Barrhead’s Christopher Brookmyre has already established himself as one of Scotland’s finest novelists. Next week sees the release of his 13th book Pandaemonium in the UK. So with Christopher’s permission, today we present an extract from one of his earliest, and most popular short stories: the definitive recounting of playground football.

Playground Football (part 1)
by Christopher Brookmyre

Duration

Matches shall be played over three unequal periods: two playtimes and a lunchtime. Each of these periods shall begin shortly after the ringing of a bell, and although a bell is also rung towards the end of these periods, play may continue for up to ten minutes afterwards, depending on the nihilism or “bottle” of the participants with regard to corporal punishment met out to latecomers back to the classroom.

In practice there is a sliding scale of nihilism, from those who hasten to stand in line as soon as the bell rings, known as “poofs”, through those who will hang on until the time they estimate it takes the teachers to down the last of their gins and journey from the staffroom, known as “chancers”, and finally to those who will hang on until a teacher actually has to physically retrieve them, known as “bampots”. This sliding scale is intended to radically alter the logistics of a match in progress, often having dramatic effects on the scoreline as the number of remaining participants drops. It is important, therefore, in picking the sides, to achieve a fair balance of poofs, chancers and bampots in order that the scoreline achieved over a sustained period of play – a lunchtime, for instance – is not totally nullified by a five-minute post-bell onslaught of five bampots against one. The scoreline to be carried over from the previous period of the match is in the trust of the last bampots to leave the field of play, and may be the matter of some debate. This must be resolved in one of the approved manners (see Adjudication).

Parameters

The object is to force the ball between two large, unkempt piles of jackets, in lieu of goalposts. These piles may grow or shrink throughout the match, depending on the number of participants and the prevailing weather. As the number of players increases, so shall the piles. Each jacket added to the pile by a new addition to a side should be placed on the inside, nearest the goalkeeper, thus reducing the target area. It is also important that the sleeve of one of the jackets should jut out across the goalmouth, as it will often be claimed that the ball went “over the post” and it can henceforth be asserted that the outstretched sleeve denotes the innermost part of the pile and thus the inside of the post. The on-going reduction of the size of the goal is the responsibility of any respectable defence and should be undertaken conscientiously with resourcefulness and imagination.

In the absence of a crossbar, the upper limit of the target area is observed as being slightly above head height, although when the height at which a ball passed between the jackets is in dispute, judgement shall lie with an arbitrary adjudicator from one of the sides. He is known as the “best fighter”; his decision is final and may be enforced with physical violence if anyone wants to stretch a point.

There are no pitch markings. Instead, physical objects denote the boundaries, ranging from the most common – walls and buildings – to roads or burns. Corners and throw-ins are redundant where bylines or touchlines are denoted by a two-storey building or a six-foot granite wall. Instead, a scrum should be instigated to decide possession. This should begin with the ball trapped between the brickwork and two opposing players, and should escalate to include as many team members as can get there before the now egg-shaped ball finally emerges, drunkenly and often with a dismembered foot and shin attached. At this point, goalkeepers should look out for the player who takes possession of the escaped ball and begins bearing down on goal, as most of those involved in the scrum will be unaware that the ball is no longer amidst their feet. The goalkeeper should also try not to be distracted by the inevitable fighting that has by this point broken out.

In games on large open spaces, the length of the pitch is obviously denoted by the jacket piles, but the width is a variable. In the absence of roads, water hazards or “a big dug”, the width is determined by how far out the attacking winger has to meander before the pursuing defender gets fed up and lets him head back towards where the rest of the players are waiting, often as far as quarter of a mile away. It is often observed that the playing area is “no’ a full-size pitch”. This can be invoked verbally to justify placing a wall of players eighteen inches from the ball at direct free kicks. It is the formal response to “yards”, which the kick-taker will incant meaninglessly as he places the ball.

The Ball

There is a variety of types of ball approved for Primary School Football. I shall describe three notable examples.

1. The plastic balloon.
An extremely lightweight model, used primarily in the early part of the season and seldom after that due to having burst. Identifiable by blue pentagonal panelling and the names of that year’s Premier League sides printed all over it. Advantages: low sting factor, low burst-nose probability, cheap, discourages a long-ball game. Disadvantages: over-susceptible to influence of the wind, difficult to control, almost magnetically drawn to flat school roofs whence never to return.

2. The rough-finish Mitre.
Half football, half Portuguese Man o’ War. On the verge of a ban in the European Court of Human Rights, this model is not for sale to children. Used exclusively by teachers during gym classes as a kind of aversion therapy. Made from highly durable fibre-glass, stuffed with neutron star and coated with dead jellyfish. Advantages: looks quite grown up, makes for high-scoring matches (keepers won’t even attempt to catch it). Disadvantages: scars or maims anything it touches.

3. The “Tube”.
Genuine leather ball, identifiable by brown all-over colouring. Was once black and white, before ravages of games on concrete, but owners can never remember when. Adored by everybody, especially keepers. Advantages: feels good, easily controlled, makes a satisfying “whump” noise when you kick it. Disadvantages: turns into medicine ball when wet, smells like a dead dog.

Offside

There is no offside, for two reasons: one, “it’s no’ a full-size pitch”, and two, none of the players actually know what offside is. The lack of an offside rule gives rise to a unique sub-division of strikers. These players hang around the opposing goalmouth while play carries on at the other end, awaiting a long pass forward out of defence which they can help past the keeper before running the entire length of the pitch with their arms in the air to greet utterly imaginary adulation. These are known variously as “moochers”, “gloryhunters” and “fly wee bastarts”. These players display a remarkable degree of self-security, seemingly happy in their own appraisals of their achievements, and caring little for their team-mates’ failure to appreciate the contribution they have made. They know that it can be for nothing other than their enviable goal tallies that they are so bitterly despised.

Adjudication

The absence of a referee means that disputes must be resolved between the opposing teams rather than decided by an arbiter. There are two accepted ways of doing this.
1. Compromise.
An arrangement is devised that is found acceptable by both sides. Sway is usually given to an action that is in accordance with the spirit of competition, ensuring that the game does not turn into “a pure skoosh”. For example, in the event of a dispute as to whether the ball in fact crossed the line, or whether the ball has gone inside or “over” the post, the attacking side may offer the ultimatum: “Penalty or goal.” It is not recorded whether any side has ever opted for the latter. It is on occasions that such arrangements or ultimata do not prove acceptable to both sides that the second adjudicatory method comes into play.
2. Fighting.
Those up on their ancient Hellenic politics will understand that the concept we know as “justice” rests in these circumstances with the hand of the strong. What the winner says, goes, and what the winner says is just, for who shall dispute him? It is by such noble philosophical principles that the supreme adjudicator, or Best Fighter, is effectively elected.

……..

This article has been vigorously cut-and-pasted all over the web since being posted on www.blackandwhitearmy.com in July 2003. It was written in two parts for The Absolute Game during the early Nineties, and according to the author, remains arguably the truest has work he  ever penned.

http://www.brookmyre.co.uk

Pandaemonium Book Launch, August 14th

Christopher Brookmyre will be launching his new novel Pandaemonium at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow on Friday August 14th at 6:30. Tickets are priced £3.00, available in person from The Mitchell or by telephoning 0141 287 2999.

The Wee Man should be back next week.

Duration

Matches shall be played over three unequal periods: two playtimes and a lunchtime. Each of these periods shall begin shortly after the ringing of a bell, and although a bell is also rung towards the end of these periods, play may continue for up to ten minutes afterwards, depending on the nihilism or “bottle” of the participants with regard to corporal punishment met out to latecomers back to the classroom. In practice there is a sliding scale of nihilism, from those who hasten to stand in line as soon as the bell rings, known as “poofs”, through those who will hang on until the time they estimate it takes the teachers to down the last of their gins and journey from the staffroom, known as “chancers”, and finally to those who will hang on until a teacher actually has to physically retrieve them, known as “bampots”. This sliding scale is intended to radically alter the logistics of a match in progress, often having dramatic effects on the scoreline as the number of remaining participants drops. It is important, therefore, in picking the sides, to achieve a fair balance of poofs, chancers and bampots in order that the scoreline achieved over a sustained period of play – a lunchtime, for instance – is not totally nullified by a five-minute post-bell onslaught of five bampots against one. The scoreline to be carried over from the previous period of the match is in the trust of the last bampots to leave the field of play, and may be the matter of some debate. This must be resolved in one of the approved manners (see Adjudication).

Parameters

The object is to force the ball between two large, unkempt piles of jackets, in lieu of goalposts. These piles may grow or shrink throughout the match, depending on the number of participants and the prevailing weather. As the number of players increases, so shall the piles. Each jacket added to the pile by a new addition to a side should be placed on the inside, nearest the goalkeeper, thus reducing the target area. It is also important that the sleeve of one of the jackets should jut out across the goalmouth, as it will often be claimed that the ball went “over the post” and it can henceforth be asserted that the outstretched sleeve denotes the innermost part of the pile and thus the inside of the post. The on-going reduction of the size of the goal is the responsibility of any respectable defence and should be undertaken conscientiously with resourcefulness and imagination.

In the absence of a crossbar, the upper limit of the target area is observed as being slightly above head height, although when the height at which a ball passed between the jackets is in dispute, judgement shall lie with an arbitrary adjudicator from one of the sides. He is known as the “best fighter”; his decision is final and may be enforced with physical violence if anyone wants to stretch a point.

There are no pitch markings. Instead, physical objects denote the boundaries, ranging from the most common – walls and buildings – to roads or burns. Corners and throw-ins are redundant where bylines or touchlines are denoted by a two-storey building or a six-foot granite wall. Instead, a scrum should be instigated to decide possession. This should begin with the ball trapped between the brickwork and two opposing players, and should escalate to include as many team members as can get there before the now egg-shaped ball finally emerges, drunkenly and often with a dismembered foot and shin attached. At this point, goalkeepers should look out for the player who takes possession of the escaped ball and begins bearing down on goal, as most of those involved in the scrum will be unaware that the ball is no longer amidst their feet. The goalkeeper should also try not to be distracted by the inevitable fighting that has by this point broken out.

In games on large open spaces, the length of the pitch is obviously denoted by the jacket piles, but the width is a variable. In the absence of roads, water hazards or “a big dug”, the width is determined by how far out the attacking winger has to meander before the pursuing defender gets fed up and lets him head back towards where the rest of the players are waiting, often as far as quarter of a mile away. It is often observed that the playing area is “no’ a full-size pitch”. This can be invoked verbally to justify placing a wall of players eighteen inches from the ball at direct free kicks. It is the formal response to “yards”, which the kick-taker will incant meaninglessly as he places the ball.

The Ball

There is a variety of types of ball approved for Primary School Football. I shall describe three notable examples.

1. The plastic balloon. An extremely lightweight model, used primarily in the early part of the season and seldom after that due to having burst. Identifiable by blue pentagonal panelling and the names of that year’s Premier League sides printed all over it. Advantages: low sting factor, low burst-nose probability, cheap, discourages a long-ball game. Disadvantages: over-susceptible to influence of the wind, difficult to control, almost magnetically drawn to flat school roofs whence never to return.

2. The rough-finish Mitre. Half football, half Portuguese Man o’ War. On the verge of a ban in the European Court of Human Rights, this model is not for sale to children. Used exclusively by teachers during gym classes as a kind of aversion therapy. Made from highly durable fibre-glass, stuffed with neutron star and coated with dead jellyfish. Advantages: looks quite grown up, makes for high-scoring matches (keepers won’t even attempt to catch it). Disadvantages: scars or maims anything it touches.

3. The “Tube”. Genuine leather ball, identifiable by brown all-over colouring. Was once black and white, before ravages of games on concrete, but owners can never remember when. Adored by everybody, especially keepers. Advantages: feels good, easily controlled, makes a satisfying “whump” noise when you kick it. Disadvantages: turns into medicine ball when wet, smells like a dead dog.

Offside

There is no offside, for two reasons: one, “it’s no’ a full-size pitch”, and two, none of the players actually know what offside is. The lack of an offside rule gives rise to a unique sub-division of strikers. These players hang around the opposing goalmouth while play carries on at the other end, awaiting a long pass forward out of defence which they can help past the keeper before running the entire length of the pitch with their arms in the air to greet utterly imaginary adulation. These are known variously as “moochers”, “gloryhunters” and “fly wee bastarts”. These players display a remarkable degree of self-security, seemingly happy in their own appraisals of their achievements, and caring little for their team-mates’ failure to appreciate the contribution they have made. They know that it can be for nothing other than their enviable goal tallies that they are so bitterly despised.

Adjudication

The absence of a referee means that disputes must be resolved between the opposing teams rather than decided by an arbiter. There are two accepted ways of doing this.

1. Compromise. An arrangement is devised that is found acceptable by both sides. Sway is usually given to an action that is in accordance with the spirit of competition, ensuring that the game does not turn into “a pure skoosh”. For example, in the event of a dispute as to whether the ball in fact crossed the line, or whether the ball has gone inside or “over” the post, the attacking side may offer the ultimatum: “Penalty or goal.” It is not recorded whether any side has ever opted for the latter. It is on occasions that such arrangements or ultimata do not prove acceptable to both sides that the second adjudicatory method comes into play.

2. Fighting. Those up on their ancient Hellenic politics will understand that the concept we know as “justice” rests in these circumstances with the hand of the strong. What the winner says, goes, and what the winner says is just, for who shall dispute him? It is by such noble philosophical principles that the supreme adjudicator, or Best Fighter, is effectively elected.

Comments