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Playground Football

It's called "Playground Football," though we Statesiders would probably call it "Playground Soccer." We might also find it a bit, shall we say, arcane in its use of UK-specific playground language, and rather cheekily written, tongue-in-wise. But it is nevertheless something of a classic, and gives us an insight into the spirit of Junkyard Sports in its native manifestation.

"The object," writes Christopher Brookmyre, "is to force the ball between two large, unkempt piles of jackets, in lieu of goalposts. These piles may grow or shrink throughout the match, depending on the number of participants and the prevailing weather. As the number of players increases, so shall the piles. Each jacket added to the pile by a new addition to a side should be placed on the inside, nearest the goalkeeper, thus reducing the target area. It is also important that the sleeve of one of the jackets should jut out across the goalmouth, as it will often be claimed that the ball went 'over the post' and it can henceforth be asserted that the outstretched sleeve denotes the innermost part of the pile and thus the inside of the post. The on-going reduction of the size of the goal is the responsibility of any respectable defence and should be undertaken conscientiously with resourcefulness and imagination."

Mr. Brookmyre goes on, and on. "There are no pitch markings," he explains, a "pitch" being what we might call a "field" or "play area." "Instead," he continues, "physical objects denote the boundaries, ranging from the most common - walls and buildings - to roads or burns. Corners and throw-ins are redundant where bylines or touchlines are denoted by a two-storey building or a six-foot granite wall. Instead, a scrum should be instigated to decide possession. This should begin with the ball trapped between the brickwork and two opposing players, and should escalate to include as many team members as can get there before the now egg-shaped ball finally emerges, drunkenly and often with a dismembered foot and shin attached. At this point, goalkeepers should look out for the player who takes possession of the escaped ball and begins bearing down on goal, as most of those involved in the scrum will be unaware that the ball is no longer amidst their feet. The goalkeeper should also try not to be distracted by the inevitable fighting that has by this point broken out."

This wonderful little piece reminds us of the inventiveness, as well as the peculiar "rough-and-tumble" delights of playground play, at least as it was, and might still be played, on grounds other than those in the US Schools. For us, it is a perhaps an especially nostalgic reminder, for we have "progressively" outlawed both the tumble and the rough from our playgrounds, and, in the name of a national obsession called "No Child Left Behind," are industriously exploring ways of eliminating both the play and the grounds.

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