Here comes nippy midfielder Ian McMillan running down the wing, keeping the ball at his feet with a combination of skill, flair and a deep knowledge of the physics of spherical objects. He approaches the goalkeeper and suddenly time seems to stand still; in fact it not only stands still, it leans against a wall, frozen, contemplative. It’s often like this in top-flight sport, Ian McMillan observes silently, when the quotidian fades and the mystical seems to intrude. He’s heard David Beckham say the same in the chip shop queue.
There are so many decisions for the nippy midfielder to make: does he try to chip the goalkeeper? Does he blast the ball as hard as he can in a simple but highly effective way? Does he get close to the keeper and tempt him into making a rash challenge so that a penalty is awarded which the nippy midfielder steps forward to take, sending the keeper in the wrong direction, sending him to Rotherham when the ball is aimed at Doncaster?
Ian McMillan runs more quickly towards the goal and the moment of glory is approaching like the X19 bus coming through the mist, and then his wife says something which cuts through the air like one of those sharp knives you chop carrots with. “You’ve started to run like a grandad,” she says. If fantasy is a balloon then this is the moment the balloon goes pffffft.
We’re not at Wembley; we’re not at Oakwell. We’re in the back garden and not-so-nippy winger Ian McMillan is playing football with his grandson Thomas. Ian kicks the ball feebly and Thomas saves it easily. Ian turns to his wife. “What do you mean, running like a grandad?” he asks, his voice squeaking a little with exasperation and the fact that he’s a little, just a little, out of breath.
“You hold your arms up to your chest like this,” she says, imitating a baby kangaroo, “and your legs go like this” and she does a little shuffling, stumbling jog of the kind that nervous skaters do the first time on the ice. Thomas joins in. “Yes, you run like this,” and he runs slowly and painfully, saying the words “hominy, hominy, hominy” presumably to imitate the sound of creaking joints and heaving chest. In a tree, a crow laughs and takes off.
I laugh it off but I’m mortally wounded, cut to the quick, or in my case, cut to the slow. In my head I’m fit and fast, I’m not Brian Glover in Kes.
I get the ball and now I try to run as unlike a grandad as possible, which means that I end up running like a toddler shifting his tantrum up to fourth gear. Aware of the observation about my arms being held close to my chest, I swing them like a member of Rubovian Ceremonial Palace Guard. I attempt to sprint like a member of the Bolshoi Ballet about to complete a double lift with a principal dancer. I try not to make any noise that sounds like “hominy hominy hominy.”
My wife and Thomas look at me for a second and then laugh so much I think they will hurt themselves. “Let’s go inside and play Monopoly,” I say. “Hominy, hominy, hominy.”