There was a reticent wee man at primary school. Steven Vickers, a name that was never said without an addendum, usually a refrain like this – Steven Vickers, sh***y knickers.
He smoked at eight, a stunted growth. Sported black eyes, kicked in the face by no sleep. His IQ affixed to his height. Just laughed when spoken to. Teachers hated him. He sat alone, in a seat adrift from the rest of us in the classroom.
But then came a game of football. Warp speed, the wee dart was his name. An enterprise of zigzag, torpedo shot in those tiny feet. Vickers burst through with the bladder and buried goal after goal. It was slaughter. Jimmy Johnstone was playing at Glasgow Celtic, five feet two. If someone would just give Vickers vegetables for growth and hide his fags, Celtic would sign him. It was his ball, the playground game. Vickers took that red bladder with him everywhere, bigger than his head it was. The teacher made him put it in the bin during class.
One day, a brute named Carn, head in the trees, chopped Vickers. The wee man spiralled; his roll was like a wreck. The knee was bloody, the black eyes blacker. Snorting aloft, Carn said: “Take that ya wee ****!”
Dropping the bladder on to the half-volley, Vickers cracked it, and Carn felt like the earth struck by an asteroid. He wobbled, the ground spun, he went down and Vickers was on him like a rat stripping flesh. Carn was crying, his nerves were bare, Vickers devoured him with surges of stomps and scratches.
The wee man spiralled; his roll was like a wreck.
“I’m no sh***y knickers!” he screamed. I couldn’t remember him saying anything before that.
I started playing serious football at high school. All of our team had been fed vegetables by our parents. No one smoked. No one wore platform shoes. The healthiest among us, guys who went to parties, all had girls. Our league rivals looked like us. But cup games could draw us away to places I had only seen on buses, remote towns, roads to exile.
Saturday came. Ice on the windows of the bus, frost in the atmosphere, we headed up from the valley.
The opponents were waiting at the gate. Few had been fed vegetables by their parents. I was on the left wing. The right back was one of their wee men. During the game he relaxed with a smoke. He needed an ashtray. He tried to use my leg.
“I don’t think that’s allowed,” I said.
He said nothing.
They were rubbish. We killed them. And we were chased from the field. I looked through the bus window to these wee men, these wee football players with their own free rules.
“Get tae f***!” posted via the V-sign, came our way. We headed back to the valley and left them above us in the clouds.
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