Showing off on a page or stage for a living has been my ambition since the age of seventeen. Prior to that I didn’t have any clear aspirations beyond a vague sense that doing something I enjoyed for a job would be gratifying. I didn’t really enjoy school and the thought of waking up every morning for the rest of my life dreading the day ahead made me miserable. Imagine looking forward to Monday morning. Imagine getting a little excited for the end of a holiday. Naïve stuff, I’m aware but I was young and full of hope and sunshine.
If you’d asked me at twelve years old what I liked doing the best, I’d have told you playing football. I wasn’t particularly good but my lack of skill didn’t stop me loving it. I played for the school a few times and was a regular substitute for the shambolic Harborne Swifts but those were the only footballing heights I reached. I was (and still am) quite a wimpy little chap and whilst I may have been athletically capable no one would have watched little Tom playing football and thought: “Get that puny ginger coward a trial somewhere!”. I say twelve; the truth is scouts and so on spot footballing talent in kids as young as four or five so my credentials were deemed inadequate almost before I could speak in sentences.
I didn’t get upset about the football career I clearly wouldn’t be having because before I knew it, instead of warming the bench for the Swifts on a Sunday I was failing to make an impression at Youth Theatre. After Youth Theatre came the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama and a conviction that professionally showing off was the career for me.
Happily I’ve always managed to play football on the side, as it were. At drama school I was on the roster for a slightly illicit team and then upon moving to London I found various organised games I could involve myself in. Playing football (I just can’t bring myself to write the ‘s’ word so forgive the repetition) does wonders for my mental health and I count myself lucky that at the age of thirty five my knees and ankles still permit me to run around a bit. I would kill for game right now but a quick check of the BBC website (which helpfully outlines the games one is allowed to play in lockdown) informed me that I’m out of luck. I can have a game of socially distanced tennis, badminton and bowls but not football. There were many other suggestions, of course, but quoits just doesn’t compare to the endorphin rewards reaped from kicking people and getting kicked in return.
Strange then, I’m sure you’ll all agree, that the professionals are being corralled out onto the pitches this month. Quite rightly footballers are rarely the recipients of sympathy these days yet I can’t help but feel a little conflicted on their behalf. On the one hand, from a selfish perspective, having some footy to watch is going to be lovely but I’m not sure that’s worth it. They’re all at risk, surely? There’s no way you can socially distance while playing football and I should know as that’s my exact approach to playing kick-a-ball these days and it simply doesn’t work. So why are teams across the country pulling up their socks and tying their laces? Sadly, in football as in life, money talks. Hypocrisy be damned.
I sincerely hope the players stay well. It’s their health that’s at risk here rather than an argument. It’s also incredibly important Birmingham City don’t get relegated so let’s all keep that in our thoughts too.
I’m delighted to say I’m ploughing on with the play reasonably industriously. I’m fourteen pages in with a decent idea of where I’m going. It’s an effort keeping my inner saboteur (as RuPaul so eloquently describes he or she) from pointing out when or how this play will ever see the light of day but I’m winning that battle for the moment. Many thanks for reading!
Thomas Willshire is a writer/actor/comedian who just about lives in London with his wife, Polly and dog, Fergal. He considers himself the fortunate product of a supportive and loving environment.
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