Few words chill a Bomber more than “I’ve got your back”.
They give false hope that you can advance, that you can be stranded in an isolated spot confronting the opposition and not imperil the team, that you are more than one, not alone, defending the bastion.
The Bombers have never played a competitive game on Boyd Wilson field. A few in their callow youth pretended to train there when the grass, stones, and mud made the Somme look like a billiard table.
Several trained women’s teams there and watched them give their all on a Sunday morning. The football was probably only a cover.
So a bright Saturday afternoon, a pristine plastic pitch, final game of the season. What could be better ?
Another five players for a start. Another opposition other than the table topping Turtles. We could have done without the emaciated streak of whispy beard and the big boned, hoydenish provincial throwing Frisbee at one end of the ground.
We could have done without the subs bench resembling a triage clearing station. Hansie managed to match Dutchie’s record for self injury before the game started. Marky Mark puffed on his concession to technology – an electric fag.
The first 10 minutes passed uneventfully as the Turtles struggled to agree on a game plan about who was due to score first.
In true Bombers’ fashion we took the decision out of their hands. JB uttered the fateful words – “I’ve got your ….. Assistant Gardener advanced beyond his near post to confront an attacker only to see the ball whipped past him to connect with JB’s raised leg.. from a metre with no keeper not even JB misses.
As the Bombers’s poet laureate, JB at times mixes Ted Hughes, Larkin, and Tennyson in unequal measures. “OK Bombers,” he intoned. “They still haven’t scored.” True but that would change.
A few minutes later a fast break through the defence saw a visibly slow Assistant Gardener attempt to beat the striker to the ball. Two-nil.
Three came with a looping ball top corner. Four came from a goal mouth melee. Five came like a mysterious child in a Stephen King story .. it turned up out of nowhere, nobody remembers it parentage only its malevolence.
Half time came.
It would be unjust to ignore the other Bombers. Endeavour is the middle name of every Bomber defender.
A sort of recruitment programme has unearthed several potential Bombers with skill, courage and nous. Dave with No Name fears little, says little, but Kipling-like keeps his head. He joined the triage station. The others are still pondering the intricacies of the Bosman ruling, and were nowhere to be seen but for our Ulster Pixie, Graham.
He knows hell when he sees it. He worked for an Australian investment company.
With 12 bodies, few of them abled, Assistant Gardener gave the necessary – ‘For fucks sake keep it below 10 and let’s see if we can score a couple.”
The second half whistle came like a call to leave the comfort of the trenches and walk across no-man’s land.
But a little Irish magic transformed a Bomber foray into their area into a goal.
Son of God, larruped a hopeful shot or two goalwards. Chromosome roamed and battled, twisted and shouted, hurled and harried. “Not me, them, you plonker,” cursed Smut. Carlos, who most of the season has been the go-to man, was spent.
The dozen Turtles on the sidelines chilled their craft beers and cheered as JB and Assistant Gardener proved old-fashioned manners are not dead, allowing an opponent to sneak a ball away from them and tuck it away for six.
Young people are not always as stupid as they often sound, look and act. The steady stream of students passing around the ground nary gave a second look to the game. Occasionally one would stop to throw back a ball that had whistled over the Bombers’ goal like a North Korean test missile.
The Frisbee throwers were still annoyingly at the other end.
Seven followed six as in an Indo-Arabic numbering system.
But Ulster Man, nourished on the Troubles and hardened by corporate incompetence, launched another attack and rifled (small calibre) one into the corner for our second.
An on the pitch strategy session is unheard ofamong Bombers, but Nintendo, Ragg Boy, Vespa and JB held an impromptu war council.
The words “No Pasaran” could be read on their collective lips. The Turtle didn’t know what hit him, but he got 5.7 for the tumbling, and a free kick.
A penalty came and was despatched. Eight.
Nintendo copped one full in the face and retired bleeding to the sidelines, only to re-emerge minutes later and make it 12 Bombers on the field. Ten minutes at the end of the season who was going to notice. Apart from Assistant Gardener, no-one else but JB. But 12 couldn’t do what 11 couldn’t.
A couple of heroic saves, a curse or three. And a final whistle on season 38.
The 20 Turtles sportingly shook the hands of the 14 vanquished, muttering in practised condescension, “Well played”.
The final chapter of the season. Game number 666, but it was no revelation. Perhaps only in Hell could a host of Turtles vanquish a crew of Bombers.
The Frisbees continued at the other end.
Played 18; won 6; drew 2; lost 9 – points 20 .. goal difference unkindly negative.
We faced the two imposters of success and failure – we’re still working out who they are.
See you next season we all said at the Backbencher. We’d better get a new strip to see us into the 40th year. I think we just might.