Previously in Leeford Village: Frank Reed and Ted Coleman have been invited to speak on Banfield Radio about Leeford Village’s football team’s spectacularly poor results. Simon has turned up at the vicarage and has asked the outgoing Reverend John Peterson about ordination.
‘What are we going to do, George?’ asks Jason once the crowd has dispersed following George’s announcement.
‘I’m going to have another pint, that’s what I’m going to do.’ George swigs the dregs from the bottom of his glass and smacks his lips approvingly.
‘I mean about Vera. She can’t come with us to Weston. Can she?’ says Jason, hopefully.
George nods his head.
‘Can’t stop her. Sex discrimination and all that. We can’t only invite men.’
‘But she’ll be a nightmare. You know what it’s like when the lads get together. We like to have a laugh and a few drinks. It could get quite rowdy. Certainly, not the place for a lady like Vera.’
George raises an eyebrow.
‘Okay,’ says Jason, ‘I use the word “lady” only in the biological sense in this case. But you know what I mean.’
George begins the painful process of raising himself from his seat, which he has always complained is too low for someone with back trouble such as he has.
‘Jason. We have to face it. She’s coming with us. Like it or not.’
George pats his brother on the shoulder as he passes him on the way to the bar.
Jason looks down at his half-finished glass of mild. ‘We’ll see about that, George,’ he says to himself.
John Peterson looks at Simon for what is, for Simon, an uncomfortably long time.
‘You want to be ordained?’
‘Yes. That’s what I want. It’s all I want,’ says Simon, a degree of nervousness in his voice.
‘Do you know what’s involved?’ asks John.
‘Not really. That’s why I’ve come to you. To ask if you can help me.’
‘Well, I’m not sure I… you do realise that you have to spend a few years taking up a lay position before the church would even begin to start considering you for ordination? Then there would be study, full or part-time at a theological college for a few years.’
‘Lay? I don’t know what that is, but I’m willing to do anything. I just want to serve the Lord.’
‘Is this some kind of a joke, Simon? Has Zack put you up for this?’ A smile breaks out on John’s face. But Simon does not reciprocate. He shakes his head.
‘Zack knows nothing of this, reve...Mr…John.’
‘Alright. Tell me why you want to be ordained. I mean you’re not exactly a regular church attendee, are you?’
Simon has to agree on this point, but he continues, undaunted.
‘That doesn’t mean I love the Lord any less. I pray every night and I try to be a really good person.’
John raises his hands in front of him and places them together.
‘Anyway, the main reason I want to be ordained is because of you,’ continues Simon, his voice firm.
John drops his hands.
‘Yes, you. I’ve known you since I was a little kid. You are the friendliest, most honest and caring person I have ever met. You help so many people as well as being a great father. Everybody loves you and you are a friend to everyone who comes to you. I want to be like that.’
‘It’s not just about that, Simon. It’s about having unshakeable faith in God. Without that, everything else becomes very difficult.’
Simon thinks about this for a while. He suspects Zack has his ear to the keyhole in the large wooden door, not more than a couple of metres to his left.
‘Unshakeable? You mean you haven’t had doubts about your faith? All the time you’ve been a vicar?’
John is not prepared for this line of questioning. He rises slowly and walks over to the large window behind Simon. The fecundity of the garden, the abundance of colour, even at this time of year stirs something in his heart. Here is a young lad asking for ordination, as he once did. He thinks back to his own ordination service, walking out of the cathedral full of hope for a future that he could help create. He remembers exactly how he felt that day. He remembers that it felt like the only path he could have chosen. Sure, there have been doubts along the way, but they have always been usurped by something else, something he can never explain, and this has kept him sustained throughout often difficult times.
He turns to Simon.
‘This is a big step you are taking, son. I think you should go away and consider it a while longer. Maybe come to a few services. You could help me if you like, preparing the altar, lighting the candles, that sort of thing.’
Simon turns around in his chair.
‘Help you? But I thought you were going to…’ Simon pauses.
‘Thought I was going to what, Simon?
‘Nothing. I mean…I don’t know what I mean,’ says Simon, floundering.
John smiles, the warm smile so familiar to his parishioners.
‘Think about it, Simon. Talk it over with your parents. Talk it over with Zack, if you want to. Goodness knows he can tell you what’s required of a vicar!’
Simon nods. ‘Thank you, John. I will. I’m so glad I came to talk to you.’
‘Me too, Simon. Me too. And I think we should revert to Reverend Peterson. Don’t you?’
Job done, he thinks.
Ted Coleman adjusts his headphones and taps the microphone in front of him, prompting the producer in the small control room to wave his hands furiously. Ted waves back. Frank Reed rolls his eyes. He knew it was a bad idea to bring Ted, but, as he is the manager of the team, he had no choice.
Ted goes to speak again, pauses, then clears his throat. He notices the producer behind the glass screen pointing to his watch, then throwing his hands up in the air. Casper Connington signals to Ted to begin speaking.
‘We’ve had a run of poor results, Jasper, I’ll give you that. But we’ve also had some bad luck, to be fair.’
‘Bad luck? Go on, say some more,’ says Casper, chirpily.
‘Well, one of our best players has had to have a hip replacement and a couple of them couldn’t play on account of the games falling on the same day as their fishing matches.’
Frank Reed squirms in his chair.
‘Fishing matches?’ Casper sings out the words.
‘On the Severn. Couldn’t be missed. Huge Barbel. I used to fish there myself until my back gave way. Maggots always worked for me, but I think they use pellets more these days…’
‘Well, football and fishing, a real sporting treat for you today, listeners. Frank. Do you think the real reason for Leeford’s abject failure at football is because of the age of the team?’
Frank is glaring at Ted, who continues talking about his technique for fishing the Severn, despite animated hand-waving by the producer.
The mention of his name for a second time rouses him.
‘Er, yes. No. No, it’s nothing to do with age. Most of us are as fit as fiddles…’
‘Except the chap who had to have a hip replacement…’ says Casper, grinning.
‘Andy Murray had to have a hip replacement,’ says Frank with some authority.
‘Hip resurfacing, not replacement,’ says Casper, smugly.
‘Whatever.’ Frank waves away Casper’s comment. He continues.
‘No, I think we still have to gel as a team. It’s early days yet. I’m sure there’s much better to come from the lads. We have ambition and determination in spades.’ Frank straightens his back. Ted nods in agreement.
Casper laughs. ‘So, Ted, what is Leeford’s ambition? To score a goal before the end of the decade, perhaps?’
Ted bites his bottom lip. He looks towards the control room and sees the producer rolling from side to side with laughter in his seat. Casper is looking at Ted expectantly.
‘Listen to me, you weasel,’ says Ted, ‘I know your game.’
‘It’s a shame that you didn’t know the game when you thought you were signing up for a six-a-side walking football league, Ted!’ Casper howls at his own joke. The producer falls on the floor, holding his sides.
‘What do you know, you poor man’s Jason King?’
‘Jason, who?’ laughs Casper.
Ted stands up and leans over the desk, his face an inch away from Casper’s. Casper stops laughing immediately.
‘We are a very proud team. We give nothing less than one hundred per cent every game. And yes, we might have made an administrative error in joining the wrong league, but we didn’t pull out, did we? We might have lost by a few goals, but we have always lost with dignity and will continue to do so, as long as we all love playing.’
‘Okay,’ gulps Casper.
‘And I’ll tell you this, Jasper,’ continues Ted, ‘when we do score our goal, I will expect a call from you to come and talk about it on your sorry excuse for a radio programme. Do you hear me?’
‘Yes,’ utters Casper, barely audibly.
‘Come on, Frank. We’re off.’ Frank, only slightly less pallid than Casper, follows Ted out of the studio. In the control room, the producer is sitting with his head in his hands. Casper takes a deep breath.
‘So, that was, er, the boys from Leeford Village and, er, I’m sure we, er, wish them well in future games. Here’s the Bee Gees to take us to the news and the skittles Super-League results.’
In the reception, Ted hears Casper’s announcement.
‘Skittles? Do tell me, Frank.’
Frank shakes his head. Then he throws his arm around Ted, and they laugh all the way back to the car.
If Frank and Ted had listened very carefully on their way back to the car, they may well have heard the loud cheer from those assembled around the radio in The Cross.