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 by Luke Ginnell

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A career in the life of Dion Brown
Dion tried to lift his head, but something, it seemed, was weighing him down.


It flowed through him unreservedly now, assaulting every sense.


He lowered his head once more, letting it rest gently against the soft, damp grass. He tried to focus his mind on something – anything – but the tormenting, oppressive agony would not allow him to do so.

Then, the awareness of a presence at his side brought him back to a state vaguely approaching lucidity. Gradually, what was previously a hazy, indistinct spectre materialised into a short, coiffured individual resplendent in a tight-fitting beige blazer and grey slacks that appeared to have been ironed with an intensity and resolve very rarely seen after the nineteen-sixties. The overall impression exuded by this person was one of, er, of…  In his confused state, Dion could only come up with the word “lavender.” Realisation dawned, and Dion recognised the lavendous entity to be, in fact, the team’s physio, Toni-with-an-I Perry.

Although he styled himself as an On-site Sporting Medical Executive, Toni had never attended any kind of medical faculty – or any kind of faculty, for that matter. He had obtained his current position as the head physio at Cumberland Athletic purely by virtue of being the illicit lover of Athletic’s chairman, Frankie Hurst. Seemingly, it was of scant import that Facetious Frankie already employed his wife of five years, the former page-three model Staycee-Leylaniee Paige, as a member of the club’s board.

“Magic sponge, lovey?” whispered Toni. It was unclear why, but Dion found himself inwardly repeating a mantra consisting of just one word: “lascivious.”

Mercifully, the pain-induced miasma relinquished its hold on Dion just enough for him to raise his arm, place it on Toni’s sloping shoulder and, not overly lightly, shove the little man backwards. Since Toni had been crouching on his haunches, it was not a long journey to the turf, and he ended up tumbling inexorably, heels-over-head in a comical tangle of legs, medical equipment, and errant strands of mullet-bouffant.

Dion was vaguely aware of a sound that might or might not have been a cheer from a place that might or might not have been the South Stand, but which seemed in his current state to have originated somewhere in the region of two-to-three dozen kilometres away. This was the part of the ground that played host to the group of fans that newspapers often referred to as “Carpathian's most loyal and vocal supporters.” In reality, they were merely the latter.

Dion surrendered once more to the pulsating agony, the source of which he now placed somewhere in the vicinity of his left knee.

Meanwhile, Toni was busy muttering away to whoever was bothered to listen - to wit, no-one. Dion saw the physio pick himself up, dust down his blazer, and crouch down once more.

“Silly spoon,” whispered Toni.

Dion, at first, didn’t reply. Eventually, after Toni’s persistent attempts to communicate, Dion managed to shift his mind’s focus away from the blinding pain just enough to choke out some syllables.

“Stretcher. Off. Now.”

Toni stood up. He turned towards the Athletic dugout, bit his lip, inclined his head downwards, and furiously rolled his forearms one over another in the industry-standard physio-to-manager code that implied “mmm, no, sorry. I’ve done my best, but this player cannot continue. Please remove him from the field of play immediately.”

As if to hammer home the point, Toni spoke into a small, skin-tone microphone attached to his collar. 

“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve done my best. This player cannot continue. Please remove him from the field of play immediately.”

A flurry of activity ensued. Orders were barked. Lips were pursed. Some people sprinted up and down the touchline. Eventually, a teenager as spotty and grease-headed as he was buck-toothed and bandy-legged emerged from the crowd at the side of the pitch, frantically discarding a red-and-black tracksuit top he had been sporting. He jumped up and down a few times. Ran on the spot for a while. Puffed out his cheeks. Farted nervously. This was “wee” Barry Partridge. He was seventeen, and this was to be his début for Cumberland Athletic.

Back on the pitch, the stretcher-bearers had arrived. They were fat and appeared to be extremely unhealthy. “Sedentary” was a word that sprang to mind as Dion found himself speculating about their lifestyles.

One of them looked apprehensively at the prone figure of Dion, wondering just how he and his mate were going to lift this muscular, ninety-kilo colossus onto a stretcher. The other – all business – nodded towards Toni, awaiting instructions.

A dismissive click of the tongue and a pout indicated that Toni was not willing to engage such plebeian non-entities in conversation.

The poor and unfortunately luminously-clad stretcher-bearers drew in some slow, deep breaths and bent down to try and relocate Dion’s vast bulk onto the apparatus. After a few moments that were mostly comprised of embarrassingly ineffective attempts at moving the horizontally-oriented footballer more than a couple of inches, Dion took matters into his own hands. He sprang to his feet, instantly cursing himself for doing so as a fresh bout of searing agony brought vomit to his mouth and forced him to lean on the fatter of the two medics. Within seconds, the rotund porter began to puff rather heavily, struggling desperately under the not-insignificant weight of his charge.

In a rare gesture of compassion for his fellow human beings, Dion began to hop towards the edge of the pitch, where Barry Partridge was eagerly standing by. At this stage, the young lad was furiously pounding the ground, performing jumping jack after jumping jack, spitting incessantly, and rotating his hips vigorously in a mad, uncontrollable fit of dread that was more resembling of an epileptic fit than the warm-up routine of a professional footballer. A kind word from the fourth official was not enough to halt the progress of Barry’s terror-prompted callisthenics.

Some of the Athletic fans were clapping enthusiastically at what they probably saw as a hard-man act on the part of Dion; the brave warrior, refusing attention and battling to reach the changing room on his own two feet. Quel héros! they thought (though possibly not in those exact words). Bully beef in action.

Dion acknowledged their applause with an upraised fist, gritted teeth, and an “I’ll pull through, somehow” glance towards the big screen at the opposite end of the stadium. In TV studios throughout the nation, analysts composed flowing tributes, whilst editors worked unthinkingly on video montages and slow-motion captures of Dion's gnashing, gurning visage. 

Dion Brown was a legend here. The Athletic fans loved nothing more than his bustling, committed, and frequently violent style of play. Today, he’d had what would go down in the rags as an “absolute shocker” of a game. Every pass had travelled, with unerring precision, directly to the feet of an opposing player. Every lumped “diagonal” had picked out members of the crowd rather than members of his own team. Every towering aerial collision ended with a flick-on into twenty yards of space occupied only by players wearing the wrong colour jersey.

Yet still the watching masses roared at his hopping, stumbling frame as he inched his way off the pitch. They marvelled infinitely more at his labours to overcome his achingly-limited talent than they fumed at the very presence in their team of said achingly-limited talent. At every step, Toni buzzed about him self-importantly, trying in vain to create an illusion of usefulness.

As the odd little group of men made their way towards the side-line, they were approached by a man best described as tall, blond, tanned, and as handsomely dimpled as a crinkle-cut potato chip. His name was Ricardo Cio. Born in Swansea to Italian parents, his nickname was, as a result, the Italian Scallion. Cio was the one who had poleaxed Dion with a knee-high, studs-up challenge that left the purists in the stadium nodding happily and lending their voices to balanced, enlightened exclamations such as “’ard but fair,” or “now that’s a propah challenge, innit.”

For this act of violence, Cio received nothing more than a ticking off from the old-Etonian referee, despite his reputation as something of a destroyer. Over the years, Cio had married his sly ruthlessness with a flashy, golden-boy appearance, thus creating a deceptively violent modus operandi that had accounted for countless trodden toes, numerous jawbone fractures, and several ruptured testicles.

Ricardo smiled so disarmingly that, despite himself, Dion was almost unable to refrain from beaming back at him. Dion noticed that Toni was shifting from foot-to-foot. The physio ran his fingers nervously through his in-no-way tackily styled neo-mullet. He flashed a bleached smile at Ricardo.

Little Benny, thought Dion, before immediately hating himself for resorting to the “dressing-room” approach to tolerance. 

Cio began to speak. “So sorry, my brother. It was not my – “

The Italian’s tongue lolled and his cheekbones crunched as Dion’s forehead reached the end of its parabola directly in the centre of Cio’s previously grinning face. Blond hair cascaded downwards, drawing a sunkissed curtain on Ricardo’s exotic features – in a manner that Dion considered unfairly glamorous given the circumstances – as he crumpled to the earth, instantly unconscious.

Toni squealed.

The Athletic fans in the South Stand roared in vicarious delight, the full force of their unfettered envy pinning Cio to the ground.

Internally, Dion cursed himself for adding a severe headache to his current physical predicament. Externally, he raised his arms aloft and, temporarily forgetting the numb throb in his leg, strode merrily off the field, absorbing the adulation and revulsion in equal measure.

He didn’t glance even fleetingly at the luckless referee, who apologetically cast a red card in his direction.

Another solid day at the office, Dion thought to himself as he entered the tunnel.

Ten yards away, a dejected Barry Partridge hung his head, slunk back to the substitutes’ bench and slipped disconsolately back into the reassuring embrace of his polyester tracksuit top.

There's plenty more where that came from. Click here to view a comprehensive list of all the articles to have appeared on the site, including more features, football fiction, galleries, Serbian football blog posts, and more.

thft | 2013