As I stand in the garden, goalkeeper and guardian to two football mad boys, I often think forward to a time when the brothers can play alongside each other. I imagine a one-two that cuts through a defence, or some other combination of their different strengths.
They have, of course, played together in ad hoc, occasional matches. There was the Euro-holiday game that could have ended grimly for no.2 son. And, three years ago, at home for once for New Year, we were invited to play a dads v lads game in our local park. We left home with no.2 son sobbing – his brother had told him he was too young and couldn’t play. Good sense – or not – prevailed and both boys lined up. The ground was frosty and the cold felt by all. No.2 son had cheered up. One of the dads, forced into defence, unsteady on the slippery ground, took a swing and sliced a ball hard straight into no.2 son’s face. He was knocked off his feet, but the tears that flowed when told earlier that he couldn’t play didn’t reappear. With jutting chin and stinging face, he played on.
Junior football operates strict age group delineation. So my two boys, five school years apart, won’t get to play together in competitive fixtures for maybe ten years. I can wait and will continue to imagine how they may play together – exchanging passes, creating chances, celebrating each other’s success.
Then, all of a sudden, this summer, it has happened. Two of my children have taken the field together, in partnership. It wasn’t the game I had so often watched two of my children compete and combine at. The pairing wasn’t even the one I had often conjured with.
It was no.2 son and his sister (the 1&onlyD), representing our cricket club’s under 9 team – the Squirrels.
Several weeks before the cricket season started, the club ran indoor practice sessions for its girls squad. Knowing that numbers would be low, I mentioned to the 1&onlyD that she might want to try out cricket. She surprised me and agreed. She surprised me again and enjoyed herself and continued to go to practices when they moved outside.
Junior cricket has hit on an excellent way of encouraging girl cricketers, which doesn’t rely on clubs finding a whole team of players in the same age group (which continues to be tricky). Girls are allowed to play for boys teams two age groups younger than their own. It was through that dispensation that the 1&onlyD made her competitive cricket debut alongside her younger brother.
The Squirrels Coach was alert to the importance of the situation. He invited the 1&onlyD to captain the side – taking part in the ceremonial coin toss – and when the Squirrels were invited to bat first, he selected the siblings as the opening pair. And that’s them in the middle distance in the photo at the top of the page (my daughter’s leggings and pink Converse are easier to admire below).
They returned to the boundary, smiling, having run some singles hard and shown solid batting technique. Later, in the field, they took their turn at bowling. No.2 son, more self-confident, bustled about and completed four run outs. The 1&onlyD stuck to her fielding position, stopping and returning the ball, and when the action dulled, turned a few cartwheels.
That this minor milestone in my children’s sporting lives (and my spectating existence) should have been shared by the younger two of the three, now feels fitting. They have been playmates and conspirators since infancy, inventing games and immersed in each other’s company. Neither has put age and gender difference up as a barrier, at home or, more notably, at school. It’s a very special relationship, albeit one that I’m reconciled to seeing change and maybe become less intense, as their interests diverge. On this evening, brother-sister, teammates, opening partners, continued their happy kinship, taking the field together.