EPISODE 65 - WHO'D BE A VICAR?
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
‘Come in, Simon. It’s always a pleasure to see Zack’s friends.’
John moves to one side, opens the door wider and beckons Simon into the hall. For a moment, a moment that John recognises from his many conversations with people in turmoil or stress, Simon stands and stares past the vicar, through the hall, into where he can see Hilda carrying a tray of cups into the kitchen. Before John can say anything to encourage the young man to enter, Simon takes two steps and pauses.
‘Let’s go into my study,’ John tells him.
As they sit down, there is a faint knock on the door.
‘Tea or coffee, anyone?’ says Hilda.
‘Come in, love.’
‘A drink, Simon?’ she enquires.
‘Nothing for me, thanks,’ he says, in a way the Petersons have never before witnessed as if the request itself – an innocent question about drinks – is an affront to the serious nature of the conversation he is desperate to have.
‘I’ll leave you to it,’ she says, realising that the young man and her husband need some privacy.
John waits for the door to close and hears the sound of his wife’s steps heading for the kitchen.
‘What is it, Simon?’
‘Well… I… need to ask you something.’
At that, they hear the front door opening, and a well-used phrase is shouted down the hall.
‘Rock God here – autographs, anyone?’
‘It’s Zack,’ says Simon, ‘I have to go.’
‘No, please stay. You’re entitled to privacy like anyone else. Even from your mates. Even from my son.’
‘No, it’s awkward. I wanted to talk to you without Zack here.’
Another knock at the door. It opens, and Zack peers into the study.
Frank Reed sighs as Ted goes into ‘Big Ron’ mode on the way to Radio Banfield. Ted, Frank and the players have kept a low profile – it couldn’t get much lower – since the debacle at North Banfield Social Club. The match, the first in the history of the Banfield and District Football League when a team has fielded only six players (accidentally, not through lack of players, or because of injuries and suspensions). Twenty-four nil the final score, the second half a pale shadow of the opening forty-five minutes when even the referee was suffering from shock and mathematical inadequacy as the goals rolled in like the incoming tide. Seventeen in the first half gave the home side something to think about – had they peaked too early? Should they show mercy? Maybe even a token own goal to make it interesting – if not competitive. As it turned out, they took off five players to give them a rest (preparation for a West Midlands Cup match against a fiercely competitive rival from Birmingham), but North Banfield still managed another seven. Even goal-line technology - something not available to teams thirteen levels below the sophistication and grandeur of the English Football League – would not have saved Leeford Village.
VAR, however, might have helped matters somewhat. In the first half, before sympathy kicked in (so to speak) for the ‘Old Lads of Leeford’ as they came to be known by their fellow league members, North Banfield may well have been forced to reduce their contingent of players via the route of an early bath, if the man in black had been the recipient of little beeps through his non-existing ear-piece. The little beep, followed by the VAR bloke screaming into said ear-piece something akin to “needs checking, Ernest – professional foul”. Ernest did his best - for a local butcher who was officiating at only his third game after completing his F.A. Level D badge – but it was a forlorn hope. No VAR, and Ernest did not have the stomach for reaching for a card (he believed in the physical side of the beautiful game) and so it was left to the honour of the North Banfield team to take pity on their struggling opponents. In retrospect, the ‘Old Lads’ should thank them for that.
Ted will never live down his administrative blunder that caused the problem in the first place. He really should have read the letter from the Banfield and District Football League more carefully. George Owens had queried whether there were eight divisions of walking football teams, particularly as walking football was a new ‘craze’ in the area, but Ted’s nonchalance in his admin style provided the regulars in the Cross with a newly-formed six-a-side team, suddenly catapulted into a full-blown eleven-a-side league (i.e. ‘proper’ football), albeit Division Eight.
As he locks the car, Frank places his hand on the roof and looks across at Ted.
‘You’re not going to keep this up during the interview, are you?’
‘Keep what up?’ replies Ted.
‘Not sure what to call it – bravado, coolness, brashness… stupidity?’
‘Not sure what you mean, Frank.’
‘All I’m saying is, let me do the talking at the start. If they ask you a question, give them a straight answer.’
Ted nods. He has already accepted his fate as a lesser being in the football world (after all, Frank Reed played for Banfield Town many years ago), once he had sentenced the Leeford Village team to a season-long struggle.
‘Come on, Ted, cheer up. Being interviewed on local radio isn’t like going to the dentist.’
‘No, it’s much worse.’
Having got past the jobsworth in reception, Ted feels compelled to comment.
‘Bloody ‘ell, Frank, I thought she was going to ask for passports and inside-leg measurements.’
Frank eyes him up and down and grins.
‘They have to be careful. Some odd characters come in here to be interviewed.’
Ted doesn’t pick up on Frank’s sarcasm. He is too nervous. They are greeted by the presenter of “Sports A.M. – the best for Banfield football, cricket and skittles”.
‘Skittles?’ mouths Ted, as they are approached by a small man, no more than five feet four, and wearing the most enormous horned-rimmed glasses. His moustache droops down almost to the tip of his chin (Ted thinking that isn’t real is it?) and whoever has helped him to dress hasn’t noticed that his trousers are at least four inches too long, lapping at the floor and picking up dust along the way. None of this, thinks Frank, comes across on his radio show.
Frank waves a hand at Ted, and the gesture tells him to leave it.
‘I’ll explain about the skittles later,’ he mouths back, as the small man approaches them, grinning so broadly they get a good look at most of his teeth, a gold premolar on either side.
‘Welcome, welcome, gentlemen. I’m Casper Connington. You must be?’
‘I’m Frank Reed, team coach, and this is club secretary Ted Coleman.’
‘Excellent,’ says Casper, too much like Charles Burns of The Simpsons for Ted’s liking.
‘We’ll be on the air in a few minutes. I’ve got some “parish notices” to do, then I’ll introduce you and run through the team’s history before I ask you a few questions.’
‘Okay,’ says Frank, not sounding so confident himself now.
The parish notices don’t take long, and Casper starts his run-down of the team’s record.
‘After some initial administrative problems – which we will come back to later – and a thumping twenty-four nil defeat at the hands of the North Banfield Social Club, the fortunes of Leeford Village F.C. have improved only slightly. Before we continue, I’ll pass you to Tricia for the traffic and travel.’
While Tricia ‘does’ the traffic and travel, Ted and Frank grimace at each other. Tricia completes her ‘bit’, and Casper resumes.
‘Now, where do we start? The following week, on home turf, fifteen-nil against Wolves’ seventh team (average age eighteen), then away again. This time, a nine-nil loss at the hands of East Banfield Rovers. Not exactly an encouraging start to the season, eh lads?’
Ted opens his mouth to speak…
John Peterson, vicar of this parish, glares at his son, the sort of glare that needs no words. The glare that John once used with Zack when he burst into a meeting that John was holding with the Bishop, the Dean of Banfield and the churchwarden. Zack knows the ‘look’ very well, but on this occasion, it is followed up with some meaningful words.
‘Not the right time, Zack. Didn’t you say you were going out?’
‘I did knock.’
‘Yes, but did you wait for me to respond?’
Simon is embarrassed and feels compelled to speak.
‘I’ll go, Reverend.’
‘No, Simon, you stay. Zack, give us some space.’
Zack considers asking what it is all about, looks at Simon whilst raising his shoulders in a questioning way, then thinks better of it.
‘Sorry, Dad… Simon,’ as he makes his exit.
‘So sorry about that, Simon. What were you saying?’
‘Take your time. You can tell me anything.’
Simon grits his teeth, This isn’t going to be easy, he thinks. Can I get a word in?
‘Tell you what, Simon, call me John. I’ll be plain John Peterson soon, and we don’t have to stand on ceremony.’
‘John, it’s so good of you to help me. I’ve always looked up to you, and I try to attend church whenever I can.’
‘I wish my son would do that.’
‘There’s something I’ve been thinking about for months. I’m looking forward to my degree studies, but…’
‘The environment and such like, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, something like that.’
‘Well, what’s the problem?’ asks John.
Simon clasps his hands together, looks down at his feet and sighs. John can tell that something is about to happen – an unburdening by an earnest young man who has come to him, the Reverend John Peterson of Leeford Village Church. No one else. Simon trusts him, and he suddenly looks up at John.
‘I want to be ordained.’