MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
If you’re in the penalty area and you don’t know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we’ll discuss the options later.
THREE MONTHS LATER
There were only four people standing on the sidelines watching the soccer game, and Noah knew three of them. The fourth was a stranger. He was a broad-faced man with narrow eyes who had arrived early in the second half. Noah hoped he was a scout, but soccer scouts rarely came to this isolated part of Ireland. In fact, people rarely came to this part of Ireland. If they did, they usually acknowledged their mistake, made their excuses and left as swiftly as they could.
It was permanently windy in the town of Carraig Cruach. And most days were cold. When it wasn’t cold it was raining, although there were months on end when it was all three at once: cold and wet and windy. Arthur Slugsley, the man on the sideline, made another note as he tried his best to shield his clipboard from the lashing rain, which seemed to be pounding him from at least three different angles. Despite his jet-black, supposedly 100-percent-waterproof poncho and the umbrella that was almost whipped from his hand with every sudden gust of wind, he was sopping wet. Down in the dumps, but grimly determined to finish his work, Arthur managed to write:
• Good game intelligence. Sometimes frustrated by inability of teammates to be on the same wavelength. Would thrive in a better team
This was in addition to some of the other things he’d already written about Noah Murphy. These included
• Very quick and agile
• Has great skill and control
• Unselfish—will pass rather than showboat
Noah was out on the left wing now, moving into space, just like he always did. Most people thought soccer was about skill and effort—and it was about those things—but mainly it was about space and decisions. Finding space on the field in which to receive the ball and then making the right decision—when to pass, when to dribble, when to shoot.
Now he controlled a ball from Bestie and shimmied free of the man closest to him. It wasn’t difficult for Noah to get away. Ever since the fourth goal had gone in, putting Noah’s team, St. Killian’s, 4–0 up against Clydeabbey, the opposition had given up. It was almost as if they didn’t want to be out there watching the goals flying in on this cold, wet, extremely miserable day.
Noah nutmegged the center-back and faked a pass to the winger who was bombing into the area, before slamming the ball into the top corner himself to make it 5–0.
The goalkeeper fished the ball out of the back of the net with a heartfelt sigh. He was imagining being warm and dry in a double block of math. The thought of being lulled to sleep by the steady drone of his teacher’s voice was far more appealing than being stuck where he was right now.
Noah didn’t celebrate the goal, his second of the game.
“You’ve won the game already. Why do you have to keep scoring? Are you trying to humiliate us?” the goalkeeper grumbled.
“It’s nothing personal. That’s just his way. He never stops,” Shieldsy, the tallest of Noah’s teammates, replied. “He’s like the Terminator. If the Terminator played schools’ soccer.”
“Can’t you have a word with him? Tell him to take it easy or something.”
“He wouldn’t listen. He just does his own thing.”
As he jogged back to his own half, Noah stole a glance at the sideline. The scout, if that’s what he was, was making another note on his rain-soaked pad. Noah hoped it was a good one. He really needed it to be a good one. But as Clydeabbey took their sixth kickoff of the day, his heart almost skipped a beat.
Oh no, he thought, not now.
A small figure was sidling up to Arthur Slugsley. A small figure Noah knew very well indeed. Unlike Noah, and every other person in the vicinity, Little Stevie, also known as IQ, was bone dry and almost cozy, buried as he was under layer after layer of raincoats. A wide-brimmed hat kept the rain off his face.
Noah’s best friend in the world, his only friend, had been filming the game from the far side of the field, but he’d spent the last ten minutes edging nearer and nearer the scout. Slugsley looked down at the young teenager encroaching on his personal space. Even through the lashing rain, Noah could make out the look on the man’s face. It was an unhappy mixture of confusion and annoyance.
With the World Cup qualifiers less than two months away, Noah knew that he had to impress the man on the sideline and he didn’t need anyone messing things up by saying the wrong thing. And if anyone was going to say the wrong thing, it was going to be Little Stevie Treacy.
Noah’s jersey was stuck to him, the two ones that formed the number eleven on his back had begun to peel off and his navy socks sagged under the weight of water, exposing the tops of his shin pads.
“Wake up, Murphy,” came the shout from Liam O’Sullivan, the bullish left-back, as he slid the ball up the line.
Noah swore to himself. He’d lost concentration. That was stupid. O’Sullivan’s pass was good, especially in these miserable conditions, and Noah took a touch, knocking the ball forward over the wet and muddy ground. He looked up, checking his options, as the huge defender, his face a furious red, thundered toward him. He’d had it in for Noah since the fourth minute of the game when Noah had turned him inside out twice in thirty seconds, before scoring the first goal. The defender was big and strong and fast, but he had no skill. Though what he lacked in skill he made up for in intimidation—he was built like a son of the Hulk.
Noah caressed the ball with the outside of his right boot, sending it on a gentle parabola. It curled around the outstretched foot of the fullback and into the space between the two central defenders. Jim Reynolds, the lightning-fast striker, had seen his teammate play a through ball like this before. Even though they disliked each other in real life, on the field they had a great understanding. Reynolds had started his run as soon as he saw Noah look up.
The center-backs were slow to turn, and Jim already had a couple of feet on them when the ball landed ahead of him, just in the right spot to take it in his stride. He cushioned it with his instep. Jim was in the penalty area with only the keeper to beat when Noah felt studs crunch into his ankle. There was a flash of nerve-shredding pain as his leg went from under him. For a second he was airborne and had a moment to consider the ugly, cold darkness of the sky, before he returned to earth with a splash as he landed in a puddle of dirty, icy cold water. He heard the cheers of his teammates as Jim took the ball around the keeper and tapped it into the empty net.
“Get up. I barely touched you.”
Noah pulled down his sock and glanced at the six red stud marks on his ankle before looking up. The defender was even more intimidating close up. He stood above Noah, leaning forward until Noah could clearly see the white pimple right on the end of his square chin. The rest of his face appeared to have reddened up a notch, like it was going to explode at any moment.
“Did you hear me? I told you to get up, you whining mama’s boy.”
Noah was used to being targeted in games. He was one of the danger players, one to watch, which meant he spent half of his time on the soccer field getting kicked black and blue. He usually responded by partaking in some sneaky revenge when the ref wasn’t looking—a little kick here, a sly dig there. He wasn’t going to do anything now though, no matter how much he was provoked. There was too much at stake.
“I won’t tell you a third time, you sh—”
“Take it easy,” Noah said.
“What did you call me?”
The alarm bells went off in Noah’s head. He hadn’t called him anything. The big bruiser was looking for a fight.
“If I wanted to call you something, I would have, but I didn’t, so back off,” Noah said.
“Get him, Brick,” someone shouted.
“Your name is Brick?”
“Yeah, what’s it to you?”
“Nothing, but your friends must really hate you if they call you Brick. It rhymes with too many things,” Noah said.
Noah struggled to his feet as the referee peep-peep-peeped on his whistle. Brick must have figured out one of the rhymes because the next thing Noah saw was his opponent’s fleshy fist hurtling toward him. And then all hell broke loose.
NAME: Noah Murphy
NICKNAME: None really. Sometimes people call me Moses. You can probably figure out why.
TEAM YOU PLAY FOR: St. Killian’s is my school team. I used to play for CC United, which was the only soccer team in town, but it closed down last year so now it’s school soccer or nothing.
TRAINING SCHEDULE: St. Killian’s trains on Wednesday evenings, but I do a lot of extra training myself. For the last few months, I’ve been getting up at 6:00 a.m. on school mornings to practice shooting with both feet and to improve my touch. I usually do that for an hour or two. I do a few exercises as well to improve my speed and spring. I don’t eat candy or any sugary stuff and I make sure I eat plenty of fruit and drink lots of water. Three times a week I go jogging around the local soccer field. When I get the chance to use the Internet, I go on YouTube and watch a lot of soccer videos to learn new skills.
POSITION: Central midfield, but as long as I get a game I don’t mind where I play.
PLAYER YOU’RE MOST LIKE: Fabregas, I think.
FAVORITE PLAYER: Arjen Robben. He’s outstanding.
FAVORITE GOAL: Zlatan’s goal against FC Breda. Look it up on YouTube. It’s amazing.
MESSI OR RONALDO: Messi
Copyright © 2016 by Kieran Crowley