2. The Juggler’s Secret

Cobham All Stars 7 Dorking Derelicts 17

The Juggler rose early, as was his habit, loosened the top button of his cotton pyjamas, nosed back the curtains and raised an eyebrow at the grey morning. The Derelicts were the warm-up act for the Ones at noon, he thought, and Cobham was no place for the faint-hearted.

But today The Juggler could feel there was something different in the air. Something positive.

He’d been sidelined last week with a squeaky shoulder valve or some such nonsense, and that sod Mozza had been unrelenting in his mockery. “You haven’t got shoulders Gaz, hahahaha,” he’d laughed. Which was ironic, The Juggler thought, coming from a lump with increasingly no neck.

What Mozza didn’t know was that The Juggler had been hiding a secret. As well as the shoulder pads, warmy under shorts and knee braces, he’d taken to playing with electronic false hands hidden beneath his gloves, which was why at times – very embarrassing times – he’d seem to be in complete control of the ball and it would suddenly ping up into the air as a loose connection made a crucial digit move in an inappropriate manner. Sometimes it resulted in a knock on. Sometimes worse. Much, much worse. And how he hated that Roll Up Roll Up song they all hummed at him.

But on Saturday morning as the gentle tones of The Carpenters on Radio Galaxy seeped through the house and the smell of waffles drifted temptingly by, he made a resolution. He would not only spend extra time selecting several neatly pressed leisure shirts, carefully iron three pairs of slacks and pack his bulging kit bag neatly, he would also adjust the settings of the cat gut tendons on the rather expensive prosthetic hands.

Having fiddled with the wiring, he slipped the mitts on over his own sweaty, excited little hands and felt the electricity pulse from wrist to fingernail. Suddenly he felt like the Incredible Hulk once again. And he felt that nothing, absolutely nothing, was beyond his modest footballing capabilities. And that included twatting The Cobham. He permitted himself a wry smile as he snuck the hands back into his kitbag.


Such rituals were playing themselves out across the county. The endlessly vain second row Tap with the hair setting lotion, his endlessly thirsty partner in the row Ginge with the Guinness, industrious Rodders busying himself amid a cloud of dust, The Count dabbling with his Boots Home Blood Oxygenation Kit . All were involved in the minor distractions we employ to “zone in” ahead of a game. Some days we get distracted from our rituals and, well, we all know what can happen then.

On Saturday, however, all rituals went to plan and we achieved critical mass before kick-off in a raucous dressing room and proceeded to set about The Cobham with purpose and guile.

We must have looked ready for business too, judging by the diversionary tactics of the oppo dwarf who told us in all seriousness that they were trying out a new front row combo and weren’t sure they were up to the task. The three of them had about 200 years collective coalface service between them, backed by two of the finer – and certainly bigger – second row units on the circuit. Not up to the task, my *rse.

The Dorking scrum, by contrast, was impressive. Newks and Bouncy found their way alongside yours truly and met little resistance in the front row, while the crafty wheeze of bringing the Junior Wolf from centre to jump at two instead of the “lumpen” Pomf  (“I’m not used to lifting that in the twos,” cried Newks) brought a welcome degree of parity to the line-out – even if Bouncy lacked the confidence to launch the Brighton & Hove Albion ball into the lineout. “That,” said Scud the ancient hooker later pointing at his chest, “is best left to the experts, mate.” Nobody had a clue what he was on about.

Behind the engine of the pack, Rodley directed proceedings smoothly until getting caught short and having to be replaced pro tem by Raymondo. And soon we had scored three unanswered tries. The Count, with his blood oxygen levels set to ‘supernatural’, finished off a fab move involving wonderful handwork by, inter alia, Nozza, Carlo, Pomf and others to touchdown under the posts for Rodley to convert. He then, in a lung-busting effort, retrieved his own chip and chase to score wide out which was painful enough to watch, let alone execute. And when Carlo and Junior Wolf combined to set the Light Brigade free on the right wing, we could barely believe our eyes as he ghosted over to put us 17-nil up at the break.

The second act involved a good deal of grunt and rear-guard action resulting in scuffages, bruises, blood and contusions, with Tap, Skip and Gez leading the contest as no-one gave an inch. In fact by now the Cobham pack were travelling backwards at speed. They conjured up a consolation score, but it was never going to be for the Cobham boys.

“Not meant to be,” thought The Juggler after a fine game in which the magic hands held firm and his all-action game – darting runs, clever kicks and tackles – returned to the extent that he was blatantly taken out long after delivering a deft pass. The sound of the air leaving his lungs as he was pile-driven into the dirt left him even more confused than usual.

“It’s the dangerous players,” he mused, in his semi-concussed state, “who most often find themselves the target of foul play.”

After the final whistle the All Stars, a good bunch as always, were gracious – even though defeat for them, it seems, is a rare event.

“Of course, we were missing about six of our best players today,” said a much older Cobham bloke, notable for not being on the pitch, in a rather resentful tone. Yada yada yada…

By this time, of course, the laughter in the Derelicts dressing room was at full volume, so nobody noticed as The Juggler quietly slipped the magic hands back into his kitbag.

Horsham at home on Saturday, don’t skip the rituals. Support always appreciated.

Squad: Newks, Bouncy, Mozza, Tap, Ginge, Pomf, The Count, Gez, Rodders, Raymondo, Delight, Carlo, Wolfie Jnr, Nozza, The Juggler, Jules, Skip, Scud, Wolfie Snr, Paul Newman

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Job done: The Juggler in his cotton PJs