Because that’s what he was; a two-foot toy monkey with goo-goo eyes which jiggled about when you shook him. Nobody knew who owned him. He just sort of belonged to them all really.

Monkey used to sit in goal back in the days when goal was just a couple of jerseys and teams were barely six boys strong; shirts versus skins. Monkey was good for blocking the odd shot.

Since then, the council had put in nice white posts and sometimes, even got around to mowing the grass. One of the mums had run up a bunch of arm-bands on her old Singer – so now it was arm-bands versus shirts on Saturday mornings. Semi-pro.

Monkey still put in an appearance at these games, but only ever as a spectator now. Monkey was getting old and manky but someone or other would always remember to bring him along and prop him up on the sidelines. He’d become a sort of mascot; part of the Tamworth Road mythology. And there he’d sit, haemorrhaging stuffing, one goo-goo eye on the game, the other on the grey skies.

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Geoff Stiles removed his piebald spectacles and rubbed his own goo-goo eye; the left one, the lazy one. He gazed down at the glasses. His mum said the black patch over the lens was dashing; it put one in mind of Blofeld or Errol Flynn. But that was rubbish and he knew it. Cyclops more like. But the boggy lens didn’t bother him. Not today. Today he was finally going to get picked because he knew something no one else did. He put the glasses back on and smiled a secret little smile.

Around him, the other boys shoved each other, jostling to catch the eye of the captains. Geoff hung back, he didn’t need to push. He was going to be picked. It just needed a little patience.

‘Terry Hodges,’ barked Miller, the tall ginger haired skipper. No surprise there. They always went for Terry Hodges first. He had the best left foot in Tamworth Road and surrounding areas.The other one, Steve Blaicklock, rubbed his chin and considered his options. ‘I’ll have Darren Ashton…’

Fine choice. Ashton was a handy midfielder and strong in the tackles -a good answer to the dangerous Hodges.

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‘I’ll have John Wilkinson.’

‘Terry Dobson.’

‘Then I’ll have Gilbert Travis…’

And so it went, the Saturday morning selection. Geoff couldn’t see why they bothered really. The two captains always picked the same players anyway. It was all part of the ritual. But today would be different.

In a moment one of those lads would have to pick him. And they wouldn’t regret it. He’d amaze them. He’d turn out to be their secret weapon; a ringer. Because Geoff Stiles had been in training all winter – every evening without fail for three hours, booting the old leather ball at the chalk targets on his garage wall. The trick of course, had been to work with the spectacles, not against them. And now that he’d got used to his new monocular perspective, he was Roy of the Rovers; bloody dead-eye Dick. The boy with the golden boot…and Blofeld glasses.

Perhaps next week his dad might even come down and watch him play.

Geoff Stiles looked on amused as Gary Ormsby ostentatiously warmed up. Gary Ormsby was rubbish of course, but he had the kit. He was one of the kids from the new houses at the top of the road; one of the well-to-do lot. Ormsby embarked on a set of complicated hamstring stretches. It was only him and Ormsby left now.

Blaiklock eyed the two of them without enthusiasm. He scratched his head, baffled. ‘Where’s the the Barker twins then?’

Geoff Stiles almost hugged himself with glee. The Barker twins lived next door. And he had information. A nugget of pure gold in exchange for a game.

‘They’re not coming. Clive’s got measles. Their mum says they’re not to go out. Either of them.’

It was like a slap in the face. Blaiklock’s shoulders slumped. He didn’t even bother to hide his disappointment but simply crooked a finger at Ormsby. And now there was only him left. One boy – one blue arm-band in Miller’s hand.

Geoff grinned up at the ginger-haired captain. The sun elbowed its way through leaden clouds, a stray beam reflecting off his single unblacked lens.

Miller stared long and hard, sucking his teeth.

He had no choice really.

‘All right,’ he sighed, ‘I’ll have Monkey…’

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