Three poems from ‘Starting Eleven’ by Matthew Stewart

Left: Aldershot striker Mike Ring (16 goals in 76 appearances) with a diving header
Right: Midfielder Ian McDonald, flanked by Bill Shankly, signing for Liverpool before his Shots days (340 apps)

 

Aldershot FC Footballers of the 1980s

 
 

    3 – Ian Phillips

 

Shaven-headed but for straw-blond sideburns,
signed on a free transfer, he's a throwback
to when defenders only defended,
to when the halfway line was their border,
no flashy attempts at overlapping.

All he wants is to play one more season,
one more season, his shoulder relishing
the chance to usher dainty right-wingers
straight into the advertising hoardings
— if they dare to do him for pace.

 
 
 

    7 – Mike Ring

 

He looks like a tennis player
or an import from Marbella.
Elegant, perma-tanned and fast.
So fast that he's often the sub
when we're one down, minutes to go,
and he streaks past shattered left-backs
to snatch us our equaliser.

A disappointment if he's picked
from the start and gets caked in mud —
it saps him like everyone else.
No chants suddenly exploding
on the terrace to Get Ring On!
No way to turn the game around.

 
 
 

    10 – Ian McDonald

 

We love his knack for bringing long punts down
from shoulder height and playing passes blind,
weighing them so teammates never break stride.

Just as we admire the delicate chip
he placed precisely in the top corner
against Plymouth Argyle last Saturday.

Just as we understand the cautious way
he lifts his foot out of fifty-fifties
through the slurry of the centre circle

in remembrance of the vicious tackle
that smashed his ankle in the second game
after Shankly signed him for Liverpool.

 
 

Matthew Stewart

About Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart works in the Spanish wine trade and lives between Extremadura and West Sussex. Following two pamphlets with HappenStance Press, both now sold out, his first full collection is 'The Knives of Villalejo' (Eyewear, 2017). He blogs at Rogue Strands.