The violent bastard
A short story about the beautiful game of ball foot.
Archie Dougaldale, the Stenhousemuir forward, sped down the wing and unleashed yet another wild cross. He watched in vain as the ball sailed off target. He was having a terrible match. He put his hands on his hips and groaned in disappointment. But as he watched, to his amazement, the ball made a sharp u-turn in mid-air and crashed into the back of the net. There were gasps of amazement from the crowd. Players on both sides looked on in astonishment. No-one could quite believe what they had seen, but the goal stuck. Archie had notched up his first goal of the season.
Then it happened again and again. Archie, nonplussed, couldn’t believe his luck: Stenhousemuir were 3-0 up and he was a hat-trick hero.
However, as the day grew darker, Archie became aware of the reason for his good fortune: running around on the pitch, in an attacking position, was a player he had never seen before – he was deathly pale, with a stocky build and a long beard, wearing a tam o’ shanter and an old-fashioned Stenhousemuir kit from the days when Scottish players wore kilts.
“Och! Willie, who’s tha’?” Archie shouted to his manager Willie Banks.
“Wha’ tha’ foo’ yae’ talkin’ aboot?” replied Willie. “Jus’ gee on wi’ th’ geem.”
[From now on imagine all accents are Scottish – Ed.]
Something wasn’t adding up. Archie’s heart was beating – he felt confused, anxious, afraid. Then it struck him; he was the only person who could see the mysterious figure. And it wasn’t a living person – it was a ghost.
After the match Archie decided to do a little research. It seemed that the apparition was the ghost of Fergus McDuff, the great Stenhousemuir centre forward who died mid-match when a floodlight fell on him in 1934.
From then on, Archie trained with Fergus every night after the other players had gone home. They practised set pieces together and became best friends. Though Fergus couldn’t speak, the two players communicated using the universal language of football, plus winking, nodding, facial expressions, giving each other the thumbs up, and so on.
That season, Stenhousemuir’s opponents didn’t know what had hit them. Archie became famous for his amazing banana shots – of course, it was Fergus, the invisible player, who was scoring from Archie’s passes – and, thanks to Fergus, Stenhousemuir won every trophy that year and Archie was named Scottish Player of the Year.
Archie was over the moon but, sadly, success went to his head. The cash bonuses and plaudits flowed and he lapped up all the attention. He started spending more and more time in night clubs, picking up women, never having to buy himself a drink. Not once did Archie acknowledge Fergus for the part he’d played in his success.
Not surprisingly, Archie’s fiancee wouldn’t put up with it and walked out on him. But Archie didn’t care – he was a star and could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Things changed the following season. Archie turned up at the Stenhousemuir ground in his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. He signed a token autograph for one of the multitude of fans, then waltzed into his personal changing room.
“Make sure you play well for me today, Fergus. I don’t want you letting me down now, do I?” Archie announced haughtily to the room as he changed into his kit for the first game of the season.
Archie felt a hefty clout on the back of his neck.
“Ouch!” he squealed, but looking around there was no-one there. “Was that you, Fergus?”
On the pitch, Archie played terribly. He kept passing to Fergus but nothing happened. Then Archie was sent off for a foul he didn’t commit: a defender standing next to Archie was suddenly clouted on the back of the neck.
As Archie marched off to the dressing room he caught sight of a familiar face in the front row of the crowd. It was Fergus and he was mouthing obscenities and flicking the Vs at Archie.
Archie blew his top. He leaped two-footed over the barrier and started lashing out at Fergus.
Archie was still kicking and screaming as the police dragged him off. The crowd was booing. Archie looked back at his victim, but Fergus was nowhere to be seen. Instead, in his place he saw the badly beaten body of a frail old pensioner. Fergus had got his revenge.
Archie was imprisoned for ten years, and was let out three years early for good behaviour. To this day, he can still be seen wandering the streets of Stenhousemuir, a bottle of meths in his hand, mumbling to himself and loudly cursing the name of someone called Fergus.