A Striker Fires Wide

With the lid of the cup as a cap.

On my teammates’ shoulders

like an open-topped carriage,

with both camps singing

linking banners like bunting

and with the stadium like a station

announcing my arrival

to a civic reception

of the tea-time viewing public:

yes, I would have ridden that train.

Glory. Pushed wide

by the laces of my boots.

four cool steps and then nothing,

the ball, its logo, its trademark and stitching

trundling off into the goalmouth’s sidings,

past the post and past the netting

past a terrace of photographers

exquisitely recording

the ball at rest

beside the buffer of the hoardings.

And the crowd. Punctured

by the final whistle.

I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.

Ah, yes: the boy can do

what the man cannot.

Something like that.

Even if and when the ball runs true

then to lift my kicking foot,

to swing, to follow through

is to risk ridicule.

What if the turf breaks up

with a longer stud.

What if a defender passes through 

my standing foot.

What if written through the way

my weight redistributes.

I was worth my weight in newsprint,

the glowing tribute to a golden generation.

I would leap, sure

the earth would rise to meet me

and land me safely, securely,

They called up the wildest hyperbole

of shipping and aviation

and astro-navigation

to explain my movements 

and their fascination. 

My shirt was a sail strung

on the rigging of my chest.

I used the gravity of each victory

to sling me toward my next trajectory,

my next trophy. 

I was a tax on poor defending.

Salesmen studied my feint and dummy.

I would switch across a speeding ball

like a circus horseman

impressing his girl.

Loops, radii, parabola, pi:

my through ball was geometry. 

I expressed myself trigonometrically.

The ball stood accused.

I was the one to answer to.

Now the ground does not run true.

Stones rip my knees apart.

The earth refuses to cushion my fall. 

Even my hair follows its own course.

It affects me.

It pulls my shirt chasing long balls

and bobbles the ball as I shoot.

I’m left a yard short

susceptible to injury gasping for breath

on the touchline with a dead-leg

as they bring me off again.

Each night I defeat myself.

The penalty. Relived, re-run, retaken.

From the dug-out. 

From the terrace. The concession’s stand. 

The director’s box. 

From the TV station with the rights 

to the footage long since bought.

From the vantage point of my own head.

I send the keeper the wrong way

and still it comes to naught. 

I imagine a man in the highest stand, laughing.

I see a kid with his father, distraught.

Children: be selfish.

Be greedy. Takes chances.

Do the unexpected.

Give the keeper the eyes

and force him to get dirty.

Perform the dance you choreographed

in the nation’s living room

with the corner flag as your partner

and cheering as your tune.

Know you’re worth it.

Fill your boots.

But do not know yourself.

It’s no use.

Craig Smith