Lucy Vickery

Soccer lesson

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In Competition No. 2856 you were invited to recruit a well-known author of your choice to give Phil Neville a masterclass in the art of football commentary. After his commentary debut, unkind comparisons were drawn between Neville’s style and a speak-your-weight machine, and when the England physio was stretchered off injured, a Twitter user speculated that it was because he’d ‘slipped into a coma when a live feed of Phil Neville’s commentary was played into his earpiece’. There was lively and stimulating punditry on offer in the entry, serving as a shining example to Mr Neville. Commendations go to Adrian Fry, Hugh King and Nick Booth. The bonus fiver is D.A. Prince’s; the rest take £25 each.

Oh the volitional errors and buggery of that snotbrown ball, that bag of all the combative air and terribility! If he knocks his sconce on its limity leather, tapping it with ineluctable modality, we might yet see the present burst into crick crack crick crack and through the goal posts nicely. Ha? No no no: look away now and bury hope in the footfall dark. There he is, our two feet in his boots at the end of his legs, and what does he do? He should be hanged from a heaventree for that pass, for his passive passing, for that scrotumtightening grunt of a kick that came forth, came fifth and will lose us the match. The itch of failing throbs between his legs, pippy as a blackberry, and the ball only a stone in the plummy thick when it should be flying high in the effulgence symbolistic. No Whrrwhee! Whrrwhee! again.

D.A. Prince/James Joyce

And lo, I watched as the eleven Pilgrims, who did but lately sojourn in the Plain of Ease, how they then needs must pass through the Jungle of Expectation and after meet with the Men of Rome on the Field of Trials. And in my dream I saw them drive the ball oft-times into the net of glory. But I awoke, and realised that it was not so, and all men did deride the Pilgrims, for Fickle-Fortune, whom we must all beware, had guided the feet of the others, and led our travellers into the Slough of Despond. Yet were they not downhearted, and returned to the City to face the teeth of the Giant Uruguay. But again their companions Lack-of-Skill and On-the-Bench led them into the dust, and they were all returned into the Castle of Despair, there to dwell for many years until they could strive once more in Muscovy, or in Araby.

Brian Murdoch/John Bunyan

Goal there was, but goal there was not, given but not given, offside and to the left, but still to business, the scores level, level as a millpond, here great pause, the whistle in the mouth, but why great pause, time to be wasted, time not to be wasted, to be added on perhaps, for goal there was not, although floated over the wall, high towards the wing, the left or the right, commotion in the crowd, goal there not being, outcry in outfield, here great pause, even a stoppage, that’s what it is, to have dived or otherwise, to have bitten the shoulder, the whistle in his mouth, to reach for the pocket, the pocket and the card, the ball cut square, but not quite square, offside by a mile, but close as a whisper, to have scored but not scored, here great pause, at best a free kick.

Bill Greenwell/Samuel Beckett

Intent, swift, rapturous, a predator from Uruguay’s wilderness, he runs towards confrontation, eyes fixed on the Italian, the man who has the ball, the man who dominates for this moment the field, who dominates it with louche, disturbing grace. But Suarez is no longer in this floodlit stadium, dressed in absurd advertisements and playing, at his age, a children’s game. In this instant of grace he is no mere millionaire footballer; he is a man, which is to say a beast, inhabitant of a world that knows no referees. They face now, male to male. Through the crowd’s cheering can you not hear their quick eager breaths? I know your soul, Suarez is telling the Italian. And I yours, the unspoken response, but do you dare? Yes! It will be consummated! With the dark kiss of blood-brotherhood, Suarez sinks his teeth deep into the Italian’s arm.

George Simmers/D.H. Lawrence

I gaze at the mown pitch and almost weep remembering my childhood days, lost in the June grass, then taller than I was. The players’ colours, Costa Rica in red and England in white, blend together like apple blossom blazing against the crimson skies of a Cotswold sunset. Intent on winning the ball, opposing players trip over each other and fall, their limbs entwined as mine once were when, still young enough to sleep in my mother’s bed, I nuzzled into the warmth of her flesh. The referee blows his whistle taking me back to my village school and Miss Wardley blasting the end of precious playtime. Meanwhile play resumes. The teams fight on in tropic heat. Their legs, brown as haycocks, glow like honey. Wiping the sweat from my brow I think of Rosie, close-up and salty, quenching my thirst with more than a stone jar of cider.

Alan Millard/Laurie Lee

Truly, as Horace observed, caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt — They change their climate, not themselves, who cross the sea. The impotent bearers of our once-proud tripartite Leonine emblem disported themselves as fruitlessly under Helios’ glare as beneath their native pluviality. To catalogue their faults seriatim were a vain occupation. I will but mention their errant propulsions of the sphere, their ill-sorted efforts to connect this orb with their heads to any purpose, and seeming presbyopia when it came to distinguishing team companions from the opposing agglomeration when parting with it. Nor did their peripatetic adherents display to the indigenous populace how a worthy Englishman conducts himself in foreign climes. Some sympathy may be extended towards the one who oversees, he being — ’tis said — a man of culture, indeed polyglot. In fine, all sporting decency hath been obliterated by the present turpilucricupidinous ethos.

Barry Baldwin/Dr Johnson

No. 2859: Voter repellent

You are invited to submit an offputting party political broadcast by the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens or Ukip. Please email entries (wherever possible) of up to 150 words to by midday on 30 July.