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Bickerstaff

1 Leave a comment on verse 1 0 Schoolboy and goalkeeper,
each with a forehead lined by a cap,
mine an imposition, his meeting a need
to hold sun at bay, keep his eyes
seeing the fast dipping ball.

2 Leave a comment on verse 2 0 In my town team, he was our number one.
I stood behind his goal,
soaked grass beneath my feet,
goalmouth mud in my nostrils, happy.

3 Leave a comment on verse 3 0 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.

4 Leave a comment on verse 4 0 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.

5 Leave a comment on verse 5 0 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”.

6 Leave a comment on verse 6 0 Tommy’s the one I want to become.
Too slow for an outfielder,
I ‘ve already found I can stop low shots.
I lack height, speed and fear,
but avoid injury.

7 Leave a comment on verse 7 0 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.

8 Leave a comment on verse 8 0 In my ivory tower, I learn to ask more of heroes,
like overthrowing fascism.
Footballers cannot compare.
I find out what shits too many of them are.

9 Leave a comment on verse 9 0 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”.

This is a tribute to a fine footballer, later a successful manager, but it is also about growing up and, less directly, about politics.

Source: http://footballpoets.org/poems/bickerstaff/