I’ve always fancied writing something. I used to love doing stories when I was younger, but when I started playing rugby, that just took over everything, and I let it slide. Now I’ve been to Uni doing my physio training, I’ve written loads, but it’s mostly been about muscle groups and postural management, and I think this might make my brain think in a different way.
I loved reading everything from Matty, Lau and Dec, it made me realise that however much you think you know about something, you don’t know the whole story until you get everyone’s point of view.
Anyway, it’s about time I stopped putting it off, and just got on with writing it.
So maybe I’m not going to do it straight, at least not right away. I’m going to start with the person who’s responsible for this, for me wanting to write some kind of retro diary.
I didn’t see much of Matty when I was really little, and then he was suddenly there, all the time, although he was mostly in bed. I was only five or six, and I remember us – that’s me, Mum and Dad – just moving house one day. We went up to stay with Granny, and then moved into our own house, because Matty was in hospital and although I don’t really remember details, and maybe my memory is coloured by knowing now what it was all about, there were a lot of quiet conversations, and I saw my dad cry for the first time ever, and I had to be really good and quiet and not make a fuss about wanting to watch Mythbusters, because Mythbusters wasn’t on Granny’s telly.
I didn’t know, then, that Matty nearly died, and I didn’t know, then, that Dad had told Dec to fuck off and die and not to contact us. All I knew was we were living somewhere else, somewhere far away from my school and my friends, and far away from Dec, and I was going to a new school, and we were going to the hospital every day to see Uncle Matty, who didn’t look like Uncle Matty, but was all thin and pale and asleep with tubes up his nose and wires from machines in him and a tube for his wee to run down into a bag.
I was quite interested in the tubes and wires, but I wasn’t allowed to touch them, and I’d sit there, sometimes with Mum, sometimes with Dad, sometimes with Granny, sometimes with all of them, and it was pretty boring, watching Uncle Matty sleeping, but I wasn’t allowed to play, or talk loudly, and had to make do with looking at magazines that I would persuade Mum to buy me from the shop near the entrance. Sometimes they were about dinosaurs, and sometimes they only had football ones.
I am on a swing. My legs are moving to and fro underneath me and someone is behind me, pushing me. As I go to and fro, up and down, the trees blur with the movement. I twist round to see who is pushing me and I fall …
łWhat the fuck is this?
Jay stood over me, holding the letter. Sitting on the changing room floor, head bowed, back against the wall, I couldn’t meet his eyes. Shook my head. Had no words. He held his hand out towards me, and I glanced at the newspaper cutting he was holding, with a sinking heart.
łIs it true, then?
I nodded, misery crashing over me.
łJesus, Dec. I don’t fucking believe it. Why didn’t you tell me?
I shook my head again, pinched the bridge of my nose, took a deep breath.
‘Couldn’t say it. Too hard.’
He slid down the wall and sat next to me. I could feel how tense and angry he was, and I tried to explain.
‘I thought, when it was in the paper, the club would find out and that would be it.’
A deep shuddering sigh. It didn’t make any sense, I knew that. Still looking at the floor, I felt the burn of his gaze.
łBut this was what –
He looked at the date on the newspaper clipping that he held
ł – back in the summer. And it’s not even about you.
His confusion and disappointment were there to hear.
‘They used my other name. When nothing happened, I convinced myself it was OK.’
łOther name? Jesus. Does Don know?
Shook my head. Nobody knew, I’d been sure of it. That was the point of all this.
łYou’ve got to tell him.
It was the only thing left, now it was out there. Heavy heart, heavy limbs, heavy head. I could hardly lift my eyes to his. It would be the end.
It was paralysing. Reflexes moved my knees up to my chest, head down to meet them, arms folded over my head. I just wanted the world to go away.
A commotion outside, laughter. The door burst open. A group of lads, excited, banter, pushing. Jay looked up.
łPiss off for a bit would you?
They looked from him to me, smiles disappearing, turned and trooped out. Laughter started again, fading away. Jay got up and stood over me, hands on his hips.
łIt’s not a choice. He’s going to know. You need to fucking man up.
He walked away, the slam of the door juddering through me.
Alone with my thoughts. No better than sharing them. Sat until my back started to ache. Eventually forced to move by the prospect of returning laughers. Walking felt strange, disconnected. No aim, no destination. Stepped outside. He’d waited.
‘What?’ a whisper.
łDon’s office. Now.
No more words were exchanged, but I followed. Banter boys across the field, shouting, threw a ball between them. I was just there, I thought, that was me, now it’s gone, no longer mine. No more thoughts, just a sludge of despair. We reached the office. He knocked.
Jay motioned to me to open the door, so I did. Don looked at me, then behind me. A small frown appeared above his eyes at what I assumed was a gesture behind me from Jay.
-Come on in, Declan.
There was more unspoken communication between them. Jay thrust the photocopied pages at me, placed his hand between my shoulder blades and pushed me forwards. He was not in the room when the door shut behind me.
-What’s the problem?
I gave him the papers. He looked at them. I looked at the floor, felt I was melting into it; past, present, future all congealed here. Don read carefully, and several times, his brows furrowed.
-Is this about you, somehow?
He held up the newspaper clipping. Head still down, I nodded. The slightest of movements.
-Look at me. This person named here, Charlie Collier. Who is that?
-And how can you be Charlie Collier when you’re Declan Summers?
I could barely frame a reply, but this needed saying. It had to be explained so it could all be over. I told him about being adopted; the passport mix up that was never properly sorted out; changing my name.
-OK, so when the club asked you for your passport you showed us a false one because …?
‘Didn’t think. Didn’t think of it as false, just have two names, two passports.’
-But Declan Summers is not your name on a valid British passport?
I shook my head, although I had never really been sure about how it all worked.
-Are you a British citizen?
‘Don’t know. It’s complicated.
-Do you realise that the club will get into serious trouble if you have played as an Australian when we already had our quota of foreign players on the pitch? When you came on as a replacement last season? You’ve been here for – what – more than three years now … this could be very serious.
Head dropped again. A nod. I was tumbling into a black hole, my nightmares coming true. Don sighed and sat back in his chair.
-You really are in a lot of bother.
He picked up the letter.
-Do you know who sent this?
-But it’s true?
-Look at me Declan.
With an effort I lifted my head. A spinning sensation.
-I was already going to talk to you today about something else that has come to light. I thought that was what you were here for. But this is also very serious. I have to take it upstairs. Wait here.
Left to my thoughts again. He obviously knew about the money, too. Legs wobbled. Sank onto a chair. Some time passed. A knock. Door opened. One of the senior players peered in. Nico Tiago. Argentine winger. Another of my heroes soon to dismiss me as a wasted memory.
>Don, he is not here? Ha, no, I see not, but he is back soon?
I honestly didn’t know. I shrugged.
>I have my match review now. Um. I wait?
I shrugged again, rude. What did it matter now. He sat down.
>Hey, you play for reserves last week. Is great game, very close. You play well.
This conversation should have been a lifetime highlight. I couldn’t begin to speak. Another shrug.
>Hey man, you OK?
Couldn’t even muster a shrug.
>Huh. Maybe I come back later. Tell Don I am here OK?
An almost imperceptible nod from me. No eye contact.
He left with a sigh of exasperation. Beyond the door, a muffled conversation.
> Your golden boy he is in there. He OK?
łDoubt it. Major fuck up.
>Huh! What he do?
>Ha! Good one. Tell me later.
The door opened.
łLook mate, you can ditch the attitude. I’m so fucking pissed off with you, you’re walking a really fine line.
His anger enabled me, like sympathy could not have. I stood up and faced him.
‘Go on then.’
Squaring up, hoping I could make him punch me, it was what I deserved.
łDon’t tempt me you little shit. Do you realise just what you might have pissed away? You fucking stupid –
-OK, keep it down, can we have a bit of calm?
Don walked in and took his seat behind the small desk.
-Jay, can you stay for a bit?
A pause, a sigh, then a nod. We both sat down.
-Right then. I need to clarify some of this. Jay, you have read this letter and the article?
Jay nodded curtly.
-Declan has confirmed that it is all correct. I have just spoken to the chief exec. It’s already bad enough, you have kept a lot of information from us. But there is something else that we would like you to explain, Declan.
Knew what was coming. Thought I’d have more time to put it right. Too late now.
-Some months ago, when you were part of the Youth Team Community Charity project, you were responsible for a large sum of money.
Jay turned to look at me.
-We’ve recently been contacted by one of the intended recipients of the donations. They never received it. We checked with the other recipients. Same thing. What happened to that money, Declan?
So hard. It had been the only thing to do then. Now it was destroying me.
-Can I suggest that maybe you took it?
Sharp intake of breath from Jay. A whisper.
Head in my hands, as if hiding would make it go away.
łDec, what the fuck?
Turning to Don.
łHow much? Don?
-About ten thousand pounds.
łJesus. Jesus Christ. You bloody, fucking –
-OK Jay, there is still a lot we need to talk about. You can both discuss it afterwards. Declan, can you explain what you did with this money?
Too hard. Too many months of hiding, pretence and deceit to remember it right.
-You really are going to have to talk to me. I’m not going to sit here guessing all afternoon.
Tried to get the words in the right order.
‘I gave it to someone. They needed it.’
-What exactly do you mean?
‘They … came to the door. Said … it … was their dad. Needed what he … would have given them.
-Who was this?
-Declan, you’re not making any sense. Someone came and asked you for money that their dad would have given them, and you just handed over the charity money?
As simple and as complicated as that.
-Tell me exactly who you gave the money to.
Annoyance and exasperation telling in his usually measured tones.
‘The son, his son, the man who –
The word nearly stuck in my throat.
A silence, during which I shrivelled inside myself.
łWell I bloody don’t. What the fuck are you talking about?
‘He needed it.’
It had seemed so clear then; now everything was hazy in my mind. I’d avoided thinking about it for so long.
-Declan, you seem to be in some doubt about this; that money was not yours to give away.
‘He was angry. Told me I had to pay.’
Don rubbed his hands over his face.
-Look, Declan, I appreciate that this is difficult for you. But there are rules about distributing money collected for charity. You have broken them. You’ve broken the law. Do you understand?
‘I was paying it back – I’ve nearly got it all.’
-You seem to think you can break rules how and when you want to. That’s not how it works. I need to know who has this money.
‘Don’t know his name.’
Don stared at me, then shook his head.
-How did you say you met him?
‘Came to the house.’
-When was this?
‘Don’t remember exactly. In the summer. After the inquest.’
łHang on – whose house are you talking about?
An exhalation of exasperation.
łYou never said a word. About any of this. Jesus.
-Declan, I need you to tell me how to contact this man.
Didn’t know. Couldn’t say.
-Son, you’re already up to your eyes with the passport business, you really need to –
łPassport? Dec, what the fuck is going on here? This is all getting a bit fucking much.
Don gave Jay the short version of how my passport had fucked things up even more. Jay became visibly more furious, glancing at me occasionally, cheeks reddening, shoulders tensing.
łYou really had us all fooled didn’t you. Jesus. No more pissing about. You’re going to tell us, right now, who exactly this man is and how exactly we can get the money back.
Looked at him helplessly.
‘I only met him a couple of times. I don’t know his name. I suppose his last name is the same as his dad’s.’
łSo, I can’t get this all straight. He comes to the house. He asks for money. You think ‘Oh, I’ve got ten thousand quid sitting upstairs in a shoebox, I’ll give him that’. You don’t even ask his name. I don’t get it. Tell me.
‘I killed his dad!’
If I said it in a rush without thinking about it, it was less painful, but it still ripped the scars wide open and the guilt poured in.
‘His dad was going to give him money for an extension to his house for his daughter. She’s sick. He said I had to pay for what I did. He scared me. And he was right. I did have to pay. I am paying. I’m paying it back. I’m nearly there.’
Just a few more weeks and I might have done it. Selling everything I owned, all the begging and borrowing from friends, acquaintances and then people I hardly knew, might have been worth it.
-That is really beside the point. It wasn’t your money to give away. Bloody hell this is complicated. OK, another question. There was no court case, so obviously nobody thinks you deliberately killed this man’s father. It mentions a verdict here?
‘No one knows what the fuck happened.’
-So what’s your version?
‘I crashed my car and a man died.’
And left my life splattered in the ditch with his.
-The newspaper tells me that much. Were you drunk?
‘I’d had a beer. Wasn’t drunk.’
-Was it your fault?
Ah, well, there was the question, but I couldn’t answer it.
‘I don’t know.’
A snort from Jay. He was staring stonily out of the window, which looked onto the pitch and new grandstand. The sun was beginning to set above it and a few seagulls flew lazily overhead. Field of dreams.
-So this letter we’ve received today, with the newspaper clipping, might it be from this same man? Making you pay another way?
Shrugged. Everything was ending. Didn’t matter who or why.
-You say you don’t know how to contact this man. How did you pay him? Surely you didn’t have the cash in the house?
Shook my head.
‘Special account for the charity. I was going to transfer it.’
łYeah, we all thought how responsible you were. Do him good, taking charge. That turned out well.
-So you took it out in cash?
-What did you do with it?
‘Met him in a pub. Handed it over.’
Jay’s jaw was clenched. Emanating anger.
-And have you had any contact with him since then?
Shook my head. Don sighed.
-Well I guess at least we have a possible last name and a location. We’ll have to see if that’s enough.
There was a pause. Don leaned forwards.
-OK. This is what’s going to happen.
I held my breath, braced myself for the blow.
-You are suspended as of now. You will not play or train with us until further notice. You have seriously compromised the club, and could cost us greatly, both financially and in terms of our league position. We need to look at your visa status and assess your legal situation, both with us and, I have to say, the implications for remaining in this country. We will have to inform the RFU straight away, but they will not look favourably on us, as it won’t be the first time the club has had passport irregularities. Your suspension is temporary for now while we look into this further, but we will take whatever action we think is necessary, which could well include dismissing you. We are going to have to go public with all of this immediately. Our media people can try some damage limitation, but once it’s out there, there’s no telling how big it will get. With a lot of luck it will stay local, a bit of TV, in the local papers, but the supporters’ forum will go mental with it and who knows after that. If you leave us, nobody else may want you.
I didn’t know if he meant no one as in no other team, or the world in general, but either way I was screwed. On my own again.
-You have behaved extremely foolishly. You have kept important information from us, and abused the trust of everyone here. You have stolen from the club. I don’t know if we could ever rely on you again. The trust Jay and his family have placed in you is a different matter, and I am going to leave you with him now to have his say. I’m so disappointed in the way you’ve behaved, Declan, you had such a promising future with us.
Don left the room, closing the door firmly behind him. Jay sat staring at the setting sun. His fists were clenched and his lips were pressed together so tightly they had gone white.
łI just don’t know where to start. Jesus, I don’t need this right now. You’re a complete fucking liar aren’t you? All of this shit, all this time, it’s like I don’t even know you. And he came to the house? He knows where we live. Jesus. He could be a nutcase.
‘I moved out so that –’
łYou didn’t tell us. You lied about it. The other stuff, the passport, accident, money, that’s bad enough. Jesus, bad enough. But you lied to me and Beth. I can’t believe it, all that time. You didn’t say a fucking word. Fucking arsehole.
łNot nearly good enough. You can forget ever coming back here. I never want to see you again. Fuck you. Whoever you are. You’re finished, you’ve screwed your whole life up. Say goodbye to Raiders. Say goodbye to all of this –
He waved his hand at the view out of the window.
ł – anywhere.
He stood up suddenly, took a step towards me, stood over me. I waited for him to hit me – it wouldn’t be the first time someone had taken out their frustration with me on me, although Jay never had, it was unthinkable, and for the last three years I’d relaxed and almost forgotten what it was like to feel like I deserved it.
Jay’s fists were balled up and he was breathing heavily. I had no defence, didn’t want any, welcomed the punishment. His muscles twitched, he took two deep breaths.
łYou and me, we’re done.
He strode to the door, flung it open and walked down the corridor taking my dreams with him. I sat for a long time, Jay’s words sinking in heavily. I’d known he’d be upset, angry, disappointed; I’d expected a confrontation if he ever found out about it. I never thought he’d be done with me – it was worse than if he’d punched me. Hadn’t considered the full implications. The consequences now facing me were huge and I couldn’t bear it.
I am in a crowded room, a bar, and I need to get some water. I try to push through all the people, but every time a gap appears, it is filled by someone else, and I am being pushed backwards. I try to shove through again, and am overpowered, overbalanced, and I fall …
I do not know how I got home. I do not remember much of the following forty eight hours. There was alcohol. A lot of alcohol. There was a ringing phone. There was a ringing doorbell. I drank and slept and woke and drank and slept. Then I ran out of vodka, and as time passed I just woke.
Head was a solid throb of pain. Smelt vomit and piss. Lying face down on the floor. When I could move, I turned over. Nausea and pain took hold for a while, could feel nothing but spinning and churning. Opening my eyes renewed the assault. Sat up. Very, very slowly. More pain, more spinning, more churning. Still wearing my training kit, splattered with sick down the front.
Looked around; empty beer and vodka bottles, the remnants of a smashed phone beneath a dent in the plaster. Many unwelcome feelings in my gut – including aching hunger. All muscles unremittingly sore. Avoided remembering as long as possible. Couldn’t be helped, in the end. Waves, torrents, floods of it all. Shame, remorse, self-pity flowing through me, taking any last shreds of self-respect with them.
In small stages I moved from the floor to the couch. It stank as badly as me. Needed to change my clothes, but could not gather the strength. Seemed like late evening. Flat was almost in darkness, lit only by the dim orange street lamps outside. Sat for a long time. Doing nothing meant feeling nothing. I didn’t really exist. Floated outside my fucked up miserable life. Kept it up as long as I could, then the smell from my clothes and increasing growls of hunger forced me to move, get to my feet.
Trod on an empty bottle. The throbbing that tore through my head when I nearly fell made me turn on a lamp. Falling over would be worse than the light. As soon as I put the light on, the doorbell started to ring. Cried out with the pain of it, like needles deep in my skull. Fell back onto the couch. As an accompaniment to the doorbell, there was shouting, through the letterbox.
“Declan? Or is it Charlie? How are you feeling? Can we have a comment? How does it feel to be kicked out of the team?
and on and on, all the time ringing the bell.
Hands over my ears. It barely dulled the sound. The choice between enduring the noise or moving to stop it immobilised me for some time. It didn’t let up. Eventually I stood, and moved on unsteady legs to the door.
As soon as I opened the door, the flash of a camera went off. A stab of agony between my eyes blinded me. An onslaught of voices. Too many words. Too loud. Tried to shut the door, but it was held open. Sagged against the doorpost, eyes closed. Words slowly resolved themselves. The same ones that had been fired through the letterbox. Found my voice, although it was husky and broken.
‘Please leave me alone. I have nothing to say.’
More flashes. More words, catching my attention with
“Anything to say about Jay Scott’s resignation?
Through the jumble, that one got through. I gaped.
“Any comment? You were aware of it?
Shook my head, as much to clear it as to answer the question. Hit me like a body blow. Legs buckled.
‘Seriously, fuck off and leave me alone’.
Little strength left, used it all to shut the door on them. Floor broke my fall. Lay there, numb. Shouted questions continued, even a flash through the letterbox. Eventually, quiet. Thoughts returned. Worthless, worthless piece of shit. Can’t keep other people out of my misery.
Mobile pinged. Had probably pinged many times. Didn’t care. But, still lying on the floor, reached for the phone in my pocket. Scrolled down to Jay’s name. Stared at it. For a long time. Pressed call. It went straight to voicemail. Pressed home number. It rang for a long time, then it was answered.
A long silence.
‘Please Beth, can I just talk to Jay?’
_Go away Dec. Don’t call us again.
She rang off. So I’d fucked it up with Beth too. I couldn’t take it in. She always picked me up, dusted me down and helped me out. Talked Jay round when I’d done something to piss him off. If Beth was done with me as well, I really had lost it all.
Too much. Sobs welled up and forced their way out. Big, lurching, body shuddering breaths. Loud, painful, face-soaking unstoppable tears. Curled into a ball on the floor and poured my anguish into the carpet.
Sudden awareness. A key in the lock above me. Door started to open, hit my foot and stopped.
Adrenaline pumped, mobilising me. Flipped up on my feet, swaying slightly, trying to keep the nausea down and ignore the pounding pain behind my eyes. Faced the opening door. A woman, older, short and stout.
‘What the fuck …’
:Sorry, love, I tried knocking, don’t think you heard. The old lady who lived here before you gave me a key. I’ve been meaning to give it back since you moved in. I’m in the flat below you. Heard you from downstairs just now, you sounded a bit upset. Thought I’d come and check. Everything alright?
She walked in. Sniffed. Looked at the vomit on my shirt and from there to the debris littering the rest of the flat.
:Rough night, love?
I couldn’t understand who she was, what she was doing here. She had an accent – couldn’t work out where from right now, didn’t really give a shit to be honest.
:Well I had to call the police to get rid of those buggers in the hallway. Making a right nuisance of themselves they were, don’t know how they got in, I s’pose they blagged it. Been hanging around outside on and off for a couple of days. Anyway, they’ve gone now. Here to see you by the looks of it, love.
Couldn’t face more talking. Didn’t want this woman here. Didn’t have the energy to make her go away.
:You look terrible.
:Yes, well, I guessed that, from the smell of you and all the empties. Now, I’m good at looking after people, love. Why don’t you have a lie down and I’ll tidy up a bit?
‘No. I’m OK. Please, just piss off.’
Just want to be alone. Please.
:Oh go on, I know the flat from when I looked after Ada. Won’t take me a minute.
Pulled on my arm. Tugged me in the direction of the bedroom. I lay down. Distant sounds of clinking glass. Hoover. Slept.
Dreaming. Flying above the pitch, playing, huge crowd. I can fly. I can win it because I can fly. They pass me the ball and I fly over the line.
I am playing soldiers with Jay. He is in command and he sends me to hide up a tree. While I am up the tree, I lose my grip on the branch and I fall