Dressed in a full soccer strip, with the manufacturer’s swoosh logo in white on the black shirt and the black shorts, he ran up and struck the ball with force. It flew far wide of the right-hand goalpost. The goalkeeper, standing between the pristine white posts and with a goalnet behind him, stood still and watched the ball pass.
It all seemed very grand for a village playing field, and a very far remove from the days forty years ago when boys played football with a heavy leather ball in an adjacent field. Some had boots, but none had kit, no shirts or shorts, certainly nothing with the logo of an expensive sports equipment company. Games were played in old clothes, jeans and shirts. Jumpers were removed, for at least four were needed to provide goalposts.
Summer evenings were times for games that frequently generated disagreement and sometimes raised voices, but rarely a result. It was a simple matter for the losing side to plead that ninety minutes had not been played and the match would be abandoned rather than concluded.
Cricket was played less frequently: only one family had the necessary equipment. It was not a full cricket set, that would have demanded two bats, six stumps and four bails, instead it was a set with a single bat and four stumps. There may have originally been bails, but these were easily enough fabricated with twigs from the hedge. There was one wicket at which to bowl and one bat with which to play. The fourth stump provided the point to which the batsman should run and the approximate point from which balls should be bowled. There were never enough players to have two teams, (unlike football where four players allowed for a match), instead turns were taken at batting, people trying for the highest individual score. Mercifully, no-one could have afforded a leather cricket ball, otherwise the lack of pads and gloves, combined with the uneven bounce from the surface of a field grazed by dairy cattle, might have led to painful injuries. The game was played with a tennis ball which possessed none of the qualities of a cricket ball and which allowed a good batsman to remain at the wicket all evening, swiping the ball in all directions.
Female company was rare on those distant summer evenings. Entirely absent from the games of football, they might occasionally have joined a game of cricket. Of course, the day came when they became a greater attraction and evenings were no longer spent in sporting effort.
Watching the boys in the playing field, there was a moment’s temptation to ask to have a chance at taking a penalty, just one kick, for old time’s sake.