At school there, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a very distinctive line in the playground. It was for girls on one side and boys on the other.
Boys were automatically believed to be into things like comics with names such as Valour, Battle or Warlord. They loved rugby and football. They liked pretty girls. They didn’t cry unless badly hurt. They had scabby knees. They were all capable of fighting, which meant “6 of 1” was easier to apply when someone was caught kicking another kid’s head in, as the loser was automatically taken for a scrapper.
Girls like comics with names like Bunty and in later life Just Seventeen or Jackie. They loved hockey and netball. They liked handsome boys. They could cry as much as they liked. They had baby soft knees. They thought fighting was for nasty people.
A case of sugar ‘n’ spice with slugs ‘n’ snails.
Problem was that these pre-ordained boundaries to the lives of impressionable kids meant those of us who didn’t like aspects of what we were assigned as our priorities… ended up having a miserable time of it.
When I was about 4 or 5 my grandmother who I adored bought me a Twinkle annual as a Xmas present. This was, to me at that time, an AWESOME present from my Nanny and was only bettered by whatever Mummy and Daddy had got me. I was proudly showing it to my family on Xmas day when one of the grown ups casually pointed out that Twinkle was “for girls.”
On the cover it clearly said “Twinkle: Specially For Little Girls” but I couldn’t read much at that time. I argued that I didn’t mind but the clincher came when someone else said “the boys at school will laugh at you.”
No one likes getting tittered at so back to the shop the Twinkle annual went, and my love of it vanished in an instant.
Twinkle, after all…was for G.I.R.L.S!!!
To this day I don’t understand the fascination with football that some people have. As a little boy I was confused by just how worked up some other little boys got over an activity that no one had forced them to do and that was only played for fun. Tears, hugs, dogpiles of happy team mates, swapping shirts, arguments. All for something you never had to do in the first place. It was like two armies deciding to fight just for the hell of it.
I was never a good player and as stated, didn’t like soccer, but was told that this made me “odd” and “weird” and even “like a girl.” I was led to accept, on a very deep level, that my NOT liking football was a fault within me that I could rectify if I tried hard enough.
I would rather have been at home with a book or drawing a picture or watching cartoons. I didn’t like sports as I was never very good at them. My one good sport was cross country running as it was minimally competitive and apart from the initial rush at the start line as 100 boys all lurched forward at the same time**, you had the track and fields to yourself for a lot of the way. Finishing was the good thing, not being first***
I don’t condone and in fact detest the relatively modern invention of Non Competitive Sports Day where middle class twats on the board of governors at Caviar Humvee Primary School made certain that no child would EVER know the humiliation of losing an egg ‘n’ spoon race…by removing all prizes and giving every kid a certificate just for turning up.
This is a cunty way to prepare kids for the real world as the real world is competitive. Trying to get a job or a promotion or even buy a house while expecting everyone else trying for the same thing to be “fair” in not a realistic way to be taught to behave.
I never got a badge for the races at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary school in Southam. Highest I got was 4th place. I cried and was bitter but I didn’t resent the kids who got the badges. I just envied them.
But I digress…
The suit I was forced to wear, and my peers also forced to wear, was one of loving sport and being “odd” if you didn’t.
Football is fun if it’s your bag. It wasn’t mine.
Now there appears to be more of an acceptance of the fact that some kids simply don’t like certain sports, and efforts to find them something they do like to do.
The initial idea of P.E (Phys Ed to Yanks) was that children had regular exercise and their growing bodies remained healthy. It was not meant as a mill for bullying, fat teachers to blow whistles and yell “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’VE GOT A STITCH? ARE YOU A PUFF?!!”
I remember having a football game and it was about zero degress Celsius. We played for a while and the teacher was about to take us back inside when he suddenly beamed and went, “Who wants to go back? Shall we go back?” and most boys cheered. Back out we went into the freezing cold to a world of cold, painful lungs, frozen limbs and general misery. I hated it, but didn’t verbalise that for fear of being singled out as “odd”.
Another time I did the magical thing, the wonderful thing, the unbeatably tremendous thing of SCORING A GOAL during the weekly football game. Those who scored goals had their names mentioned personally to everyone by the PE teacher at the end of the game. They were an elite legion of “proper boys” who had embraced the utter awesomeness that was “a game of footy”.
The ball came up to me, the goalie was the other side of the net, I realised my big moment was there and there were no defenders near me. I controlled the ball and then banged it into the net. Whistle went and a few people said “well done”. One- nil to my side. The teacher then loped up smirking and went, "If that had gone any higher it wouldn’t have gone in.”
This moment was the anti-climax that losing my virginity would be 8 years later.
The final humiliation of any game of footy at school was when the Captains of each side (chosen by the teacher) picked their teams. The best players would be snapped up immediately with groans of disappointment if one team didn’t get a superb dribbler that they hankered for, or if a Captain had to choose between two equally brilliant players…knowing that the other Captain would take the one that he didn’t.
When it came to the end there would be me, the boy with special needs and some fat kid who couldn’t go 50 yards without collapsing red-faced into the grass and crying for his mum.
Football at the end of the day, did nothing except make me feel inferior, outcast, weird and odd. It also made me believe that my peers were people who had to be dressed every morning, or thought Mars bars only came in multi packs.
The focus of that time was that you HAD to like something, if the majority of your peers liked it or were perceived to.
I disliked what I was told to like. Sometimes I still do.
Hence the fact that I’ve never really liked football.
** When someone fell, and they always did, we'd stamp down with our football boots as we ran over them. Race reduced to 99. One less to beat.
*** Apart from the hardcore who were always the same people and were miles ahead from about 1 minute after the gun went off.