Whilst returning some suitcases to our garage at Randall Towers the other day, I had a cursory look at some of the other stuff we store on the upper floor. Some cricket gear, photographs, Christmas decorations, a box with 00 gauge rail track, old toy trains … and a scruffy red and white fabric football, the size of a large grapefruit. Scuffed and worn, it took me back to the days when we lived in our terraced house and played Kitchen Football.
The ‘teams’ usually consisted of one player on each side: me for one team and Master Johnny on the other. The pitch was our kitchen, 24 feet long with a wooden laminated floor. The goals were the doorways; one leading to the hallway, the other an opening into our conservatory, which happened to be at least twice the width of the ‘hallway goal’. There would be ‘halves’ or ‘periods’ of 5 minutes each way to ensure fairness. The ball could be played off the kitchen units, preferably the plinth, or players could use their skill to dribble past their opponent before slotting home. The threshold counted as the goal line and standard FIFA laws were followed.
We first played this game when Master Johnny was around 7 years old. It was something we both enjoyed immensely. Some of these games took place when Lady Barton St Mary was trying to prepare tea, when things could get particularly fraught. Being caught in the middle of a challenge or using her for a ‘one-two’ when bearing down on goal could result in a serious reprimand; this could add to the spice of the game as Lady BSM became referee and at liberty to hand out cautions.
Although there were occasions when she would be part of a team, alongside Miss Katherine or the two Georges, one from up the road and the other The Sexton’s son. These games were often noisy, contentious and high scoring. Many matches would end 24-22, with a rematch promised. Players would be tired and sweaty, often having to refresh themselves with an orange squash or, in my case, a beer.
We had a few mishaps, however; very often, the ball would travel through the air. Although there was a ‘no over head height’ rule, this could be flouted, since children took this to mean over my head. This meant that now and again the ball would knock over a coffee cup or a glass; once, after a particularly hard shot from me, it ricocheted off the conservatory wall and into a saucepan full of boiling potatoes, but there were two very memorable damages caused by kitchen football.
One day, Master Johnny, aged 7, approached us as we sat watching TV in the sitting room.
“Have you seen that something’s happened to the kitchen clock?” he enquired.
We said that we hadn’t and followed Master Johnny back into the kitchen to see what he was talking about. Sure enough, our large faux vintage kitchen clock had a large piece of its glass face missing, obviously shattered. Lady Barton St Mary was intrigued.
“Oh! How on earth did that happen?” she asked aloud, at which point, Master Johnny burst into tears, explaining he’d been practising kitchen football when an errant shot had taken out the clock above the conservatory entrance. He could never hide anything and of course, he was forgiven, since this was kitchen football and these things happen.
The second incident happened during the warm up for a game of kitchen football. Master Johnny was doing some stretching exercises, holding onto the edge of the kitchen worktop and swinging his legs as high as he could, straight out and toes pointed. At this point, Miss Katherine, being the older sibling, decided to have a go at this herself, being a rather proficient dancer. Second swing in, her standing leg slipped on the slick laminate floor she flew into the air and landed heavily on her hand with a loud, painful yell. After a couple of hours in A&E, she emerged with a plaster cast on her broken left wrist. She had her SATS exams the following week, she informed the doctor.
“Good job it’s your left hand!” he exclaimed, beaming.
“I’m left handed,” she explained.
It was the worst kitchen football injury to occur during its history.
When Master Johnny was 10 and at the peak of his kitchen football career, we moved into Randall Towers, with its gothic spires and rolling landscape. The closest we could get to a pitch was the great hall, with its large, worn flagstones, but we lacked a goal at one end and, quite frankly, the staircase and other paraphernalia made the game difficult. Master Johnny was ready to play rugby and real football and cricket, he could communicate with his friends on his X-box. So, kitchen football had reached the end of the season, and the kitchen football ended up in storage.
Both Master Johnny and Miss Katherine are away at the moment. Miss Katherine is bound for Spain with her university dance group; Master Johnny is in Australia at the start of a 3 month tour. They’ve grown up and are moving on, experiencing new and exciting things, learning to make their way in the world, a world they’ve both seen more of than I ever have.
Kitchen football is a distant memory, the squeals of excitement, the laughter, hot, red sweaty faces, pulled jumpers and shirts, pushes and hugs. The little scruffy red and white football sits waiting for the day when another season begins. It waits for another generation of children to be lifted from its resting place in the storage room and put back into action.
This may not be for many years to come, if at all, but if it does, I’ll make a prediction.
I can imagine Lady Barton St Mary, hands on hips, looking down at a small person and saying
“Let me get this right. Are you saying that Grandad has broken the clock playing football?”