The teams were easily distinguishable. One was playing in olive and green hoops, the other in black and white stripes. The hooped team’s goalkeeper wore a deep purple shirt that reached between his waist and his knees. The striped team’s goalkeeper wore a better fitting green shirt.
A game on a quarter of a pitch does not allow for expansive play, passes were short tackles were repeated. The striped team’s keeper was a distinctive presence – he had decided to play in midfield, his green jersey with a bright white “1” on the back stood out amongst the players in pursuit of the ball.
So the tradition does continue, when groups of children play football being chosen as the goalkeeper does not mean that you accept the role.
The absence of anyone between the two training poles that served as goalposts did of course leave the striped team vulnerable when the hoops counter-attacked. Unless a defender managed to get back in time, scoring a goal required nothing more than propelling the ball in the right direction.
So it was that a diminutive player on the hoops side scored from a gentle kick up the field. Perhaps no more than four or five years old, his feat brought loud cheers from the spectators in the stand who went on to bid him farewell with raucous applause when the half-time interval was over and the two sides left the pitch.
The stripes’ goalkeeper was untroubled by the fact his midfield role had allowed his team to concede a soft goal. His chief concern was to find his way through the players who crowded the midfield.
In former times, long before even the youngest of teams wore proper kits, it would have been possible to have been inconspicuous as the stripes’ goalkeeper. Children played football in whatever clothes they wore and an onlooker might have had difficulty in discerning who was keeping goal. Only when someone picked up the ball would the identity become clear, and even then there might be controversy, the opponents claiming that someone else had been named as the goalkeeper and that they were therefore entitled to a penalty kick.
To be the green-shirted No 1 this evening demanded a great deal more commitment to being a dissident, it was immediately apparent to everyone that he had chosen to ignore the instructions of the team’s coach.
There was something oddly reassuring in the sight of the goalkeeper playing in midfield, a statement that however anyone may seek to mould them, there is still a spirit in children that will lead them to do as they choose.