In a change from my recent carping about corruption, I want to recount a lovely exchange I had in an optician’s in Hurlingham yesterday while I was being fitted for contact lenses and having my glasses bent back into shape.
I was explaining to the owner of the shop that wearing glasses while playing football was not a great idea considering the number of elbows flying about, when an elderly Indian Kenyan waiting at the counter piped up: “Ah, you play football sir?”
I could immediately tell from his demeanour, his well-kept bushy white handlebar moustache and the gold chain attaching his spectacles to his face that he was something of a character. I indicated that yes, I did play football, if you can count petulantly clipping people’s ankles as they whizz past me as such.
“Let me tell you about my one time playing football,” he said. “I was at school in India when my father sent me from Kenya a fine pair of training shoes. I put them on and proudly walked about. Then somebody noticed that they were football shoes. In fact, they were the only proper football shoes for tens of kilometres around. Everyone decided I must be a footballer of some repute and invited me to play in a match.”
Now, normally when an old buffer starts banging on about the past, everyone around scarpers for cover, save for the poor person, in this case me, caught in the headlights. However, this old gent had such a fine storytelling voice and a mischievous glint in his eye that the two other staff members were drawn toward the counter and stood smiling as he talked.
“I turned up for the game, and people had come from villages around, drawn by the allure of these splendid football shoes they had heard so much about. I had never played football before, not even for one second, but I saw all of these players jumping around.”
He stopped to mime a warm-up session, picking his elbows up into the chicken-dance pose and kicking his legs out to the sides. If he had been wearing braces I am sure he would have hooked his thumbs into them.
“So, of course, I started to do the same thing. They put me in goal to start with, and for the first few minutes nothing happened. Then somebody can running toward the goal and thundered in a fierce shot. I didn't know what to do and was more interested in showing off my great shoes than saving the ball, so I just put my foot up so everyone could see them.”
He lifted his leg high and slightly to the side, waggling his foot to demonstrate how he presented the best possible view of his footwear to the ogling crowd.
“The ball hit me right in the midriff and knocked me over. My shoes and I were carried off the pitch. I never played football again.”
He laughed when I pointed out to him that he could say he had a 100% record as a goalkeeper – one shot, one save – then went on his way. It was only when I got home that I realised I should have asked him what happened to the shoes.