The pace of circling runners has now stopped,
Their anticlockwise ringing of the hill
Completed for another Saturday.
Instead the calls of coaches to their boys,
By name, by numbers printed bright
On neon jackets, home strips, away strips
And the thud of leather on leather, the thud
Of childish pleasure in the swinging foot,
The leaping leg, the spring, the catch, the cry,
And sliding tackles scuff the turf with scars,
The boyish shallow trenches of the wars
They live to fight. For disappointment lasts
But fragments of a minute, not so long
To sour a day as it can do for men.
Instead, with every burst of rivalry,
Each charge up the touchline, each desperate chance,
The game stays living, changing, bright and sweet
Like May sun out from cloud and in again.
‘Come in now, please,’ he calls, the giant there,
A man and half a man to eight-year-olds,
The beauty of his giving as they shoot,
He crouches in the belly of the goal,
The little, four-foot goal, and bids them try
To pass him, knock it in the net and score,
And they begin to learn themselves and find
The pleasure of that leather-smacking thud,
The swinging foot, the leaping leg, the spring,
His catch and cry the affirmation of
Each boy’s good value, his name, his number.
Sometimes spoken – ‘Diego!’ Ringing out loud,
The passers-by and balconeers all share
The pleasure of a boy’s attempt on goal.
Sometimes unspoken – just that look or pat
As Mitchell sidesteps, taps it in the net,
Arry nutmegs coach and all the eight-year-olds
Cheer both. The older group have finished now
And moved to dribbling, easing bright blue globes
Against the gentle slope of the park’s lie
Upon the hill, up to the cones, then down,
Stretching slightly to keep up with them.
Beyond, a trainer spars and kickboxes
With today’s customer, who wants to learn
For stage, or screen, or just simple fun
Of throwing punches in the morning air.
This richness, more than leisure, more than just
An occupation for the weekend hours,
How we enjoy it, but to tell the truth
It’s undervalued. God gives peace to men
And all these boys not marching, trained to die,
Assume this is normality. Not so,
In history, how rare this chance to play.
And I can see it as a prophecy
Of dwelling in the Kingdom without end.