'One day in 1966…'

What a nightmare. We’ve lost the toss giving Germany the kick off. Wilson misheads to Haller who slips it past Banks making it one nil to the Krauts. Next comes Geoff's urgently needed deflection, but he stumbles before making contact, putting Gerry up two nil. Then things get real ugly as the crowd start throwing shit onto the pitch, bad shit, severed organs, human limbs. A hard rain falls as we near half time, soaking us to the bone, all slippery and sticky like blood, and we're sliding on veins, faecal slush, serrated bones jutting up from the sidelines. The match continues skipping half-time as Gerry keeps putting them away, one after another, five nil, six nil, ten nil, twenty. Into extra time we're exhausted, fifty-seven nil, a hundred and nine, and still the crowd bombard us, Molotov cocktails, animal heads, insects and vomit - and a needle toothed Gerry yielding a cutthroat heads straight for me, his wormy black eyes burning holes in me - and tearing at my brain, the screeching chord of a agonized feline, Seeeee meeeee knob heaaaahhhhhh…

And suddenly I awake to a cacophony of commotion and laughter, a piercing ache situated somewhere below my eyebrows. I'm sweating profusely. I'm still wearing the strip, white shorts, red top, and the long sleeves see fit to mop my cheeks and brow. Spectral beams of smoky sunlight loom hazy amidst a frightful discordant ether.

"You dippy sod Stiles," the first thing I hear. It's big Geoff Hurst who's noticed me awake. "Your teeth have fallen out." It's true, my dentures have slipped during sleep and slid off somewhere across the coach floor. Still, it doesn't matter to me; they're only there for the benefit of the missus.

The lads are raucous. They laugh partly due to the victory, partly due to the drugs, and if my intuition serves me right, partly to my detriment. They always rip on me, especially Hurst – instigator extraordinaire.

He's reeling off some twit-fact. Hurst is an endless mine of useless information.

"Y'know, around the world, per day, approximately 50,000 eye injuries result in complete blindness." Everyone laughs.

"Tell another one big Geoff," Bobby C calls from the back.

"The shark cornea has been used in surgery, since it is so similar to the cornea of a human."

"Go on Hursty, go on Hursty," the whole bus is chanting.

I turn to Alan Ball but he shuns me like I'm not part of the game. "Oh do excuse me,” I say, “I'm sleeping anyways..."

"What's that?" howls big Geoff.

“Fuck off,” my short simple retort.

The bus all at once a rippling wave of strident mirth, Geoff leans hard into my chest and stares me full-on. "I'll give you the Jules Rimet if you get any sleep pal."

"It's not yours to give."

"The world will give you the cup if you score any kip…"

Once again laughter floods the coach. Even the driver laughs, turning his head towards me every other second, his expression giving it 'poor sod', yet he still laughs. Bunch of idiots, sod 'em. I just slogged my guts out for that cup and all they do is take the piss.

What have they done? Did someone spike me? I don't feel well. I'll sleep. Not staying awake to put up with this all the way home. But I can't close my eyes, and big Geoff is right – tired as I am, I can't sleep.

Aside from booze, lines, and jazz-fags, the whole team is fuelled on the recently banned LSD-25, and I know that stuff wasn’t banned for nothing. I don't touch it myself, but I've heard stories, and seen things. Saw a grown woman go ‘number-two’ in her own hand bag at a party once, tripping off her nut. I heard there were these three blokes just out of Edinburgh some years ago, took doses of the stuff. One fully amputated his finger - thought it was hilarious. Second went on to better the stunt by hacking off his whole hand with a machete while the third bloke, armed suddenly with a chainsaw, topped both achievements by removing his own head. That stuff's not for me.

I'll do a joint. I'll stretch to a line now and then, but LSD – no.

I'm sweating like cheese on toast. It's pouring down my face, it's in my eyeballs and I can't seem to blink it clear. It stings. My blood red cotton sleeves are soaked.

Big Geoff is still ranting on about how ...It is impossible to sneeze with the eyes open, and ...If you did your cornea would explode… the human eyeball weighs an ounce… babies are born colour blind… over 80 percent of the human brain is water…

It's impossible to sneeze with your eyes open? I'm thinking - what toss! If you sneezed with your eyes open your cornea would explode? You're brain is 80 percent water…that's gonna make a fucking monstrous mess.

Geoff Hurst has lost it.

Ball passes a huge blunt to Peters but I intercept. This will put me to sleep if nothing will. Thick white smoke fills my lungs and it's a strain to keep it in, and Peters is ranting on about how it's his and if I smoke it all I'll be sorry. All I need is a couple more chuffs and I'll be blitzed - blitzed and ready to kip – with luck.

Hurst is gawking at me, a strange demented look in his eye. He's slavering and has this weird grin about his chops. He's scaring me. A nameless panic clamps my skull like some medieval torture helmet. This is worse than the nightmare I was having. At least I know that wasn't real.

I’m not recalling much of the plane flight, brief though it probably was. I don’t recall having seen any of the cabin crew. Perhaps we sailed?

Back in the UK we're bundled into a second coach and before I know it we're on the sixty-something headed for home. I know I haven't slept, for I have vague recollections of the plane ride, or boat ride? - snippets and snapshots of the ground miles around, clouds like waves. I think they locked me in the rear of whatever it was, I don't remember seeing a hostess or meeting with a captain?

Yet again Hurst is right, they're each and everyone asleep, and me, I'm still wide awake. They gave me some kind of speed – must have done. I feel as though I'll never sleep again.

My face is stiff. I'm not sweating anymore. I'm starting to suffer from fatigue - starting to trip-out a little. The vehicles passing up the motorway have tails; they look like snakes in a desert. A car passes and a child in the backseat spots me, his face agog like some demonic cherub, he begins to cry and dives in the front to the arms of his mother. Pink clouds in a glassy sky find breathing a tremendous struggle, as backwards flying bat-birds mock me with the faces of my team mates.

What is this?

The air smells of vinegar, my tongue is sour from bile, and my entire body houses pins and needles, each bump in the road shelling through my bones like long shockwaves circuitous to my brain. I'm not well. I might be dying.

The hands on the travel clock point in different directions by the time the squad begin to stir. It's Bobby Moore who prods Hurst in the ribs to wake him, a look of shear repulsion on his face. Hurst opens his eyes and the first thing he sees is me. No longer does he bear a look of psychosis or mockery. He's sobered up.

"Nobby, mate," he says gravely.

I'm not interested in anything he has to say. I'm not even on the coach. I'm floating somewhere above it, hanging on for dear life as vicious airstreams whip at my physical form endeavouring to claw me off the roof and swiftly away down a perpendicular highway.

"What have we done?"

The entire bus is stunned. Silence squirms in the sour fetid air.

"What - have - we - done?"

"What have you done," Moore says. "You take the booking for this one…" and like a hellish red card he holds up a hand mirror in front of me. It's all I need to see the caking of dark stale blood down my face.

Last thing I recall is a pointless Geoff Hurst fact – 80 percent of the human brain is water. Sheer shock causes me a violent sneeze. They think it's all over – it is now.

Post-match celebrations, and for a joke, for a laugh, my eyelids have been removed.

 

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Hedwind

 

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For a very different story of British national identity myths, try YOU WERE ALWAYS WRONG by Paul Ellis

Or click here for a poem by Hedwind

 

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