It’s a warm summer’s day in June 1970, Paul Hickman in the shape of Florian Dumitrache of Dynamo Bucharest and Romania has handled the ball inside an imaginary penalty area on the rough yard at George Street Junior Mixed School.
The referee, Mr Rhodes, teacher of 3B and cricketer of Streethouse has blown his whistle to award a spot kick.
There is a hush in the school yard as the brave goalkeeper, the stocky figure of Neil Allington disguised as Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union, adjusts his mittens.
John Parker, possessed of the fiercest shot in this part of Featherstone, prepares his run up like Gerd Mueller of West Germany.
Waiting in the hope of a rebound are the Peruvian captain Hector Chumpitas, in the lean shape of Mark Greenhalgh, he’s wearing a red diagonal sash across his white PE shirt, Pete Goodfellow, he’s Alan Ball and me, and for reasons lost to time, I’m Hristo Bonev of Lokomotiv Plovdiv and Bulgaria.
You can cut the atmosphere with a craft knife now.
Yashin shifts uneasily, the goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty etched in the concentration on his face. Mueller stoops to adjust the elasticated front of his black pumps. Over the schoolyard wall up on the pit stacks, a kestrel hovers on the light breeze, the pit wheels up at Ackton Hall Colliery turn to lift coal to the surface and a shunting engine wheezes its way into some sidings.
Mueller commences his run up, strikes the ball hard and low to the goalies left. Neil “Yashin” Allington dives full length on the mix of grit and concrete and tips the ball wide of the post.
He comes to his feet pumping his wool mittened fist and shaking like a dog that’s climbed out of a park lake. Both of his knees are grazed and bleeding, but he ignores them to glare at the penalty taker, pumps his fist again and declares “Lev Yashin!”
The referee blows his whistle for full time and the sweating footballers troop back to the class room to study italic writing.
Tomorrow dinner time we’ll all gobble our one shilling school lunch of meat pie and gravy then trot out to do it all over again, then on Saturday we’ll all watch England play Brazil and come to school on Monday to talk about Gordon Banks’ magnificent save off Pele’s header and whether Peter Osgood, Allan Clarke or Jeff Astle should be leading the England forward line.
Today, 44 years on, the World Cup starts all over again and this time teams of perfumed millionaires, many of them sporting more tattoos than your average Hell’s Angel, will compete to knock a bag of wind about a hastily built Brazilian stadium.
They’ll carry the hopes of thousands of young schoolboys and girls in nations as disparate as Croatia, Cameroon and Korea. And I wonder if, in these less innocent times, their exploits will be replayed on the schoolyards or will everybody just Facebook one another about the game they’ve just seen?
I’ve long since given up bothering about who wins at football. I do hope England do well, even win it, if only to stop people singing in the pubs about three lions on a shirt and all those years of so-called hurt, but I’ve drawn Bosnia in a sweep so I want them to win.
They’ve never been to the World Cup before, I hope they do well, if only for my old mate Miki Salkic who will be sitting watching the tournament in his flat near Tuszla.
By the way, did you know that the first team to win the World Cup, or as it was known then the Thomas Lipton Trophy, were a team of hardened coal miners from West Auckland who lifted the trophy in Turin back in 1909 and then defended it two years later?
The colliers in that team were real heroes who ended up selling the trophy they won to a local pub landlady to pay for their trip to Italy.
A long way then from those perfumed millionaires who are going to be flouncing around in Brazil over the next few weeks.