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12 Yards

I want you to stop whatever you’re doing, and take a short walk. 12 strides, please, from anywhere to anywhere. Note the distance. For me, it’s here to sort of over there, but for you it might be something else: here-ish to kinda that spot, or even “where I was 12 strides ago to where I am now, looking back at where I was.”

Whatever you choose, it isn’t very far, is it? Whatever your gait, it’s probably around 12 yards. Please remember the distance and we’ll continue.

Now, imagine that you’ve spent every waking hour since the age of, oh, I don’t know, 4 years old? kicking a football, or soccer ball, or whatever your language used to describe that fatal orb. You played for your school team at the age of 7, when all the other kids were 9 or 10. Coaches on the sidelines commented on the fact that you seemed like a natural. You grew a bit, meaning you were probably a bit bigger, or faster, or quicker than other players. You continued to play for, and then captain, your school teams: under-11’s, under 12’s, etc.. But by the time you’re 13, or something, you’ve already signed for a professional team--that’s how good you are.

Whatever the trajectory of your fledgling career, 12 yards is still 12 yards.

You leave school at 16, and you start your full-time football career. You clean the boots of the senior players, and you tell everyone you’re grateful. You continue to kick a soccer ball all day every day, when you’re not cleaning cleats. You play a few games for the reserves, where you yet again shine. In your first game for a team—let’s pretend it’s Watford—you score. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to play for Arsenal—you go straight into the Premier League, at age 18. That’s how good you are.

There are ups and downs. Good games and bad. You score some goals, you get some yellow and red cards, you make millions of quid, you swear at a police officer outside a nightclub, you get transferred to Aston Villa or Chelsea or even Manchester United, you marry a pop star and then she divorces you. You throw yourself down in the penalty box a bit too much. You accidentally shoot a work trainee with a .22 air rifle. You play for your country, a place where 12 yards is measured, approximately, as 12 yards.

Your name is Ashley. You’ve been kicking a football since you were, I don’t know, 4 years old. 12 yards has always been 12 yards, however many young men you shoot, however many dives you fake. You were, before missing both your penalties for England yesterday, the least loved player(s) in England. And so it will remain, just as 12 yards—12 freaking yards—will always be 12. Freaking. Yards.