'Get stuck in, Colin!'
'Get back, Colin!'
'Get forward, Colin!'
'Keep going, Colin!'
'Good tackle, Colin!'
'Go on, Colin!'
'Goal!! Yes!! Goalie-goalie-GOOAAALLLL!!'
'Well played, Colin! Well played, Angels!'
Colin 'Colly' Flower, the Angels F.C. striker, trotted across to the car that was waiting for him. He slid into the passenger seat.
'Well played, son,' croaked the man at the wheel. He sounded as if he'd been shouting a lot.
'Thanks, Dad,' said Colly.
'Yep, you played well today. Really well.'
The car moved off. Colly tucked his sports bag between his feet. Wait for it, wait for it, he thought. Any minute now.
'Oh, yes,' repeated Mr Flower. 'Really well.'
A gap appeared in the stream of traffic passing along the road outside the park gates. Colly's dad swung the car out and accelerated.
Here it comes, thought Colly. Except for ..."
'Except for ...'
Colly's heart sank. It was always the same after a match. He would get into the car. His dad would tell him how well he'd played. But then, inside a minute, he'd be saying the two words that made Colly feel as though he wanted to put his head under a heavy blanket. (His own head or his dad's, it didn't much matter which.).
Colly decided to get it over and done with quickly. 'Except for what?' he said.
'Except for,' said Colly's dad, 'that time you lost the ball in the centre circle.'
'Lost the ball? When?'
'In the thirty-eighth minute, it was. I checked my watch. Their midfielder tackled you just as you were turning.'
'That was the only tackle I lost all game, dad!'
'True, true. But it put them on the attack. They could have scored.' Mr Flower glanced Colly's way. 'That's it, son. Just thought I'd mention it.'
Colly waited. "Well ... and then there was ..." usually came next.
'Well ... and then there was that free-kick of yours that scraped the bar. I thought you should really have scored there.'
'I scored two afterwards, didn't I?' said Colly, irritably.
'True, true. Good 'uns they were, too. But if you'd banged in that free-kick instead of scraping the bar - well, you'd have ended up with a hat-trick, wouldn't you? Now, I was watching you closely. You leaned back just a fraction as you hit it. Result - you got your foot under it, see? You need to be over the ball. Get that head down, son.'
'Nothing else, then?' asked Colly between gritted teeth.
'Nope. Not a thing.'
Colly saw that they'd just turned into their road. That could only mean "Apart from ..."
'Apart from ...' began Mr Flower.
'What? What? Apart from what? squawked Colly, his temperature rising.
'That sloppy pass.'
'What sloppy pass! I didn't make a sloppy pass from start to finish!'
'Yes, you did.'
'When? When?' shouted Colly.
'During the kick-in before the game. When you, Rhoda ONeill and Lionel Murgatroyd were passing it in a triangle. You went to chip it to Rhoda and hit it too hard and low. She had to run and get it back from that dog. Remember?
Colly sighed. 'I remember.'
It was then, as Mr Flower burbled on about relaxing into chipped passes, that Colly came to his decision. He loved having his dad watch him. Rain or shine, hard frost or howling gale, he was always there, the most enthusiastic supporter on the touch-line. But these inquests on the way home were driving him bonkers. They had to stop.
The question was: how was he going to make it happen?
Illustrations (c) Nick Abadzis, 1997-2000