came a new start and a search in earnest. In a strange way he owed it to Rachael, who he never knew and would probably never see again but who set him afloat with the strangest and most unexpected act of kindness amid her own grief. He got that she was missing her dad, and he got why she wanted to spend the night with him, spooning not spoiling the sheets, just wanting to be held with no agenda other than comfort from a man’s arms. His epiphany was therefore twofold – no matter how long it took he would find her again and pay her back, and no matter how hard he’d have to work, he would find his dad again too. But first he’d find somewhere showing the football, with a pool table to boot.

To be continued…

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5 thoughts on “First Pair of Football Boots

  1. Good work as usual – I was drinking on Lavery’s myself on Sunday ! Small world! Keep it up, it’s a cracking tale.

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    1. Thanks Paul. This novel is motoring for me at the moment. Sometimes I think “What’s the point of all this?” but when people like you comment favourably it makes it worthwhile. So as long as I can’t stop thinking of twists and turns and people say they can’t stop reading I suppose I’ll continue. Many thanks again for reading and please do spread my words. Mark

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  2. Hope you don’t mind me saying that I can see glimpses of the Corrie writing Mark. There is always a moving on in the story, next step, next challenge, next unravelling. I really enjoy reading it.

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    1. Thank you again Kevin. I sometimes wish I was back on Corrie but I think it’s changed (some say not for the better) over the years and I no longer fit. Not that I fit anywhere really! Anyway as long as I can’t stop thinking of ideas and as long as you can’t stop reading it’s worth continuing. Many many thanks and please do spread my words. Mark

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      1. I’ll try my best. I would honestly estimate that your book will give me more enjoyment than 90% of the stuff in the best-seller lists at Waterstones and WH Smith. You are very good at describing male needs.

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