Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 4

Chapter Four: Jitters

Kick-off was at eleven. At ten-thirty both teams, the Greens and the Reds, the Cauliflower Ears and the Devils, were warming up at opposite ends of the playing field.

We needed the warm up, and not just to get our muscles loose and supple. It was really chilly out on the field. Our breaths were puffs of steamy white.

‘Just listen to that,’ said Grubber.

‘What?’ asked Sprigs.

‘The roar of the crowd.’

Sprigs and I looked round. The single stand had several dozen people on it, their hands wrapped round thermos flasks. There were also about fifty supporters standing in little groups on the sidelines, marching on the spot to keep warm. The Red Brigade and the Greenies. But you’d hardly call it a crowd. And it certainly wasn’t roaring.

‘That’s not a crowd you’re hearing,’ I said. ‘It’s your heart drumming.’

‘That’s what it is,’ agreed Sprigs.

‘Is not,’ said Grubber, but he clutched his chest all the same.

‘It’ll be because your dad’s staying to watch the game,’ I said.

Wings was right, even though Grubber wasn’t going to admit it. He’d managed to drag his dad out of bed and make him solemnly swear to stay for the whole game. Now Grubber wasn’t sure it had been such a good idea. He always felt queasy before a game.

Today he felt worse than usual. His lips were dry and his stomach was doing flip-flops. His heart, now that he had his hand over it, was definitely banging away like a jack-hammer. Grubber wasn’t surprised Sprigs and Wings could hear it. The whole team probably could. Actually, he’d never felt this bad.

‘I thought I was going to be late,’ said Sprigs, as we stretched our legs and swung our arms. ‘Man, it was hard finding matching laces.’

This time Grubber and I looked at each other. ‘Can’t have been as hard as me having to wake my dad up,’ said Grubber.

‘You two can laugh,’ said Sprigs, ‘but no way was I playing without a matching bootlace.’

‘We’re not actually laughing,’ I pointed out.

‘Not yet you aren’t,’ said Sprigs.

‘What I don’t understand,’ Grubber said, ‘is why you only replaced one of the laces. They come in pairs. You could have put in two new ones.’

Sprigs shook his head. ‘I just had to leave one of the old laces in,’ he explained. ‘They’ve been my lucky laces all season.’

‘Don’t we know it,’ I said.

Sprigs was our top scoring fullback. He hadn’t missed a goal kick all season. We were all depending on him, and his lucky laces, in the Grand Final.

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