three lions on a shirt

In honour of the Lionesses historic win of the Women’s Euros, here’s an excerpt from my Work-in-Progress novel, A Patch Of Dirt.
Set in Wakefield, the novel is my attempt at a small-town ‘state of the nation’ Brexit novel, taking place in a part of the UK that rarely gets documented.
The context for this excerpt is that millionaire Lottery winner Kerry Kerslake is taking her best pal Lennie to watch Eastmoor Harriers, the girls’ football team she owns, to play against Mytholmroyd Rovers in Halifax.

All football teams, characters, and their coach, are entirely fictional.
Warning: sweary.

At Halifax, over moortops, purple heather clinging hardily at ground. A sweet of valley on the passenger side, down to a clutch of stone houses nestling in a valley. An old black mill tower rose above the town. “Proper shithole, this,” Kerry said. “I wouldn’t live here if you paid me.”

“Come on, it’s not that bad.”

Through a concrete Möbius strip of dual carriageway, slicing through the centre. The new shopping ground, all glass, then the old one: two storey concrete car park, a tatty white sign. Out of the town centre the road narrowed, and swung through blackened trees. Short drystone walls leaning over narrow pavements. Then the trees cleared, and the road followed a sharper gradient. Sparser housing, villages of fifteen, sixteen houses. Open fields and sheep. In a scrubby field, a miserable looking horse in a coat stared down at electricity pylons.

“Mytholmroyd bloody Rovers,” Kerry said. “I’ve told coach we need to beat them this time. I don’t think my girls can take another hammering like last year.” The road curved down, and Kerry swerved over the central line. In a quiet place like this, she drove as though trying to intimidate others off the road. “She used to play for Sheffield,” she said. “All this faff with the training ground, not having a decent place to practise, it’s unsettling to the girls, you know?”

A sharp-knife turn down a hairpin bend, which Kerry didn’t slow to account for, and Lennie ended up wearing half her Americano down her brand new coat. “Oh come on, you could at least have braked a bit there.”

“Sorry.” With one hand on the wheel, Kerry reached around to the back seat. “I think I’ve got some napkins here -” The lane they were on were narrow, and she swerved it with the carelessness of a dodgem. They nearly missed wing mirrors, car doors, a wall that stopped the road from a river.

A pinching at the end of a lane finally caused Kerry to slow. The corner was made tighter still by a couple of bikes leaning against the stone wall of a house. “This seem right to you?” she said. “I don’t see how a football ground could be this much out of the way, do you?”

“Practise is practise, isn’t it? What does it matter if you don’t have your own ground?”

“We keep getting kicked out of places. That’s the trouble. It’s like nobody wants us using their field. The council said we weren’t to use the park for organised training purposes, and the schools have got their own uses for their fields. We keep on moving place to place and it’s confusing for the girls. Sometimes we have training and half the team don’t get to it because they’ve gone to the wrong ground, that’s the problem.”

They were in a street of stone houses which seemed to be a dead end. “I’ve got my eye on the boys’ grammar school,” she said. “I bet my money’s good there.” She frowned. “I don’t know about this. I think they must have given us the wrong postcode.”

The Halifax ground was a greying bit of grass stubble between houses. It was out front of a primary school that was also a children’s centre, with a small doctors’ surgery beside it. Kerry’s girls were jumping and lunging with the coach in their tracksuits, and the Home girls looked sharp, furtive, like hungry ferrets poured fresh from a sack. “I don’t like the look of this,” Lennie said.

Kerry had got some of the kits in the back of her car. She’d taken it away to wash, because a few of the girls didn’t have a washing machine at home. “This lot are a proper set of kneecappers,” she said. “Dirty bunch of shirtgrabbing bastards.” She pulled the bag of kit from the back of the car.

“Are you just saying that because they beat you last time?”

Kerry glowered at the home girls as she lurched the kit into the changing rooms.

“Let me see those knees.” The coach, Lindy, was working the girls hard. “Then stretch, come on. Low as you can go.” Her face was angled as a newly pointed pencil, and she had bright blue eyes. This woman was never out of shorts, and she wore a whistle the way a religious woman might wear a cross. Lindy had played for Sheffield Women’s team, and for the Lionesses. She was the best Kerry could find in this part of the country, but she hadn’t got them off the bottom of the league yet, which was more or less what Kerry was paying her for. Kerry wanted the Harriers off the bottom of the league and lifting the cup by the end of the season. “You, Ndebele,” she said. “Stick to that ball like glue. Eyes on the goal. Get it off ’em and into the back of the net. You, Votczek. Tight in the wing, keep them under pressure, don’t let anybody draw you away. Remember it’s not about possession or who scores the goal, it’s about teamwork. Getting the ball away from them and to Ndebele. Attack, attack, attack.”

The Harriers’ strip was hot pink and silver stripes. Kerry had chosen it. Every team had to wear colours not worn by anybody else in the league, and there was no other team in the whole of West Yorkshire in a kit like this.

…to be continued…

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Published by SJ Bradley

Author, short story writer, and arts projects manager from Leeds, UK.

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