by Brian George
Nobody believed him, when he was ten and he told them all in school that his stepdad had got tickets for them to go and watch United play Everton at Old Trafford.
“You’re lying, Pricey.”
“No-one can get tickets for Man U, just like that. You’ve got to belong to the supporters’ club, and your name goes in a raffle, for every premiership game.”
“You’re weird, you are.”
And even when he went in next Monday and told them all about the game, about watching Giggsy curl the sweetest left-foot shot just under the bar, and the noise of the crowd and the crush walking down Sir Matt Busby Way after the match, nobody believed him.
“Yeah, yeah, Pricey, we all watched it on Match of the Day an’ all.”
Steve was the best stepdad he’d ever had. He had to bite back hard on his lip when his mum told him that Steve wasn’t coming around any more. She knew after, though, knew he’d gone up to his room and sobbed into his pillow. Jesus, please don’t let any of those wankers in school find out, he’d said to himself.
The game against Everton, that was the first match programme he’d ever got. Now he looks at his collection, sprawled on the tiles in front of him in the front room. Five hundred and eighteen, including doublers. Bought at games, cadged, stolen, bought on ebay.
His pride and joy. So many memories. So many stories crammed into packets of ninety minutes.
He stuffs them all back into the box.
Out the back, on the patch of weeds of weeds they call a garden, he tips them all out, kicks them into a mound with his left foot.
He’d practised so hard, trying to get that perfect bend on the ball with his left foot, just like he’d seen Giggsy do it that day. And some of those tossers in school had to shut up when they’d gone up to the Comp, and he’d got into the first team. Nobody had mocked him when he got into the area youth squad, left side of midfield, where nobody else wanted to play. For a few years he’d had some respect.
He takes the box of Swan Vestas out of his pocket. He remembers the thrill he’d felt, that day down the woods, when Kyle Griffiths had sent lighted matches spinning into the wasps nest. The banging of his heart as they’d legged it through the trees when the wasps swarmed up.
He strikes one of his matches, flicks it at the pile of programmes. Then another, and again, until the flames start to warm his face.
He walks away, jumps over the back wall.
Now he’s torched his illusions, he’ll go looking for something else to burn.
Brian George was born in south Wales and still lives there. He has had one collection of short fiction published, called ‘Walking the Labyrinth’.