The loneliness of the non-league linesman

October 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

First alarm clock goes off. Snooze. Second goes off. Awaken. Stretch. Shit, shower, shave. Last night’s ironing crisp and fragrant. Flag rolled neatly and tied with a bow; shorts, shirt, socks, all pressed. Kit into the bag, bag into the car. Kiss for the missus and then on the road.

that Christmas unwrapping all the presents Match annual thank you remote controlled car thank you each one not the right one scarf chocolate coins sportscar Top Trumps thank you it isn’t here that was the last present smiling so as not to cry

FA Trophy game. Heading into London, Dulwich. The Hamlet at home to Hastings United. Check the nets and shake the hands. Sun clear and cold over Champion Hill. Faint breeze toys with your flag. Shuttle up and down the line, crab-like, heels click-clicking. One-nil Hamlet! Not your end. Disregard and focus. Watch the line.

what’s this one more present they were hiding it bastards there it is there it is thin and long and hidden there’s the paper there goes the paper there is it seventeen by thirteen quartered shout thanks run to the garden stand on the edge gaze impassively across the grass across the line straighten arm raise the flag offside

One-one. Onside. Fine header, back to halfway. Up and down, up and down, clickity-clickity-clickity. Flag! Throw-in, home team. Flag! Throw-in, visiting team. Flag! Free-kick, visiting team. Ref is young and strutting, likes to be seen. Got his gestures from TV. But keeps his cards in his pocket. Flag! Throw-in, home team. Adjust socks. Untuck and retuck shirt. Flag!

practising in the gloaming up and down the line dad painted in the garden push off right foot click heels plant left push off right up and down faster faster slower flag! offside getting dark inside for tea watching Match of the Day poor weekend simple offside missed off to bed sleeping in black pyjamas under red and yellow quartered sheets holding flag dreaming white paint and green grass

Check watch. Check other watch. Nod happily, half-time. Glass of barley water and a cheeky digestive, back out into the diminishing sun. Long shadows tear holes in the pitch. Away team neat and tidy but home team sparking. Ball sent forward – onside! Cross floats and dies across the six-yard-box, striker contorts, falls short. Chance gone begging.

first professional game terrifying crowd chatty decisions good unpopular but good handshake with manager then again the next week and the week after game on game up and down crabwise up the divisions clickity-click side to side shuttling higher impressing those who count matches get bigger handshakes get firmer crowds get larger louder

Counter attack is swift and brutal. One-two. Crowd groan.

the big match FA cup semi final Villa Park live on telly dad there dad proud game tight up and down long ball chipped forward striker free striker free flag stays down flag stays down AND THE FLAG STAYS DOWN goal one-nil yards off yards off he was yards off blind fucker fuck you blind wanker shocking decision didn’t get final crabwise back down the divisions clickity-shit

Hamlet pressing. Crowd agitated, sarcastic, abusive, despondent, drunk. Hamlet failing. Hamlet faltering. Hamlet going out. Hamlet pushing down the left, ball right by the byline. Inches away from you. A short pass, another, a tackle. Mistimed. Flag! Free-kick, home team. Check watch. Check other watch. A stillness descends.

side to side up the leagues and side to side back down a life lived in one dimension elevated then relegated back down the divisions like a leaf in the wind drifting back down to this gentle autumn afternoon the chilly sunlight the chirping of the birds and the chortling of the crowd and the hiss of the carwash and this one moment of perfect peace

Ball into the box. Delivery a thing of beauty, begging, gasping, crying out to be planted into the net. Flashing header. Yelps of approval, cheers, applause. And you, flag down, head down, sprinting back to the halfway line. Two-two. Game over, game on.

from the back garden to Villa Park to Champion Hill I walk the line

Sleep, and dream. White paint and green grass.


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