Ari Up by Paul Matts

ari up

‘There is no hesitation in stating Ari Up is one of the most significant people in music. Let alone one of the most significant people in punk rock and new wave music.

All of the members of The Slits should be named as a hugely significant individuals. Each made this most punk of bands what they became. Ari Up formed the band with Palmolive, and was a driving force through Cut and was the band’s mouthpiece via her role as vocalist. She was also present when the band reformed for a time in the noughties. A constant, wild presence.

The most punk of bands I hear you question? The Slits? Definitely. In my opinion. Without doubt.’

Read the rest HERE.

Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is due to be published in 2019, and he is the author of the short stories ‘Revenge can be Sweet, ‘The Bench’ and ‘One More season’. His work has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine and Unlawful Acts. A further novella, ‘Donny Jackal’ has recently been completed. He previously promoted live shows as 101 Productions and owned The Attik night club from 2001-2007. He was also a songwriter and guitarist in The Incurables.

Paul runs a music blog and has recently started a series entitled 101 Significant Figures. This will focus on under-appreciated individuals in the punk and new wave movement. See www.paulmatts.com for more details.

Short Story in a Song: ‘Lola’ by the Kinks By Paul Matts

 

It’s happened to all of us hasn’t it? To the best, to the worst.

In a club or pub. In ‘North Soho’ possibly? Maybe elsewhere? Or some other public place, even. There are others I suppose.

Minding our own business, or maybe interrupting somebody else’s. And bang. An attraction to another human. A connection.

The attraction is often one way. Not reciprocated.

Sometimes it is very definitely mutual, though.

More often than not ends in disappointment. Frustration. Anger. With two souls heading off in different directions.

This can be down to any number of reasons. Wrong place, wrong time. Right place, wrong time. Wrong place – you’ve guessed it – right time.

One is a bastard. The other a bitch. One is a liar. The other is a little too promiscuous. One is ugly. The other is spotty. One thin. One thick.

Or it could be as simple as getting genders mixed up. And not being able to get passed this in spite of the attraction. Such as here. Not that it HAS to be a problem.

***

The couple behind the storyline to ‘Lola’ are comical pair. Like all of us, mind.

Too much champagne, a hedonistic atmosphere. Things possibly not as they seem.

A darkened room. Music blaring out. A busy room, heaving with revellers.

Our hero enters the club. ‘In North Soho’. A bit naïve, having only recently left home a week ago. And ‘never having kissed a woman before.’ Ripe for the plucking, quite possibly.

He is soon on the receiving end of attention by a fellow club dweller. They meet up. They get to know each other a little.

He discovers her name is Lola. L-O-L-A. Lola. All seems to be going swimmingly. The champagne even tastes of cherry cola (or Coca Cola, if you listen to the album version of the song).

However, our hero soon begins to experience confusion. Doubt even.

Number one, Lola’s ‘dark brown voice’ is unusual. Not just DEEP, but deep in the manner of a male. Not what our hero expects.

‘She walk like a woman but talk like a man.’

Not being the world’s most physical guy he is not exactly expecting to sling her over his shoulder and go get a room. Caveman style. However he certainly didn’t expect her to inflict him a bodily injury when she held him tight.

‘She squeezed me tight and nearly broke my spine.’

Ouch. Doubt number two.

In spite of these ‘doubts’ the attraction remains. Our hero looks into her eyes and nearly falls for Lola. She wants him to come home with her. Out of the frying pan…

Ultimately, our hero bails out. He doesn’t want to go home with Lola, to be ‘made a man’.

‘Girls will be boys and boys will be girls

It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Lola.’

Lola isn’t crazy. Lola is very focused and confident.

But the world is crazy. Maybe for having traditional strict meanings of sexuality? That are just TOO well defined? And maybe too readily accepted by too many?

Our hero is what he is and decides against an night with an apparent transvestite. Too much for him maybe? He is what he is and wants what he wants and that’s the way it will be in HIS world. For now, at least, the world’s conventions remain.

Lola came close though. Maybe lit a candle inside our hero? Not that, for now anyway, the flame got any higher.

‘Now I’m not the world’s most masculine man

But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man.

So is Lola.’

Who knows what came of our hero? And Lola?

Happiness, I hope.

Bio:  Paul Matts is the author short stories such as ‘Donny Jackal’, ‘One More Season’ and ‘Revenge can be sweet’. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is to be published in 2019. He promoted live Punk rock shows under the name 101 Productions and has been the guitarist and songwriter for the Incurables. He has also been a grass roots football coach for all his adult life. He lives in Leicester, England with his wife and children. He has recently started work on his second novel. See www.paulmatts.com for more information. And to subscribe to his mailing list and blog,

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FICTION: REVENGE CAN BE SWEET BY PAUL MATTS

‘You there yet?’ Daniel’s voice is coming through clearly on my new Nokia mobile phone.

‘Not yet mate. Just met Kush in McDonalds.’

‘Thought he couldn’t make it.’

‘Turns out he can. Now saying he wouldn’t miss it for the world.’

We both laugh.

‘We’ll see Jake inside I s’pose,’ I suggest.

‘Yeah, I guess. See you in a bit.’

‘In a bit mate.’

It’s early July and the sun is on the wane after a strong performance during the late afternoon. A strong performance by this summer’s standards, anyway. The summer of 2005. Leicester, England.

Me and Kush finish our Big Macs and cross the road. And turn right. The vacant grey concrete shop fronts of Granby Street are left behind as we stride excitedly passed a series of newsagents on Halford Street. It’s 7pm. All have staff still tied to their desks. Or hanging on their telephones.

No customers in any of the estate agents though.

‘No way I’m working in one of them,’ I announce to Kush. Whilst dribbling a empty Coke can along the pavement with both feet as we near Free Lane, and pointing to none of the estate agents in particular. But all of them at the same time.

‘None of us know what we’ll do, my friend,’ replies Kush, with an expertly timed tackle leading to the can being knocked into the road and thus, out of play.

Kush is the super friendly, ever smiling type. Quite different from the lad I met when we both arrived at De Montfort Uni a couple of years back. He was nervous, shy and withdrawn at that point.

He is an electronics student, like me. It is this that unites us. I also have been a long time underground music fan. Especially underground punk rock, such as that released on Household Name Records. We are in town tonight to see an example of such underground punk rock. It is to be performed by The Filaments on their farewell tour. The singer is leaving for America, see. Emigration can really mess things up for underground punk rock bands.

Kush wasn’t into anything when we met. Certainly not underground music. Well, maybe he was into cricket. And maybe football. But he soon started hanging out with me as I went in search of underground music in Leicester. I still don’t think he is really into the actual MUSIC, but loves being around people and makes friends whoever he talks to.

Never a bad word, as they say.

We take a sharp left onto Free Lane’s narrow thoroughfare. Young, and old, scruffy looking, spiky looking, studded looking, humanoids (punkoids, as we call them) spill out from the club onto the street itself. It is a one way street, with just about enough room for a vehicle to squeeze down it. It in cast in a shadow, which is a relief on a hot day like this. Black cut off t-shirts abound. Splashed with lurid pink, green lettering and symbols. Tight jeans, and girls in skimpy vest tops, are also in good number.

‘Love these nights,’ Kush grins, mischievously, looking at one such female punkoid.

I nod in agreement.

I can hear the DJ playing The Slackers. Another of my underground favourites. From NYC. We saw them in Leicester a while back. And they hung with us after the show. That is what I love about the Leicester underground music scene. Bands seem happy to drink with us. There is no us AND them. It’s a definite communal US.

We dodge our way through the punkoids sprawled all over the pavement. I am dressed in baggy shorts and a gig t-shirt. Captain Everything are the band emblazoned on it. My ‘look’ isn’t that striking I guess. No disrespect to Captain Everything. It’s a smart t-shirt. Not customized at all though. Not cut off at the sleeves, midriff or anything. All punkoids seem to have customized clothing. I’m a bit of a Mummy’s boy in comparison, basically nicely turned out. I’ve not even noticed what Kush is wearing. In a way that sums up his attire, I suppose.

‘Alright lads.’ Frank, the Geordie bouncer greets us.

‘Alright Frank.’

‘Gonna be packed tonight, it is. Already loads in.’

‘Great stuff,’ I smile, handing over my four quid admission.

‘Enjoy,’ Franks wishes us. And then puts the cash into his bag and thrusts it into his jeans. He’s sweating buckets.

To describe The Attik as scruffy and shambolic would be putting it mildly. There is no cash desk, for example, for Frank to sit behind and take the entrance money. He just stands there and stuffs it in his pocket. But we, and loads like us, love it. It has underground music, cheap drinks and friendly faces. And crap toilets. And it genuinely seems to heave when it is rammed with punters. Which it frequently is on nights when the Household Names bands play.

The black walls themselves seem to drip with sweat, and the upstairs floor appears to bounce with the crowd. It is the same on EDM (Electronic Dance Music) nights, which I also attend. And on drum n bass nights. Which I avoid.

The downstairs bar is already full with punkoids. The DJ has a small dance floor working, and the tiny bar has a three or four deep crush.

‘Looks like we’ll have to adopt plan b,’ I suggest to Kush.

He nods and beams back at me.

This means we order two pints of Fosters (the cheapest drink) each instead of one. I generally down the first one quickly. Kush does the same. Plan b means we already have our second pint with us. So we don’t have to queue up again. Genius.

When he first started coming it seemed to take Kush all night to finish just one half.

A hard slap on my back is accompanied with a familiar greeting.

‘Alright Stefan!’

It’s a red faced, sweaty, smiling, wide eyed Jake. About five foot six, with signs of a beer belly emerging. Short, spiked up dark hair. Daniel, a tall, (trying to be) cool customer, slouches up behind him. Thin, with shiny black hair. Side parted to the right. He also seems uncomfortably hot in the heat of a summer’s night in the bijou independent music haunt.

‘How’s it going fellas?’ Jake shouts, his ever widening eyes looking directly into mine.

He’s already been hard at it, by the looks of things.

‘Okay ta. You?’ Kush responds, looking at Daniel for clarification.

‘He’s a bit too okay, I’d say,’ Daniel smirks.

‘Piss off you toffee nosed..well, I better not be too rude. You keep buying me drinks.’

We all laugh. Jake, like Kush, hasn’t got a bad bone in him.

He just drinks a bit too much too often.

Daniel is easily manipulated by some folk. A bit too nice. Too generous. He comes from a wealthy family, and a few around the scene have clocked onto this. He had a girlfriend for a while, who rinsed him of his allowance. And then dumped him.

She is here tonight, drunk. And rubbing herself up against a couple on the dance floor, I notice. I tut and shake my head at Daniel. He smiles pathetically back at me.

‘How’d the gig in London go?’ I ask Daniel, immediately changing the subject.

‘Really well. It looks like a tour support or something may come of it.’ Daniel beams as he says this.

Daniel ‘manages’ a local band called The Gentlemen. Which means he is their dogsbody. He drives them to gigs, helps fund recordings and equipment, and ensures their rider is in place. Even if the venue doesn’t actually provide one. Which means he pays for it and provides it himself, I suspect. He is also, of course, their roadie. I’m sure he undertakes numerous other undesirable duties on their behalf.

They definitely take advantage of him.

‘The band are coming down here tonight,’ he announces.

Me, Kush and Jake look at each other, puzzled.

‘What, to see The Filaments? Decent music?’ I enquire, a little horrified.

You see, The Gentlemen are the latest in the Leicester conveyor belt of Oasis sounding wannabes. They describe themselves as the ‘new cutting edge indie Kings’. Ironic, as indie for a long time has been the new mainstream. There is nothing cutting edge about The Gentlemen, for sure. And nowhere near to even being decent, either. In my opinion, anyway. And they are a arrogant bunch of dicks with a over inflated sense of their own importance. Just saying.

‘No, to see me. Frank says he’ll give me a shout when they get here.’

We nod, glancing uneasily at each other. Inevitably, my gaze caught Daniel’s ex-girlfriend. And Daniel caught me doing it. Bollocks. I’ve been trying to be so supportive about this too.

Thankfully, right on queue, Frank appears.

‘Your Gentlemen are here Daniel,’ Frank announces.

And off, dutifully, trundles Daniel.

The three of us turn to each other. The door for the upstairs has just opened, which means the gig will start in a few minutes. The live gigs take place on the upstairs floor.

Skin, the sound technician appears next to us on his way to the toilets.

‘Might need my best turd polishing kit for this first lot, lads,’ he remarks on his way by us.

We all laugh loudly. To clarify, this is one of Skin’s jokes. You even get to know the staff here. Frank, Skin, the bar staff.

Skin’s joke is that the band is crap. The support band, that is. So no matter how hard he tries, Skin will not be able to make them sound good. So you can’t polish a turd, see.

A turd is a turd, after all.

‘Let’s go and see this turd then,’ Kush suggests.

‘Okay. They ain’t that bad, I’m sure,’ I know the guitarist, so I feel I need to be supportive.

‘I’ll just go and tell Daniel we’re on our way up,’ Jake shouts and lumbers towards the door.

A few seconds later he returns, just as we’re at the doorway heading upstairs.

‘You’d better come.’ For once, without any smile on his face.

We follow him to the main door. Frank points and ushers us towards Daniel.

Daniel is slumped on the concrete path. His back to a graffiti splashed wall. And he is opposite a large beige double door.

He is sitting, leaning forward. His elbows are on his upright knees. His head is in his hands.

He is obviously upset.

We look nervously at each other.

Kush goes first.

‘What’s up mate?’

The sound of the opening act can be heard emanating from upstairs. Well, more exploding from upstairs, really. They don’t sound like a turd at all.

Daniel slowly lifts his head from his hands.

‘Those bastards have fired me,’ he snaps loudly.

He sniffs. He blubs a bit, also. And returns his head to his hands, elbows still resting on his knees.

Nightmare. To be honest, I have often wondered what Daniel would do without The Gentlemen. They have given him a focus over the last year or so since he dropped out of uni. Daniel has had metal health issues. One time he overdosed. Deliberately I’m sure. On pain killers. Not enough to kill himself, as it turned out. Thankfully.

It was a cry for help though.

So being the manager of The Gentlemen has given an exciting focal point to his life. He has felt important. He has made new ‘friends’.

And now those arrogant bunch of dicks have done this.

We look at each other, raising eyebrows, puffing out cheeks.

Daniel lifts his head from his hands once more. He keeps his head still. His eyes are wide open. He stares ahead. But doesn’t focus on anything. Looking, not seeing. His complexion is clammy, and white. Life appears to have drained from his face. He is silent.

He is in shock, I would say.

‘Do you want to come and check out the band?’ enquires Jake.

I flash an angry glance at him. Right now, the last thing Daniel would want to do is watch a live band, I’m sure. I can’t believe Jake, even drunk, would think this is a good thing for Daniel to do at present.

Daniel does not respond in anyway to Jake’s question. He just sits there, numb.

Jake shuffles from foot to foot. Dumb.

The thing is the three of us have been looking forward to seeing The Filaments for months. We love them. This may be their last tour too. With the singer going to America. Bollocks. Talk about timing.

I settle down next to Daniel. I put my arm around him. I have nothing to say. I know what The Gentlemen mean to Daniel. He has ended up looking a bit gullible, to say the least. Loads will be laughing at his expense within The Gentlemen’s social radar, I’m sure. They all took the piss out of Daniel. With one exception.

As the row exploding from the upstairs ceases temporarily, I hear footsteps clicking. They are getting louder. I look to my left.

It is Terri. Short for Teresa, I think.

Terri is tall and elegant. With a cool 1960s-style haircut. Slightly mod-ish. She is dressed in red which compliments her dark hair and shades.

She removes the shades slowly and crouches down, so she is face to face with Daniel. She gives me a concerned glance.

‘I heard what they did Daniel. The bastards. I’m so angry with them.’

She throws me another concerned look, before focusing her big hazel, sympathetic eyes back on Daniel.

‘How are you, Daniel?’

Silence. I’m not sure her presence has registered with him. How he could fail to notice such beauty is beyond me. She seems really worried about Daniel.

‘Listen, I’m going to have a word with your friends. Then I’ll come home with you and we can have a cup of tea together or something. I want to look after you tonight Daniel.’

Daniel slowly turns his eyes to meet Terri’s. He nods slowly.

‘Good. Let me have a word with your friends.’

She catches my eye again and beckons me away for a word.

Terri is beautiful, kind and assertive She has brains. And a future, I’m sure. God knows how she has ended up going out with Kieran, the dickhead lead singer of The Gentlemen.

‘Kieran has told me they have sacked him as their manager.’

‘Why have they done this to him?’ I ask.

‘They are expecting a new manager to come to the show tomorrow night in the West End of town. They met him in London. They want Daniel out the way, basically.’

‘But Daniel did everything for them. They took his money and all.’

‘I know. I cannot stand to see Kieran treat another human being like this. He’s a self-centred prat.’

‘Daniel has got their gear in his garage.’

‘I s’pose they’ll go and get it during the day tomorrow or something,’ she sighs.

She then whispers..

‘Kieran says Daniel is an embarrassment to them. He doesn’t dress like they do, and isn’t cool enough for them. I’m ditching Kieran by the way.’

‘He doesn’t know that yet,’ she adds.

‘I’m in then,’ I think silently to myself.

‘Okaaay,’ is my actual audible response to this, though. Unconvincing, to say the least.

‘I’ll take Daniel home and stay with him. I knew this would hit him hard. He worships the boys. God knows why. They don’t deserve him, for sure.’

‘I’ll be round tomorrow morning to check on him. With Kush, I think,’ I state.

‘That’d be good. I’ve got work at eleven so I can’t stay with him all day. What’s your name, love?’

‘Stef.’

‘Here’s my number Stef. Text me and then I can have your number too.’

I WILL be in here at this rate. Normally getting a girl’s number is pretty well impossible for me.

Terri moves back to Daniel and puts her hands on his shoulders.

‘Come on you. Let’s go and get a burger and go home.’

Daniel just nods. And slowly drags himself up. As if he’s reluctantly going home with his Mum. No enthusiasm. I’m not sure he knows what’s going on.

They proceed to walk down the thoroughfare. Passed Frank, who nods sympathetically as they do so. Terri’s arm is round Daniel’s shoulder. He just walks, arms flopping by his side.

‘What’s that all about?’ asks Frank as we head back into the club in silence.

‘You know that band The Gentlemen?’ Kush begins.

‘What the band who want to be Oasis?’

‘Minus the talent, style or songs,’ I continue.

‘Yeah,’ laughs Frank. ‘I know ‘em.’

‘Well Daniel managed them. Did everything for them. Even paid for things,’ I explain.

‘What sort of things?’

‘Studio time, petrol for the van, riders.’

Frank widens his eyes in disbelief.

‘Well they went to London for a show. And now a new manager is coming to their gig in the West End tomorrow. So they’ve sacked Daniel and told him they don’t want him around no more.’

‘Bastards.’

‘Quite.’

‘He seems a fragile soul too an’ all,’ ponders Frank.

‘You don’t know the half of it. He tried to top himself once.’

Frank widens his eyes again. He does this quite a lot.

At this point a load of spiky, sweaty punkoids pile downstairs for the interval.

Frank’s attention turns to them.

‘Look after him lads,’ he shouts as we head towards the bar for much needed pints of Fosters.

The Filaments play a blinding set. The black walls of the club are streaming with moisture. The excitement levels are sky high. The shouty, boisterous choruses are sung (shouted) in unison and can be heard over the other side of town, I’m sure. A brilliant gig. One of the best. The Filaments are the best band on the underground punk circuit. The Attik floor seemed to bounce up and down for ninety minutes or so.

But I can’t give it my all. I am thinking about Daniel. I am seriously worrying about his welfare. He IS fragile, as Frank suggested. He can’t cope unless he is busy and focused. Now he will just drift, I am sure. To where, I don’t know.

I cannot believe he is on his own at home with Terri, either. Just saying.

‘I’m going to see Daniel in the morning to check on him,’ I say to Kush and Jake on the way home.

‘I’ll come too,’ offers Kush. I knew he would.

‘I’m at work otherwise I would too,’ adds Jake.

‘No worries. We could have done with your van to drop The Gentlemen’s gear off.’

‘It’d save Daniel dealing with it,’ explains Kush.

‘No way I’d help those bastards.’ End of conversation.

We all nod and enter a late night burger shop.

Cheap one pound burgers all round. Normal routine after a gig.

Eventually I make it to the house I share with a couple of other students. They are away for the summer right now. It is bare and empty.

It has been an eventful night. Not the night I expected.

No way it is alright for The Gentlemen to do this to my mate, and head off into the sunset. No way.

I am vindictive. It is a fault of mine.

I am going to hatch a plan.

 

The next morning I get up early in a determined frame of mind. I have slept on my plan.

I head for Daniel’s house, which is situated in the West End. Not far from the location of The Gentlemen’s gig this evening,

Out of the blue my phone bleeps. I have a text. From Terri.

‘Hi Stef. It’s Terri. Daniel’s parents are here and are to take him home to look after him. I’m here until 10.30am time so if you could be round for then that would be good. The band want to get there gear at about 2pm if ok? I need to give you the key. Terri. X.’

I’ll treasure that text for a while. No deleting it. Hardly ever get texts from girls.

Especially glamorous cool ones.

I reply swiftly. And in style. Kind of.

‘Alright Terri. That’s fine I’ll be there about half ten. Stef. X.’

On route I drop in on Kush, who lives in a typical 1930s student terrace.

‘Ready?’

‘Yep. Just get me coat.’

Coat!!? God knows why he needs his coat. It’s already sweltering. I’m in another smart gig t-shirt. The summer sun has thus far consisted of the last couple of days. Kush wears the same green coat when the weather is like Siberia, or San Tropez. Not that I’ve been to either place, incidentally.

‘Daniel won’t be there when we get round mate. He’s going home with his parents so they can look after him. Terri has been in touch.’

‘She stayed the night then?’

‘Assume so.’ We both have the same envious expression.

‘She’s asked me to let The Gentlemen in later on to get their gear.’

A short pause.

‘I want to get some sort of revenge on those bastards.’

‘Okkaayyee.’ Kush sounds unsure.

We don’t talk any further on the subject as we continue our journey. Instead we reminisce on how good The Filaments were, and how much we love the Leicester Punk scene right now.

‘A good mix of young and old, all looking out for each other,’ Kush suggests.

‘Exactly. All looking out for each other. Like we are Daniel.’

‘You alright mate? That sounded a bit aggressive.’

‘Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to.’

We arrive at Daniel’s place. Terri answers the door. She can’t hang around, sadly.

‘I’m going to ditch that prat Kieran just before the show tonight. He has to learn you can’t treat people the way he has treated Daniel. He’s the one behind this I’m sure. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to suss it.’

We nod. We have nothing to offer. No idea how to talk to girls. Especially in moments of high emotion such as this.

‘Hopefully it’ll mess him up for the show,’she adds.

‘Hopefully,’ Kush responds.

‘Yeah hopefully,’ I repeat. There, said something.

There is no sign of Terri’s anger having subsided.

‘How was Daniel?’ I ask, changing the subject.

‘Not good really. He hardly spoke last night. So I rang his Mum. They came down straight the way. Like they knew the impact this would have on him.’

‘He tried to kill himself once you know,’ I point out.

‘Doesn’t surprise me. Come to think of it, I heard Kieran and the lads laughing about that once. Bastards.’

And with that, Terri is gone. Seething.

Kush looks directly at me.

‘What revenge have you got in mind?’

Without hesitation I begin to explain my plan.

‘The bastards are coming to get their gear this afternoon.’

Kush nods, maintaining my gaze. Matching it in intensity, in fact. He’s in.

‘We could sabotage their gear. So the show doesn’t go so well in front of this new manager.’

‘It’d have to be in such a way it appears normal. We can’t just cut a wire or two. They’d spot that in the soundcheck.’

I know. They don’t soundcheck much, Daniel used to say. And they do have trouble from time to time with the guitarist’s instrument, he also told me. He only has one guitar, too.’

Kush nods.

‘So if his guitar breaks he’s knackered.’

I nod and continue.

‘So if we use our electronics know-how to say, do something to the input so the solder weakens significantly, it’d slowly keep cutting out. After about ten minutes there’d be no sound coming out at all.’

‘They’d look a bunch of prats.’

‘Also, it’s the sort of thing Daniel would have repaired in the past.’

‘Would serve them right if this goes to plan.’

‘Should have kept Daniel.’

‘Indeed.’

Daniel was also an electronics student until he dropped out of uni. Handy for repairing The Gentlemen’s equipment.

We get to work. It looks like the solder inside the input is about to crack anyway. So loosening the nut and cracking the solder further will make malfunction guaranteed. Inevitable, really.

‘Malfunction guaranteed’ sounds like a name of a punk band. Digressing now.

Just for good measure, Kush does the same thing to the bass player’s instrument.

Operation complete, we return the instruments to their cases.

‘It might not work, you know. They’ll probably be megastars anyway,’ Kush complains.

‘There’s no way those instruments will make it through tonight. They’ll start off okay, then deteriorate before packing up completely. The band will look like a bunch of prats. Then they’ll start falling out on stage.’

‘And finally they’ll look like the amateur, arrogant, shit dickheads they really are,’ I conclude.

About half an hour later there’s a rap on the door.

‘They’re here,’ Kush announces.

I answer the door. Very slowly.

‘Oh. Thought Daniel would answer,’ one of them reacts upon seeing me.

No sign of Kieran.

‘Well he’s had to go away for a while,’ I say coldly.

‘Oh,’ another replies, taking a puff from his cigarette.

And then blowing the smoke in my direction.

I smile back sarcastically.

‘Your stuff is in here,’ I state, pointing to the garage. I walk over to the blue, flaky wooden door and unlock it. I open the door and beckon them in.

‘You helpin’ us then,’ another of them asks, expectantly.

‘No.’

Clearly they’re used to Daniel doing everything for them.

‘Oh. Have to do it ourselves, then.’

‘Yep.’

I go back inside the house. No intention of helping this lot. It’s funny to hear them complaining as they load the gear in the van. Clueless how to do it efficiently. Clearly Daniel must have done all of this for them while they were lauding it up as rock stars. They even manage to pull away with the back door open on the van. One of the drums rolls out. Hilarious. It’s like ‘Carry on gigging’ would be if such a film were to be made. Which it should be.

Eventually they are gone. Kush looks at me.

‘Shall we go along tonight?’

‘Definitely. Should be a car crash of a gig.’

I smile to myself. And let out an evil cackle.

 

The sun has put in another strong performance this afternoon. It is now on the wane once more as we make our way to the gig.

My new Nokia rings.

‘You there yet?’ Jake’s voice is coming through loud and clear.

‘Not yet. Just met Kush in McDonalds. Ten minutes mate.’

‘Okay. See you in ten then. I’ll have a beer and wait in the pub.’

Me and Kush are jostling for control of another Coke can as we head towards the West End. It drops into the road and thus out of play as soon as I put the phone back in my pocket.

‘Don’t know if I’m looking forward to this,’ Kush confesses.

‘Me neither. We’ve gotta go though. We’ll never know how it went otherwise.’

‘Better not let on if things do go wrong though. Or right, from our point of view.’

We laugh. Wickedly.

‘For sure. Don’t say anything to Jake. Not until afterwards, anyway,’ I persist.

‘Probably not even then. Not sure I could trust him to keep his gob shut when he’s had a few.’

‘Good point. Total shtum then. Just between you and me right?’

‘Right.’

We emphasize the accord with a fist bump.

‘Hang on. Is that Terri?’

‘Where?’

‘Just there…near the burger bar. Just getting into the cab.’

‘Aah yeah…I see her now. Looks like she’s having a row with that prat Kieran.’

I smile to myself. It looks like the first phase of the evening’s events may be  happening.

‘WELL… SOD YOU! YOU’VE LOST THE CHANCE TO BE WITH A ROCK STAR,’ Kieran bellows as the cab pulls away. He then hurls his pint glass to the floor, punches the wall and heads back into the venue. Holding his fist. The idiot. Like he didn’t know punching a brick wall with his own fist would hurt.

‘It looks like she just ditched him then,’ summarizes Kush after a pause.

‘Err …yeah. Looks like it.’

I smile to myself once more. Karma, Kieran, karma.

And I have Terri’s number. Though the chance of me actually being successful if I ask her out are about as possible as The Gentlemen being able to write a decent tune. And then be able to play it with charm and appeal. Pretty low. Virtually impossible. Forget in then.

It’s not what’s important tonight though. It’s about Daniel. To equal things up a little.

We meet up with Jake in a pub about a hundred yards from the venue. A modern bar, with chrome everywhere. It also serves bottles of beer. Not pints. Everyone inside looks like they’re off ‘Big Brother’ or something. Trying to be famous.

Except us. And Jake. And his crowd of mates.

‘We’ve decided we ain’t going to the gig,’ announces Jake.

‘Don’t wanna give those tossers our cash,’ CJ explains.

CJ is Jake’s mate. Sometimes he goes to the Household Name punk shows. Looks almost exactly like Jake. Small-ish, with a beer belly on the way. Ginger hair though. That’s how you tell them apart.

Jake then positions his bottle of Becks a foot from his mouth, like a microphone. He eases me away slightly, to give himself space.

‘Plus…they’re SHH-IIITE!’ Jake bawls into his make shift microphone.

Queue much laughter. At Jake’s impersonation of Liam Gallagher. Quite funny, really.

We swallow a quick bottle of lager each, bid our farewells and head to the gig.

‘Seven quid mate,’ the doorman deadpans on our arrival.

‘What…seven quid!!?’ Kush exclaims. For the second time in twenty four hours his smile disappears.

‘They’re gonna be famous mate. It’s cheap.’

I give him a sarcastic smile. We reluctantly pay up and enter the venue. It’s packed, to be fair. Rent-a-crowd, but full none the less.

We get a Carling each and stand at the back. The Gentlemen saunter on to the stage more or less immediately.

I have a strange sensation in my stomach. Butterflies. Like just before an exam. Or a visit to the Dentist. Nervous tension. Me and Kush look uneasily at each other. And say nothing. It’s like waiting for a battle to commence.

I watch closely as the guitarist straps on his instrument. He strums it. It makes the usual ‘joink’ noise a mildly distorted guitar does as the player checks it just prior to the start of a performance. To ensure it’s still working, see. If he only knew what was about to happen to him.

Kieran the prat mumbles something inaudible into the microphone. The crowd cheer.

They then launch into the first number.

I say ‘launch’. It’s pretty turgid really. The guitarist jangles a distorted chord sequence, the drummer teases us with half a rhythm. The bass player checks he’s playing the correct notes, Kieran whoops into the microphone and they’re off. Into mid paced tedious indie monotony. The crowd love it though.

Actually, it has a decent chorus. People sing along to it. It’s pretty good, though I hate to admit it.

I begin to feel guilty. Have I misjudged the band? What if I am about to rob the public of the best indie band since Oasis? What have I done? And, if all goes to plan, I could have wrecked the night for everyone in the venue to boot. Didn’t think of that.

Too late now. I just worked from my own agenda.

And sure enough, the guitarist’s instrument starts to play up towards the end of the first song. I’m not sure many other people have spotted this. I certainly have. Ignoring his plight, the drummer immediately starts the second number. The guitar cuts out a little more.

The guitarist starts to look panic-stricken. Even his sixties hairdo suddenly looks on edge, somehow.

Kieran starts to glare with anger at him under his own David Beckham-style barnet. He looks furious.

Eventually the guitar cuts out completely, leaving only the bass and drums sounding. And the bass is starting to cut out too. Finally, it all grinds to a halt.

The drummer hurls his sticks in the air. Whistles and ironic cheers are immediately heard from the crowd.

Kieran the prat once again mumbles something inaudible into the microphone. I make out loads of f-words.

I am sweating. Panicking. I am also on edge. Like the guitarist’s sixties hairdo. This is my fault, remember. Extreme guilt creeps in.

The band come together in front of the drum kit. They are shouting at each other, pushing and shoving. Eventually the guitarist rips off his instrument and lobs it at the drum kit. Kieran slaps him round the face. He in turn launches himself into Kieran and before you know it, all four of them are rolling around the stage, punching and kicking one another.

The crowd cheer. But the cheers soon start to subside. Boos, hisses and more whistles soon take over.

The Gentlemen continue to brawl. In rock n’ roll history, on stage bust ups and violence at gigs are common place. Jesus and the Mary Chain, Sex Pistols, The Who. But those bands are legendary, great acts who earnt the right to have violence at their shows. Not so this mob. They just look pathetic.

Had Daniel been here, he could have fixed the problematical instrument in five minutes flat. Serves them right.

I look to my right. A gent in stylish clobber, and with a cockney accent, curses out loud. He finishes his drink. He slams his empty glass down. And heads briskly for the exit. As if his time had been wasted.

I clocked him as we arrived earlier. Possibly as being the manager who had travelled up from London to see these bastards. I’d be annoyed. Come all this way to see…an on-stage brawl. Not even a good one, either.

I look at Kush. He looks back. Both of us have glum, serious expressions. Inside though, my previous tension and concern has given way to euphoria.

This couldn’t have worked out better.

No-one, I repeat no-one, messes with my mate Daniel. Or any of my other mates.

People like me, and Daniel, and Kush may be quiet. You may not notice us. But when we plan to punch, we do so with devastation. We do it properly.

 

A week or so later I run into CJ in McDonalds. I’m on my way to meet Kush.

‘How’s your mate Daniel?’

‘He sent me a text the other day. Said he’s doing okay. He’s with his parents. No plans to return to Leicester just yet.’

‘I heard that band he managed have split up. That gig was a disaster, they ended up kicking the shit out of each other on-stage. So I’ve heard.’

I nod calmly. And look him in the eye.

‘Yeah it was a disaster. I was there. It was a real car crash of a gig. Shame.’

Maybe they had it coming. I heard they weren’t the nicest bunch.’

‘Yeah. Maybe CJ. Maybe…’

‘Okay Stef…see ya.’

‘See ya CJ.’

I turn to the counter to place my order.

‘Big Mac meal please.’

With a wicked serving of revenge. As a side.

Bio:  Paul Matts is the author short stories such as ‘Donny Jackal’, ‘One More Season’ and ‘Revenge can be sweet’. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is to be published in 2019. He promoted live Punk rock shows under the name 101 Productions and has been the guitarist and songwriter for the Incurables. He has also been a grass roots football coach for all his adult life. He lives in Leicester, England with his wife and children. He has recently started work on his second novel. See www.paulmatts.com for more information. And to subscribe to his mailing list and blog.

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Fiction: One More Season by Paul Matts

‘Please allow me to introduce myself.’

No, I’m not Beelzebub, as Mick Jagger sang in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. Far from it. I’d hope.

Although maybe some connected to the various organizations I’ve worked with may beg to differ. Disgruntled players, disappointed supporters, frustrated officials.

I’ll explain.

You can call me an ‘Unknown coach’. I am, like thousands around the country, a sports coach. A volunteer sports coach. A volunteer football coach, to be precise. I am a member of the UCA. The Unknown Coach Army.

An unofficial troop, incidentally.

After doing this for thirty eight years I have decided this season is to be my final season. For ages I have threatened this.

But I stopped short of making an outright promise. Just so no-one could accuse me of going back on my word.

However in 2017 I made that promise. And I intend to keep my word. The UCA will be one coach light with effect from the season 2018-19. Here is an appreciation of all sports coaches. UCA members one and all. With a few tales from my own career.

 

We walk among society much like everyone else. But maybe with a pre-occupied mind. Well, definitely with a pre-occupied mind, actually. When out for a family meal on a Saturday night, for example. I’d place my order. Then for a second I’d ponder on whether to have a back four or three for the game the next day. This would have probably have been dependant on whether our best defender was likely to show up.

‘What’s up?’ my wife would interrupt. She spotted my mind was elsewhere.

‘Nothing..nothing. Just deciding what to have to drink,’ I’d lie.

We do not look necessarily athletic. Some do, with a footballer’s trendy haircut and a hipster beard. Others have no hair style in particular and a beer belly. Or no hair at all. However what unites all across the county is a love of the game. And more importantly, a love of helping those who play it. Men, women, girls and boys. All who have played the beautiful game in Leicester (my stomping ground) will have experienced the passion for football shown by this army of unknown coaches. If only fleetingly. And the same would apply nationwide.

It all started in February 1980. A loud knock on my parents UPVC front door interrupted my viewing of Top of the Pops one Thursday evening. My lazy brother gave no indication of answering so up I got.

It was a bloke called Steve. The secretary of the local football team. I played for them on Sundays for the under-16s age group. Leicester Junior football league. A keenly contested and enthusiastic league. Even though the actual quality of football was questionable.

‘We’re in trouble mate. The managers of the under-11s have both quit.’

‘Not surprised ..they ain’t won all season have they?’

‘No. They get hammered every week.’

‘Okay.’ I had no idea why he was telling me this.

‘Thing is we were wondering if some of you older players could help run the team until the end of the season. Mickey’s Dad says he will help. But he doesn’t know anything about the game. But he’ll keep them in line, you see.’

‘He’s a copper ain’t he?’

‘Yeah. They’ll tow the line with him around. But if you lads don’t help, the team will probably fold and the lads will have ‘nowt to do on Sundays ‘cept watch boring telly or summat.’

That put a new perspective on it.

‘Who else you asked?’

‘You’re the first. Planning ask Shane and Wattsy too.’

I thought for a minute. He wasn’t making it sound particularly attractive. Looking back, I’m pretty sure when Leicester City asked Claudio Ranieri to take over in the summer of 2015 the conversation didn’t go anything like this one did.

‘If Shane and Wattsy do it I’ll do it then.’

‘Great. Stick around after your game this Sunday. They play in the afternoons so they’ll follow you on. I’ll set you straight then.’

So, depending on how you look at it, that was the best or worst conversation of my life.

When I came home after a bad game, or even training session, it was the worst conversation, definitely. I’d be moody. And a pain. Ask my wife. Being married to a member of the Unknown Coach Army was never an easy ride. Again, ask my wife. I wonder how many marriages involving a member of the UCA have actually survived.

However when I came home after a late winner in a close game it is very different. It then has to be regarded as the best conversation I ever had. For sure. It’s the same when a young player started to blossom or scored his/her first ever goal. That feeling, to me, has always been priceless. It made every single heartache in grass roots football worthwhile. Every single disappointment. Every tear. Every freezing cold winter’s morning getting out of bed at stupid o’clock. All UCA members will know this feeling.

 That conversation with Steve set me on the road.

 Of course when it came to that Sunday in February 1980, Shane and Wattsy didn’t show. So it was me and Mickey’s Dad, the Copper. That’s another thing about volunteer coaching. You get used to being let down. Makes the job of the UCA even more difficult.

 But what a day it was. I told the lads before the game to enjoy it. To play like they did at the park when they weren’t being yelled at by parents and grumpy managers. As they were basically being thrashed every week, any improvement on the previous week’s 11-1 defeat would be great. So to keep the goals conceded down we devised a plan to get nine players between the ball and our goal every time the opponents had possession of the ball. Which would be a lot.

Of course, this all went out the window come game time. Unexpectedly.

 To my, the supporters and certainly to our players utter bewilderment, half time came and we were 2-0 up. Up. Ahead.

To clarify, were were winning.

 I was unsure how to deal with this shock turn of events. I expected us to be about five nil down. I sent them out to do the same again. When the substitutes came on they just swapped with players who looked more knackered than the rest. See, I already showed strong tactical acumen.

 Our opponents bombarded us. Obviously they drew level fairly quickly. Imagine how they felt being beaten by us, the division’s whipping boys? However we held out for a 2-2 draw. Somehow.

When the full time whistle blew, it was like we’d won the FA Cup. Parents were crying with joy. School friends, who had been lying face down on the wet grass (well, mud) punching the ground in frustration when the equalizer went in, lifted their mates up on their shoulders. Hailed them as heroes. Even our opponents were dignified in their disappointment. Well more than dignified in fact. They seemed to share in our joy. They were a mid table team, so their season didn’t depend on this result. Top lads. And managers. And supporters. I really do hope life has treated all of them well.

The reaction of our opponents was my first glimpse of the camaraderie of grass roots football in Leicestershire. That had passed me by until then. The day I became a coach.

Inevitably the players were elated. Stunned. Drained. Overcome. The sense of pride in having avoided defeat for the first time was frankly, unbelievable.

On that Sunday in February 1980, one lad in particular is worth a mention. His name was Ash. Hopefully he’s doing well for himself. A very quiet lad. Quite nervous, who Mickey’s Dad (my co–manager, remember) told me hated the noise coming from the sidelines at organized games. The groans of frustration. The moaning. He just wanted to play with his schoolmates.

Ash happened to be in the right place at the right time when the ball fell loose close to our opponent’s goal just before half time. He side footed it first time into the net. Cue wild celebrations.

 His Dad came up to him at half time. Shaking with pride and excitement. He had only just arrived and had missed his son’s goal.

 ‘Have you scored?’ he beamed.

 ‘Yeah. I got the second,’ Ash beamed back.

 A golden moment. You get loads of those. The UCA cross the county would be able to pass on literally thousands of tales of players like Ash. His, or her moment of glory. It would be the same for coaches in other sports. A perfect Gymnastics routine. A try in Rugby. Whatever. After the event the unknown coach would discuss it with the parent of the child concerned. You could see that parent almost shake with emotion. And pride.

 This is what really counts. The human side. I often think of Ash, as I do many of the players I have coached. And of course I think of that moment. He had another too that day. A late goal line clearance to keep the score at 2-2. Never say die. The phrase ‘Foxes never quit’ was has its roots on the playing fields of grass roots football across the county. Leicester City Football Club just adopted it.

 Ash must have felt like a giant as he walked home that afternoon. I bet he replayed his goal in his head over and over as he hit the pillow that night. I know I did.

 I bet his Dad would have too. Had he seen it.

I was on my way.

 

From that heady day forward I enlisted in the part time ranks of the UCA. I committed to thirty eight years of midweek training sessions and weekend games. A commitment that began with that under-11s team. Only stopping for a month or so each summer.

Training sessions and games were sometimes sparsely attended. Getting a team of eleven players on the field for a football game on a saturated weekend in January was not always easy. Even in a catchment area of five thousand people. Eleven from five thousand. It shouldn’t have been hard should it?                               

 A handy excuse for a defeat though.

 ‘We only had half a team.’

 ‘Sounds like it pal.’

 ‘We had no chance. Frustrating.’

 ‘Why do you keep doing it pal?’

 ‘Dunno. I love it. And I don’t wanna let the lads down,’ I’d reply. Explaining myself.

Thing is, volunteering clearly isn’t for everyone. I didn’t volunteer initially I guess. Not really. I was asked. I was too young, naive and polite to decline. Steve perhaps knew what he was doing in asking an eager sixteen year old who was unlikely to say no.

I don’t blame people for not volunteering. It’s a second job, really. The UCA have to set up literally thousands of pitches prior to games. Often clearing away dog mess and filling in holes on the pitch. To avoid player injury, see. It ‘ain’t glamorous being in the UCA.

The goals have to be put up, and nets attached. Goals could not be left up during the latter part of the twentieth century for fear of vandalism, apparently. So me and a mate would drag metal posts a couple of hundred yards to the pitch. It would take us over an hour to assemble the pitch. I’d be knackered by the time the players arrived for the warm up.

Then you welcome your opponents. Various paperwork filled in, and handed to the relevant personnel.

The game.

The aftermath. Which can be anything from sheer joy, to angry exchanges with parents.

‘How come you only played two up front?’ parent A asked.

‘I thought it best to give more game time to a couple of midfielders this week.’

‘How do you expect to win without scoring?’parent B demanded.

I felt they were ganging up on me.

‘We did score?’

‘Not enough. We’re slipping down the league you know.’ Parent A was not happy.

‘It isn’t just about winning you know.’

‘We might be taking our son to another club if things don’t improve.’ Parent B again.

A familiar conversation to UCA members across the country. No matter how much time you give up, how well the team plays, it’s often never enough for some.

The Unknown Coach then puts away the nets, corner flags and goals. And locks the gate. Gets home. For what is left of the weekend. A few mere hours before work on Monday morning. How well these mere hours of ‘relaxation’ go will have been largely dependant on the events of the preceding hours spent at the ground.

Again, ask the wife.

 

There is a unity that comes with grass roots football. This grabbed me early on. The participants do it because they want to. There is a feeling of togetherness across Leicestershire on a Sunday morning, especially. The same across the nation, I should think. I bet almost seventy percent of those travelling between 9.30am and 10am on a Sunday morning are heading to a grass roots football game. There are other footballing travel times of course over the weekend of course. But most would fall on a Sunday morning. Gets us out of going to church, any way.

The looks of hope and excitement, maybe nervousness, on the faces of the players and supporters (usually a parent) whilst making those journeys would be identical from Melton Mowbray to Market Harborough. From Inverness to Plymouth.

And those expressions would change to smiles of elation or frowns of dejection between 12 noon to 1pm. During the journey home. Dependant on the game.

Every season has been more or less the same. At the end of the day, it’s only football. Not life and death.

‘Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that,’ Bill Shankly one remarked though…

 

Emotional pain can also be caused by allegiance issues. UCA members switch clubs at times. A time for sleepless nights for sure. How do I tell them I’m leaving for another club?

I myself switched clubs in during the 1990s. I felt under appreciated at one club. Another wanted me. We all want to feel valued, and UCA members deserve to feel it more than most. In my opinion. That was my justification at the time, anyway.

Painful. Leaving one group of lads behind. A heart breaker. However, nothing lasts forever. Even volunteer coaches in volunteer coaching situations. We are human.

 

Some seasons are particularly good. The team is challenging for the league title. Sometimes you win it. Sometimes you come up short. Throughout you’re doing the maths in your head. ‘If we win and they lose, we’ll be five points clear.’ Or behind. A familiar calculation to many UCA members.

Sometimes you make a cup final. Particularly exciting.

The club I switched to had stronger infrastructure and a need for a second coach to assist the manager at under 18 level. A self styled ‘special one’ who ‘shot from the hip’.

‘I say what I see and shoot from the hip. I’m like Brian Clough’. He’d repeat endlessly.

Minus the inspirational and unique qualities of Cloughie, I may add. And tactical nous. But enthusiastic. Very enthusiastic. Like all in the UCA. Extremely enthusiastic volunteers. One and all.

In my first season at my new club we indeed reached a big cup final.

Exciting, but problematical for the coach. Choosing which players play in the cup final. Which eleven start the game. Which are to be named as substitutes. Which are to be left out completely. But you still encourage them to come along to support their mates on the big day. No manual is available to help UCA members cope with the look on a disappointed player’s face when you tell him/her they are not in the squad for the big game.

Coming to support the team in the cup final when not playing is easier when the game is local. However this particular final took place near Wales. We were based  in Leicester.

The team had done well. We were playing in the Midland Youth League. Which meant a lot of travelling to away games. The West Midlands stretches virtually to Wales, apparently. Of course the final had to be at some far flung outpost. And our opponents were from Coventry. So both teams had to travel miles.

Ludicrous.

 I had to tell my wife too.

‘That final we’re in…it’s in Shrewsbury.’

‘Where?’

‘Err..near Wales?’

‘WHAT!! Just for a game of football. You’re going to Wales?!!’

‘No. Near Wales.’

‘It’s not as if it’s life and death.’

Silence.

‘It’s much more important than that. Ask Bill Shankley,’ I mumbled, making sure she couldn’t hear.

 

Anyway, the big day came.

On behalf of the Leicestershire UCA , I am pleased to say we prevailed by one goal to nil. The players, supporters, ‘Cloughie’ and I were up for it. We were not to be denied, despite a heavy bombardment from opponents late on. We scored the only goal early in the first half see. So it made for an endless second one.

Foxes never quit. The term ‘Foxes’ applies to anyone across the county. There is a tenacity, a determination. It shone through on this particular cup final day.

And it continued afterwards. Supporters (mainly family) were ecstatic. Many of them had been counting down the days to the final. It mattered. Not just to us participants. It was a day that saw all their commitment rewarded. The endless car journeys, the sacrifice of hardly ever getting a Sunday morning lie in. The frustrations. The sulky lads and lasses when it hadn’t gone well. All of this was forgotten.

The UCA should always salute the masses of its supporters. The parents, the mates, the relatives. Sometimes Grandparents come along. When a Grandparent speaks to a member of the UCA, it is special. The game of football is being passed between generations. Via their Grandchildren. Our players. We all have a passion for it. We really do unite.

And never did it show more than when that trophy was presented to our pint sized captain. Always the smallest player on the field. But he always embodied the spirit of  grass roots football. Determined, tough, talented. Not necessarily a professional footballer of the future. But always a star in my mind.

He lifted it above his head. Even with his arms fully extended, the trophy was only as high as the other players foreheads. And it was a big trophy.

  One team. One set of supporters. But the same passion as at any professional cup final. One reciprocated across the county and beyond at the end of every single season.

One country. One county. One city. One passion.

Another marketing slogan forged on the nation’s sporting fields I reckon.

 

My final season as a member of the UCA saw me involved in another cup final. For the same club me and ‘Cloughie’ lead to the Midland Youth League cup final in the 1990s. However we lost on this occasion. Turns out we needed him, after all.

That’s when I knew it was time to quit. Joking.

I enjoyed this cup final more than any other game as a UCA member in recent memory. Maybe because I knew it would be my last big game. I was determined to enjoy it and not get too stressed out on the touchline. It has happened before, see. It was an exciting match, played in super spirit. A large passionate crowd attended the game. We lost on penalties ultimately.

Our players were gutted at the end, as they say. Sick as parrots, as even more say. One parent requested a picture be taken of the players after the end of the game. The expressions on the faces of the players gave me the answer. The request was declined. We did a photograph a few weeks later after our final league game. I didn’t want the lads to have to face the cameras, and just concentrated on picking them up from their disappointment. Not an easy task, incidentally.

No professional footballer could have been more crestfallen than my players that day. But lads being lads, they picked themselves up over the next few days. By the time we trained again on the following Wednesday the banter and smiles had all returned. Players are lads after all. Full of it.

An experience again shared by many UCA members I’m sure. It’s a difficult job on occasions. However the camaraderie and banter of a good group compensate every time.

Speaking of difficult jobs, I had to pass on my decision to quit to the players and families. I had told the club officials a few weeks prior, and had them to swear to secrecy until I had told the players. This was certainly THE most difficult task I’ve had to do as a UCA member. I’d rehearsed it a thousand times in my head throughout the preceding weeks.

My reasons, some of which I passed on to the players and families, were varied. A mixture of family strains, personal health and tiredness and a changing lifestyle had dictated to me that I couldn’t remain the UCA member I had been for years. All were  sympathetic to my situation and understood my reasoning. To a man. To a woman. To a player.

I was hugely disappointed. However to do the role well you have to give it the maximum commitment possible. All deserve this, from the players and supporters to the club’s organizational committee. The latter are real unsung heroes. The work a club secretary undertakes is huge.

And like all volunteers, they don’t get paid a penny for doing it. It’s done for the love of making the beautiful game available to all.

 

You will notice that very few specifics, for example the names of the clubs I worked for, have been given. This is an appreciation of all unknown coaches. The stories and experiences told here are similar to those of thousands of UCA members. Past and present. It seems inappropriate to identify and recount one individual’s story. The appreciation is of thousands of others. Call it a shared memoir.

The best years of my life. Thank you Leicestershire grass roots football.

And long live the UCA.

Bio:  Paul Matts is the author short stories such as ‘Donny Jackal’, ‘One More Season’ and ‘Revenge can be sweet’. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is to be published in 2019. He promoted live Punk rock shows under the name 101 Productions and has been the guitarist and songwriter for the Incurables. He has also been a grass roots football coach for all his adult life. He lives in Leicester, England with his wife and children. He has recently started work on his second novel. See www.paulmatts.com for more information. And to subscribe to his mailing list and blog.

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The Bench by Paul Matts

She slumps down. On the park bench.

And lets out a loud sigh.

I am sitting on the other end of the same bench. I turn to examine the new arrival.

She immediately bursts into tears.

‘Bollocks. What do I do now?’ is my initial thought.

After composing myself but doing precisely nothing, I turn to the woman sharing my bench. Her tears begin to subside. Maybe I spent too long composing myself.

‘I’m sorry. I had to bury my husband today,’ she explains through the remaining tears.

‘Bollocks, bollocks.’ I think once more to myself. This was not the explanation I was hoping for. Or can cope with.

I muster a weak smile.

But a sympathetic one. Apparently.

‘Thank you. Thank you.’

‘Eh?’ This is my first actual audible verbal contribution to the conversation.

‘For not, for not disappearing.’

A pause.

‘As if I … ‘

‘Most would. You know, a hysterical crying woman plonks herself next to you. And ruins the tranquility of a spring day in Abbey Park.’

‘I wouldn’t blame you if you were to go now.’

What do I do or say? The indecisiveness keeps me firmly planted to the bench. A bench in Abbey Park, Leicester. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. Which to be honest, I do. Move, that is. I cannot deal with this right now. She meanwhile, for the first time since the ‘conversation’ began, averts her eyes from mine.

‘He’d been ill for eighteen months. He fell whilst out riding his bike on Valentines day in 2017. Straight into a coma. Never came out of it.’

‘Oh. I’m so sorry.’ I can’t say a lot else really.

‘It’s not your fault.’ Her eyes return to mine.

‘Thank you for not leaving. I just need to vent.’

‘No problem.’

‘I don’t know why I’m like this.’

‘You’ve just buried you’re husband. His funeral was today, I’m guessing?’

‘Yes. Today.’

‘Then being like you are is completely understandable. Nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘I know, I know. But I really lost him on Valentines Day in 2017.‘

I have no follow up to this either.

So a uncomfortable pause ensues. However my eyes look deeply into her’s.

‘He’s been basically dead ever since then. So I’ve had plenty of time to get ready for it.’ She bursts into tears again.

‘But it was always going to be a hard day. A difficult day, when you bury a loved one,’ I say.

You see, I have had experience here. More than the woman could ever imagine. Recent experience at that. My name is Rob Munroe, incidentally.

Only a month has passed since the love of my life was suddenly struck down.

‘Maybe today will help you get closure. If he has been lost to you all this time, then the day you bury him will be emotional. Then things will move on a little. Slowly.’

Her watery eyed stare becomes more intense. She sniffs, and wipes her eyes three times. It seems to work effectively. The tears subside once more.

Something has started. Whether I want it or not. Whether she needs it or not. I know this feeling.

She lets out another sigh. And puts both hands down on her knees.

‘I have to go. I have nothing in for tea.’

‘Okay. Take good care of yourself.’

She wipes away another tear. One that ran from the corner of her eye right down the arc of her cheek. A real big blobby one.

‘Thank you for talking to me,’ she says, getting up from the bench.

I rise up with her.

‘No problem,’ I reply. I think whether or not it would be appropriate to shake her hand.

She solves the conundrum by leaning forward and hugging me. Just quickly. Nothing that even remotely lingered.

‘We are complete strangers, after all,’ I think to himself.

And she is gone. I sit back down on the bench. I watch as she disappears into the mid afternoon sun. She walks on with her head straight ahead.

If nothing else the meeting was a welcome distraction. Only a month had passed since my own personal tragedy. Not too far removed from what the woman had experienced. In so far as it involved the death of the love of my life.

Assuming her husband was the love of her life of course.

The big difference is that her husband took eighteen months to die.

Angela’s death was instant. Killed by some total twat who was late for work one day.

‘Is that Mr Munroe?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m afraid I have some bad news. Can I come and see you?’

Silence. The voice asked me where I was. I was at home. He asked me my address. I told him. That voice was with me in person ten minutes later.

‘Angela has been involved in an accident. I’m sorry to say she died immediately at the scene.’

Those words, delivered by the police officer in mid March, have been the only things bouncing around my head ever since. It is now mid April.

Apart from wanting revenge on the total twat, that is. I have his name. And address. Simon Tranger. He lives near the university across the city.

He has been arrested, and is awaiting trial.

I now have a dilemma. Whether or not to save the justice system of England the time and cost of interviewing and sentencing Simon Tranger. When I could impose the requisite punishment in about five seconds flat.

This is all I have has had on my mind. This form of closure had been decided when I buried Angela. By me. You see, I am indeed now an expert when it comes to acquiring what closure is needed when you bury a loved one.

When burying THE loved one. Of your life.

And I feel quite comfortable and more than qualified in passing on advice to the woman on the bench. Once I’d composed himself anyway. And got over the shock of having a hysterical crying woman plonk herself next to me on that very bench.

Her words, not mine.

I get to my feet and head off into the sparse spring crowd. An ice cream van playing, trying to entice its first early custom of the season. Kids running on the grass. Being chased by parents. Lads playing football. With jumpers for goalposts. Happy noises. Usually. To most.

I feel numb though. And have been feeling so since the words of the policeman a month ago. Angela’s death. Today’s distraction has been the only, if only mild, respite.

I haven’t gone back to work. I haven’t trained with the football team. I have missed the two concerts I had tickets for. The intention was for me and Angela to attend both of them together.

No chance. I haven’t even put any music on at home. No Spotify, no vinyl, no radio. I used to moan over Angela’s decision to stream music on Spotify. As opposed to purchasing a vinyl record from the independent record shop in the city. Which I do. Not a real moan of course. Just a grumpy middle aged man moan. Not to be taken seriously.

Oh how I wish I could moan about this to her now.

I have no appetite. For food nor drink. I have hardly eaten, much to Mum’s concern.

‘You have to eat Robbie. You have to maintain yourself. Do it for Angie’s sake.’

‘She ain’t here Mum. And never will be. That’s a stupid thing to say.’

Those were the last words I said to Mum. She’s only worried about me. Like Mum’s do. Imagine if this happened to you. Or maybe it has? I don’t know. Your Mum would be worried.

That was a week ago. She hasn’t rang since. I knew I’d upset her. However I don’t care. As stated earlier, I’m numb. The words and behaviour of others are all a blur.

I mentioned ‘home’ earlier. You know, where me and Angie used to live together. Now it’s not a home. How can it be? She ain’t there. Like the woman on the bench, I have no food in. I am capable in this department. I can cook. I’m capable of doing the weekly shop.

Except I don’t. I don’t care. I am, to repeat, numb. Numb.

Before I know it I arrive ‘home’. Which is my/our flat. Fortunately, I suppose, we hadn’t lived together that long. Only about three months. So it’s not like we have a lifetime of memories beyond the front door.

It just seems that way.

I drop the keys on the coffee table after I unlock the front door. The sound of the impact as they hit the surface echoes around the empty room. The cold room. I took all the pictures down from the walls on the day she died. Now it looks dull. It also looks numb.

It reciprocates my mood.

So the meeting with the woman on the bench was a temporary distraction. Maybe it helped her with a bit of closure, also.

Maybe she will seek out someone to blame for her husband’s death and plan to kill them?

Her own Simon Tranger.

20181105_101720Bio:  Paul Matts is the author short stories such as ‘Donny Jackal’, ‘One More Season’ and ‘Household Names’. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is to be published in 2019. His web site www.paulmatts.com is online in January 2019. He promoted live Punk rock shows under the name 101 Productions and has been the guitarist and songwriter for several bands in England, including the Incurables. He has also been a grass roots football coach for all his adult life. He lives in Leicester, England with his wife and children. He has recently started work on his second novel.