Monday, December 04, 2006

The Lonesome Death of the Centre Forward

The death occurred sometime in the early hours of the 21st century of the Old Fashioned Centre Forward. Despite having been in failing health until shortly before the end, his passing came as a shock to those who knew him. It is believed that he never fully recovered from complications developed after a routine cosmetic tactical procedure.

Having had his partner removed and reconstructed as The Makalele Role, the Centre Forward was unable to sustain life in isolation. He is survived by his brothers, Crafty Midfield Schemer and No-Nonsense Centre-Half.

A venerable and much loved figure, OFCF came to prominence in the early days of the game. A robust, ruddy-cheeked youth, he was usually to be found levitating in mid-air around the six yard box, from which location he was ideally situated to propel himself towards either a crossed ball, or the fleshy midriff of a trembling goalkeeper.

In his own phrase, he was "bloody useless" outside the penalty box. Indeed, his interventions when roaming far from his natural habitat earned nomenclature of their own: the Centre Forward's Tackle, for instance, being a variety of that art peculiar for its lack of the slightest resemblance to a tackle at all.

Ditto his contributions when drafted into his own box on defensive detail: a Centre Forward's Clearance typically undertaking a vertical, ballooning trajectory, before settling at the grateful feet of an attacking player.

But he was readily forgiven these shortcomings - indeed, they were merely source material for gentle, ribbing banter - due to the compensatory nature of what were reverentially termed his "predatory instincts".

Predatory Instincts were OFCF's broadsword, his stock-in-trade, the medium by which he delivered his message. He used Predatory Instincts like a singer uses song, like a poet uses verse, like a fireman uses a hose. He was them; they defined him. Without them, he was nothing. A Utility Player maybe; a Pacy Winger if he was lucky.

With them, he conquered the world. He advertised hair cream, after shave, Shredded Wheat. He slept with pop stars, models, barmaids. He appeared on Parkinson, This is Your Life, Quiz Ball. He won World Cups, European Championships, Leyland DAF Trophies.

He wore his Predatory Instincts like the medallion on his chest and the sideburns on his face: with atavistic pride, happily allowing any priapic symbolism to suggest itself.

And then one day, he turned up with his Predatory Instincts, his medallion and his sideburns, and found to his horror that everyone else was wearing skinny ties, tight buzz-cuts and talking about something called an "All Round Game."

"But what about Predatory Instincts?" he protested, gesturing over his shoulder in the direction of his penalty box domain.

"Not enough these days, mate," sighed his manager in response. "We're only playing one man up front now, since we brought The Makalele Role in. We can't be having you ambling about up there like a bloody elephant on the African plains. We need someone with an All Round Game."

"It might look like I'm aimlessly loitering like a disenfranchised youth in a shopping mall, but when the ball comes near I spring dangerously to life!"

"That's the problem OFCF. Because we have The Makalele Role here now, most of our players are dedicated to important things," said the boss, avoiding eye contact, "like covering, marking, tackling, holding, and suchlike. Scoring goals, is it? Hah! That's an anachronism, boy."

And then, lowering his voice, and staring at the distraught OFCF: "You're finished lad."

"You need to make your own goals now, OFCF," whispered one of his oldest colleagues, Tidy Full Back.

He tried to adjust, to get on board with this All Round Game notion. Dropping wide, or into the hole. But he looked confused and sad; his heart wasn't in it. Every now and then he would head for the comfort of the box, and make the little runs he used to love - waiting to spring dangerously to life. People turned away; old friends shook their heads.

And so OFCF began to disappear from the game, tumbling from the top of the tree and bumping painfully off every lower league branch on the way down, until he resurfaced every now and again in third round cup ties, played in cramped little grounds where time, happily, stood still.

The end was peaceful when it came, thankfully. May God rest him and heaven abound in sweet crosses on his 'ead.

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