Had a good weekend, did you? Enjoyed the sun, did you? Couple of cans in the park? Maybe a kickabout? What a glorious weekend it was.
Oh, how I longed to be a teenager again; playing football with my mates and whoever else happened to be in the park. Remember Headers and Volleys? You might have called it Ten Down. That was good, wasn't it? Not enough for a game but more than two? Headers and Volleys will do for you. All you needed was a ball, something passable as goalposts, and three or more people. From there, the variations and machinations were infinite. It was sheer, unadulterated joy.
Of course, in an ideal world you'll have an actual football goal to play in, but they were at a premium in my neighbourhood. Even if you managed to chance upon a vacant rusting upright, it was often only a matter of time before an older group of boys tried to strong arm into your game before edging you out. So sometimes making do with t-shirts - or even mounds of freshly cut grass - would have to suffice as goalposts. Forget the jumpers - it's a sunny day and if mum let you leave the house without putting sun cream on, well that's her fault. Bring on the tan; red is a tan, right?
Not having a goal frame added a beautiful layer of debate and ambiguity to the game - no VAR here, no way, never. With posts that didn't rise more than a couple of inches off the ground and of variable width, often the most vociferous appeal would win through when there were shouts of “post!" or "wide!" As for being over- what's over? Could be head height, could be how high the goalkeeper could reach. "How can it be over? You didn't even jump. You didn't even try."
If circumstances allowed, there was always the possibility that upturned bikes could serve as the woodwork. Now nobody wants to hit the post. What a precarious predicament for all involved. The only guaranteed safe outcome is if you hit your own bike - anything else threatens the very existence of the game.
So many variables to traverse and this status-endowing practice hasn't even got started. Ready to play now though, right? Have you lost your mind? Absolutely not. "Who's starting in goal?" Shotgun not me. Shotgun? It's bugsy round here. If you were smart (or brave, or stupid) you might have offered to start in goal; after all, it's worth two extra points. "Headers over, volleys wide?" the ‘keeper states tentatively. Was it a question or a statement? In this arena, silence is acceptance. It has been implicitly confirmed that should you head the ball over or volley the ball wide, you'll be going in goal. They're not the only ways though - no. The goalkeeper has a right to perform his way out of sticks but we'll make it hard for him. If he catches a volley, he can have his freedom; as for headers, he'll be required to catch them with one hand (ONE) if he plans on joining you all outfield. Ludicrous looking back at it, really.
“’Fancies' are worth three." Enter yet another element of controversy. What exactly classified as a fancy was entirely up for debate, as was their value. There was always one wanting a knee recognised as a fancy. If that was you, shame on you. If you allowed this rule to pass, shame on you too. Volleys were worth one and headers two. Everyone started on 10, apart from whoever was in goal first- they got 12. For anything else, consensus ruled. Left foot fancy? Go on then, but it's not my problem if you don't realise I am left-footed until you're on 4 points.
Now we've started. A couple of keepy-ups to ease yourself in. Juggle it in the air between a few of you - but not too close to the 'keeper because if he catches it you're in. These first few minutes are vital, particularly if you are playing with strangers amid your ranks. What is his stronger foot? Can he deliver a nice chip? Is he ever going to shoot, or will he try and see this through to penalties? Sorry, what? Yeah, penalties. Once you've whittled it down to two remaining players, you need to decide a winner. You could just award the title to whoever has the most points, but if you've been playing with Sammy Shoot Shy, you're done for. No -the fairer way to settle it is from the spot. A Sammy Shoot Shy situation should never materialise in the do or die world of Headers and Volleys. If you're not shooting, you might as well not play. It is the shared responsibility of the group to ensure everyone's risking the jeopardy of going in goal. "If we're going to kill off this 'keeper, you've got to be involved.”
With the sun out, everyone bought in to this sacrificial act of humiliating players in goal and then through bum raps - Yeah, bum raps for those eliminated - and the status of being Headers and Volleys Champion on the line, Di Canio-esque volleys, Beckham-like crosses, and Brazilian link-up play are all on show. Viva la showboat! Joga Bonito!
Mere aerial finishes and the artistry of assisting is not enough to navigate through. Maths is also required. Jamie is down to 3 points. What's the best way to finish him off? He's got to actually end up bang on zero to lose. Three volleys? A volley and a header? A header then a volley? Maybe a straight up fancy. When death is in sight, the killer instinct kicks in, but all options are a gamble. Get it wrong and you could end up in goal.
Depending on the size of the group, there are a multitude of ways to bring this spectacle to a close. Do you want to keep everyone involved for as long as possible or do you want a cut-throat situation with just one winner? Are we in this for the long-run or is this a game we want done inside 20 minutes? The diehards weren't concerned with the first out being bored and having to wait a potentially very long time before the next. There's not a spare ball to kick around? You should have brought one then, mate.
The game to its fullest extent on my estate was as follows: if the person in goal had lost all their points - finishing on exactly 0 - then the scorer and assister of the killer goal would take a penalty; for each penalty missed or saved, the 'keeper would win back a point; if both penalties were scored, he was out and would face bum raps taken from the penalty spot. This process was repeated until there were just two players left and the winner was decided by penalty shootout.
It was an epic event and thus a mammoth achievement to win it. Your mates and fellow footballers would know if you were a worthy winner or not, regardless of the penalty shootout. If you'd been volleying it in on the half-turn, pummelling thunderous headers past the 'keeper, and risking your back on the baked, grassless 18-yard box to attempt acrobatics, you were going down in Headers and Volleys legend for the day - even if Sammy Shoot Shy toe-punted in a winning penalty in his black Golas.
The game - like all great childhood games - could teach you a lot about life. There was the sense of fairness that had to be maintained if proceedings were going to uphold integrity and for it to be maintained there needed to be a group consensus and morality. There was risk-assessment. There was teamwork. Hierarchy. Debate. Negotiation. Public defeat and public success. One minute, all your mates are vying for your blood; the next, you are out of goal and working together with those who wanted you dead. Simply completing the game with all the initial participants still present and still amicable was a triumph in itself.
There were flaws in Headers and Volleys - defending wasn't required and it demonised the position of goalkeeper - but it captured the excitement of scoring spectacular goals and provided them at a rate of one a minute. It also had a versatility unparalleled in the football-based games market: if your mate's cousin was staying for the weekend and wasn't very good at football you could allow him half-volleys, and if your little brother wanted to play but was four years younger, the rules could be adapted so you weren't allowed to shoot inside a certain area. As long as you abided by the agreed rules, Headers and Volleys was for everyone.
As I cycled to work on Good Friday, the parks were full of impromptu kickabouts. When I cycled home again, the parks were still full. The same was the case on Saturday and again on Sunday. On Easter Monday, like I had all weekend, I cycled to work past parks alive with the noise of footballs being struck and goals being celebrated. It was a perfect weekend for it. As I sat at my desk, I longed to be in the park. But I didn't just long to be in the park because it was the hottest Easter Monday on record and I was at work, I longed for it because I don't see my friends as much anymore; I don't have days where all that matters is how much daylight is left to play football in. I saw the park, I saw the sun, and I was already thinking of when I'll next see my best mate.
When I got to work, I unlocked my phone. "Do you remember Headers and Volleys?" I messaged him. "Of course I do," he replied. As if he'd have ever forgotten.
by Jordan Florit - @TheFalseLibero