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Eternal rival to Jimmy Kirk, Tommy usually got the nod.
Bickerstaff, Walton, Rhodes …, I could list them all:
underpaid workmen, bought and sold like cattle,
unaware of their demi-god status
to a couple of dozen pint-sized local
yobs in the making.
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Tommy topped up his football pittance
as a summer lifeguard at the Sports Ground pool,
patrolling it in wellies that would have stopped him flying
but did not keep him from diving in
to save a drowning kid.
Oh, the admiring puns in the local press.
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I teach myself to swim slowly at the pool.
One day, Tommy’s there with a mate.
“Know who this is, son?” Sure, one more hero:
Bob Hailstones, window-cleaner and club captain.
He towers over us both.
They chuckle when I call them “sir”.
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Ten years pass; I ‘m more than twice as old,
sneak off to Sussex, to study psychology.
My hero has gone to Cambridge,
where he’s the boss, the City manager,
the best they’ll ever have.
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Family tradition sends me wandering the world,
changing continents like clubs,
still getting my fix in stadia from Luanda to Vientiane:
a self-indulgent life. No saint myself,
I lose all need for heroes,
yet respect seeps back
for under-rewarded endurance in field and pool and office.
I’m glad that boy was man enough to call them “sir”.