All that week, I was a legend in the senior school. ‘He was threatening Davie with a broken bottle to his face, but Davie ignored it.’ Billy again. I admit I might have contributed a little to the hero worship by suggesting that I could have bested him if the fight had been fair and square.
Then came last Saturday morning. I play football for Eaglehawk in the junior league – I’m not bad on the right wing – and I was looking forward to the game as our team clattered out of the dressing rooms and onto the park. It was a shock to find that Rob was playing goalkeeper for the opposition. He seemed to have grown six inches and put on twenty pounds in a fortnight. He came trotting up and chested me. In the cold air, his breath surged from his nostrils like a rampant bull.
‘I hear you don’t think the fight was fair and you want a rematch,’ he said.
‘No, no, Rob. It was fair, alright. You won it fair and square.’
‘You’d better not come near me today, or I’ll break your leg.’ He sauntered back to his goal, calling over his shoulder, ‘you’re a coward, Johnson. You’d be better off taking up knitting than playing football.’
‘Don’t pay him any attention,’ said The Kid, winking. ‘I’ll sort him out.’ Billy’s our striker and our best player by a mile. He’s tried out for the State team and would have played except he’s a little on the short side. I doubted even he could get us over the line on this one – Golden City were league-leaders and odds on favourites to take out the match and the championship. I could see Fat Harry looking on from the sidelines and gave him a wave. He doesn’t play soccer, but he likes to come to the matches to support us.
The game went pretty much to script, and at half time, City went in one – nil in front. Rob sneered at me, mouthing ’pathetic,’ as our team made its way into the dressing rooms for our oranges and rev-up from the manager.
In the second half, Billy turned on some pure magic. Thirty minutes had gone by when he picked up the ball on our half back line, burned off his opponent, played a one-two at the edge of the box and smashed the ball past Rob Jenkins’ outstretched hand and into the back of the net. One-all! Unnnnnbelievable! The Kid fanned his six-gun, blasted the corner flag and then blew the smoke from the barrel before being swamped by our team.
Five minutes to go until full-time and we were defending grimly, desperate to hold on to the draw. Everyone was in our half when I trapped a long kick out from our ‘keeper and passed it to Billy. He dribbled the ball around the last two defenders and pushed it ahead of him into the box. It was a race between Billy and Rob. The Kid was faster and pushed the ball to the right of the keeper, but Rob crashed into Billy’s legs and he went down as if he had been shot. Penalty! Our team was jubilant. We were high-fiving and low-fiving and patting each other on the back. We were certainties to pull off a miraculous win. Billy had never missed a penalty in his life. We all crowded around our fallen star and then realised he hadn’t moved. The trainer ran onto the ground, knelt by Billy’s prone body and signalled frantically for the stretcher. Amidst the alarm for Billy, a heated discussion broke out over who was going to take the penalty, or more accurately, who wasn’t. Nobody wanted the responsibility. Billy was the penalty taker. No-one else had practised shooting from the spot. Rob Jenkins was scowling at everybody.
The trainer called us over to the stretcher. Billy was barely conscious, his eyes rolling in his head and his mouth opening and shutting like a fish. He raised a trembling finger and pointed to me. ‘Let Davie take it.’ It was like a death-bed request. Everyone looked at me and the ball was thrust into my stomach. Rob Jenkins let out a fiendish laugh and bared his teeth at me.
As I lined up behind the ball, the whole team and our supporters were roaring, but I could hardly hear it because my heart was thumping so loudly in my ears. Rob Jenkins seemed to fill the goal mouth. He was growling and waving his arms like a gorilla, threatening to tear me limb from limb. My legs trembled and I was afraid my strike wouldn’t even reach the goal line. Perhaps Rob was right, I was a coward. I would be better at knitting. And then, out of the corner of my eye I saw Fat Harry on the side lines. He had his hands cupped around his mouth and was shouting, ‘Float like a bee, sting like a butterfly.’ I nodded and started a long zigzagging run up to the spot. Rob didn’t know which way I was going to shoot – neither did I. I flipped the ball into the air and it fluttered towards goal. Rob came bounding out to grab it, arms reaching forward. He didn’t notice his bootlace flapping in front of him like the cast of a fly fisherman. The lace landed neatly under his descending foot and Rob tripped and fell, face first, onto the pitch. The ball bounced three feet in front of Rob, skidded off his head and trickled into the corner of the net.
Pandemonium! Jubilation! I ran and collected the ball and flashed it at Rob. ‘Maybe I’ll knit you a pair of gloves. You might keep goal better wearing them.’
Billy must have made a fast recovery because he and Harry were dancing with each other on the sidelines. The ref blew the whistle. The day was ours!
Another thing Atticus Finch said about having the courage to see things through. ‘You rarely win, but sometimes you do.’