Yes! and the corner flag was the one he knew. The pitch was the one he knew, as was the dugout and the training centre. Best and happiest of all, the time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Robbo repeated, as he scrambled toward his office. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Martyn Pert! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, Martyn; on my knees!”
He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.
“They are not torn down,” cried Robbo, when he saw his tactics board, “they are not torn down, Xs and Os and all. They are here: I am here: the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”
His hands were busy with his Sharpie all this time: moving players out of position, pushing them forward, with barely a backward facing arrow to be seen and concocting formations that were parties to every kind of extravagance.
I don’t know what to do!” cried Robbo, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as a goal scorer, I am as merry as a ball-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”
He had frisked into the tactics room, and was now standing there: perfectly winded.
“There’s the ball that scared me so!” cried Robbo, starting off again, and going round his desk. “There’s the door, by which the Figure of Martyn Pert entered! There’s the corner where the Ghost of Seasons Present, sat! There’s the window where I saw the wandering Spirits! It’s all right, it’s all true, it all happened. Ha ha ha!”
“I don’t know what day of the month it is!” said Robbo. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!”
He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!
Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his stirring, cold cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!
“What’s to-day?” cried Robbo, calling downward to a boy who had arrived hoping to steal some boots from the training centre.
“Eh? ” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Robbo.
“To-day?” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Robbo to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy
“Do you know Pitch Number 3 of this training centre , passed the next pitch but one, at the corner?” Robbo inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Robbo. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether the Whitecaps players are still hanging around there? Not the little Academy kids; the proper players?”
“What, the ones as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Robbo. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“They’re hanging around there now,” replied the boy.
They are?” said Robbo. “Go tell them I’ll be with them presently.”
“Wank-er!” exclaimed the boy.
“No, no,” said Robbo, “I am in earnest. Go and tell them it, and I’ll give you a twenty-dollar note. Tell them in less than five minutes, and I’ll give you forty!”
“Nicolas Mezquida will be astonished to see me!” whispered Robbo, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. “He sha’n’t know who I am.”
As he was preparing to leave the football on the ground caught his eye.
“I shall love it, as long as I live!” cried Robbo, patting it with his hand. “I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has! It’s a wonderful football!”
Getting ready to meet the players was not an easy task, for his hand continued to shake very much; and dressing requires attention, even when you don’t dance while you are at it.
He finally dressed himself all in his best training gear, and at last got out into the cold winter air.
He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld one of the portly bloggers, who had spoken of him the day before, “My dear sir,” said Robbo, quickening his pace, and taking the startled fellow by both his hands. “How do you do? I hope you succeeded in writing your blog yesterday. It really is a thoroughly enjoyable read. A merry Christmas to you, sir!”
“Yes,” said Robbo. “that is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon for the football I have played. And will you have the goodness –” here Robbo whispered in his ear.
“Lord bless me!” cried the blogger, as if his breath were gone. “My dear Robbo, are you serious?”
“If you please,” said Robbo. “Three up front and not a player less. And box to box midfielders are included in it, I assure you.”
“My dear sir,” said the other, shaking hands with him. “I don’t know what to say to such attacki-”
“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Robbo. “Come and watch the team. Will you come and watch the team?”
“I will!” cried the blogger. And it was clear he meant to do it.
“Thank you,” said Robbo. “I am much obliged to you. I thank you fifty times. Bless you!”
He went to pitch where he knew the players would be. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness.
He passed the sideline a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up to them. But he made a dash, and did it:
“Why bless my soul!” cried Tim Parker, “who’s that?”
“It’s I. Your coach Robbo. I have come to play football with you. Will you let me play, Tim?”
Let him play! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off.
But he was ready for one more jape. If he could only catch Nicolas Mezquida not tracking back! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.
And he did it; yes he did! The ball was lumped forward from a reckless attack and Mezquida tarried in a while.
“Hallo!” growled Robbo, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. “What do you mean by loitering up front”
“I am very sorry, sir,” said Mezquida. “I am a little forward for the state of play.”
“You are?” repeated Robbo. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please.”
“It’s only a practice game,” pleaded Mezquida, with his head hung low. “It shall not be repeated. I was just enjoying my football, sir.”
“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Robbo, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, jumping up and down in excitement, and giving Mezquida such a dig in the chest that he staggered back into the penalty area: “and therefore I am about to change your role entirely!”
Mezquida trembled. He had a momentary idea of knocking Robbo down; holding him, and calling to the other players for help.
“A merry Christmas, Nicolas!” said Robbo, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Nic, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll change your role to a more attacking one and endeavour to assist you with as much support as possible no matter what the score.”
Robbo turned to the rest of the astonished squad “From this day forth my good fellows we will play with open hearts and open football in all games and at all times!”
Robbo was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Techera, who did not get drafted, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a coach, and as good a man, as the good old city of Vancouver knew, or any other good old city, town, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened in sport, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed with the joy of attacking football: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further meetings with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Football Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to enjoy a good game of football, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Techera observed, God Bless Us, Every One!