Today, I did something that I have not done since my early teens. Yes, today, my friends, I trod in dogshit! The things us Londoners have to countenance in the name of getting to work! Despite the initial apparent downside (and, believe me, there are many – including the tell-tale Snickers wrapper that subsequently stuck to the underside of my left shoe), it wasn’t all bad. As I stood in my socks wiping the half trodden remains on the office curtains, my gaze was snared by the distant dance of a group of lads playing footy in the neighbouring park and I pondered the impact the ubiquitous Richard has had on modern life and, perhaps more importantly, on our great Isle’s blessed national game.
Now, common folklore prescribes that it was once feasible to walk across Clapham Common in a straight line. Half frazzled bar flies in the many dives and boozers that now surround the common still lament the day their noble descendents would return home from swatting uprisings in the dominions and take their privileged offspring for an enjoyable stroll or worry-free kickabout on ‘that yonder green’. No more, sunshine! Nowadays, we see entangled lovers wander off the twilit paths on to the grass and it is a half dozen steps before whooosh! they are straight into an impromptu Torvill and Dean routine, slipping and sliding like ducks on ice.
These piles, no – let’s get it right – these veritable heaps of dogshit, have not gone unnoticed by the lofty inhabitants of the plush suites at Lambeth Borough Council HQ. After months of furrow-browed deliberation by the members of a local council think-tank, they finally wheeled out the Clapham Common Shit Patrol, the essence of which is as follows: some homesick Bangladeshi in a fluorescent jumpsuit (pining the rich aroma of the Dhakar slums) kangaroos about the Common on a four-wheeled, industrial strength Cack-Vac sucking up turds by the kilo. Charming. Now there’s a job we’d all love. Might make for a few interesting conversations at future job interviews (“Ah, Mr. Ramasurwatee, I see you were an employee of Lambeth Borough Council. Would you care to outline your duties and responsibilities in your last position? “Dogshit!“)
Anyhow, a distinguished young fellow named Ayers it was who was responsible for my last brush with dogshit. (Dogshit and I have been happy leading our lives pretty much in parallel since then, our trajectories through space and time not meeting again until today.)
Back then, we were kicking a ball about on the green, playing heads and volleys (do kids still play that?) and I was manning the net.
“This one’s for the ‘keeper,” he bellowed from deep on the right wing, stealthily rolling the ball through an ochre puddle of Scooby Doo’s finest blend.
Ayers was a foot taller and two stone heavier than the rest of us, captain of the school XV, wanted to play front row for England (which, I think, he eventually did, against the Iraqis in the heat and sand around Baghdad) and the keen purveyor of merciless hidings so, as I learned that day, there was a tacit agreement among the kids that he was allowed to roll the ball in dogshit as much as he seemed fit.
So what of dogshit and the beautiful game? Here’s the theory. Post war affluence led to many more people keeping dogs, and a quick glance over a recent publication of the Department for Environment, Dogshit Division (Post War Inner City Turd Density: A Practical Survey, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, GBP 2.50 – comes in a fine brown envelope) confirms a rising trend in dogshit on the capital’s open spaces (not to mention pavements) in the immediate post-war era. But instead of hunting out greens of lower cack density, the enterprising kiddies of the age faced the rising threat head-on incorporating the brown dollops in their footy games. By the early sixties kids had become highly proficient in not only skinning a pack of barking, nipping defenders, but also concurrently running the gauntlet of the dogshit slalom, and a new era in ball control was born.
It wasn’t until the appearance of the hardened little brats of the Thatcher years that indifference dealt a severe blow to the English game.
Do you think there has been a player to have borne the revered three lions on his chest in the last 30 years who hasn’t heard yelled from the sideline “For Christ’s sake, son, it’s only a bit of dogshit – get on with it!” I’m sure you too can imagine a teenage Shearer hearing this familiar cry after falling behind a mounting attack to cautiously examine the brown smudge on his forehead; or the crowd singing it in unison to a schoolboy Shilts as he appeals to the bench for a clean pair of gloves. But it is precisely this indifference to the omnipresent Eartha that has made the English winger a present day dying breed. Today’s rec. ground superstars just plough on through it (“it’s only a bit of dogshit – get on with it!“) instead of nimbly negotiating the turd gauntlet. Gone are the Heighways, the Barneses, the Waddles and the other masters of the deft touch that keeps your kit white; we just don’t produce them like that any longer. Today, if the ball looks like it’s stuck to a winger’s foot, then it probably is, Snickers wrapper style!
And there you have it flawlessly presented in black and white! If the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (as Wellington astutely proffered) then the 1966 World Cup was won negotiating the turds on the playing fields of England.