In some ways I was a late developer. In others I was an old head on young shoulders, setting myself up for a future as a self-regarding gobshite with aspirations of poetic and artistic grandeur. I think this is best summed up in my choice of sports - more specifically school sports. I was a child who, even as the Savlon was applied to the latest grazed knee, always had one eye on his memoirs.
At the age of about 7, there was a decision to be made as to what kind of sport I would subject myself to: I could have chosen hockey, but those sticks didn’t seem to have much give in them. Rugby always looked to me like a game being played by far too many people at once, on the same pitch. So football it was. But not for this child the camaraderie that comes of pulling on the same shirt as all your tiny team-mates, nor the concerted everyone-running-after-the-ball tactics, as drilled into us by our foul-mouthed and foul-tracksuited manager. I wanted to be the goalkeeper. "It was good enough for Albert Camus", I’m sure I thought, "so it’s good enough for me". Naturally too, by that age I had already enjoyed Peter Handke’s excellent novel about murder and the dilemmas of free will "the Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty Kick", so really it was a no-brainer.
Then came four years of standing alone in the pouring rain, ignored as my team-mates celebrated each goal, vilified for each one I conceded. Four years of staring into space while I tried to invent lyrics to go with the Superman theme tune. Four years of standing exactly in the middle of the goal because Princess Leia would be executed if I didn’t. Four years of being caught unawares by lightening-fast attacks while I was figuring out whether I’d prefer to be Batman or Robin at playtime on Monday. Four long years, in which time I think Cults Primary School won about three games.
As an aside, special mention should now go to Erland Tangen, a slightly odd Norwegian boy who scored an absolutely spectacular goal against me in my second season. A right-footed volley from the edge of the box, which fairly thundered into the roof of my net. It was like a proper grown-up goal, and would have been goal of the season had Tangen not been one of our own defenders trying to make a clearance during what became a 7-0 defeat.
But then came the step up to the Big School, where the team’s manager had it all wrong. He made no mention of the importance of a goalkeeper letting his thoughts wander all over the place. Nothing about cultivating an air of aloofness that would stand me in good stead for my adult years. He wanted his ‘keeper to pay attention, bump into people, get in the way of the ball, even catch it. My goalkeeping career was over.