GAME 26: FALL'S PARK, GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA, USA




Julius Huntley (17) AKA Nukadakid is a rapper from Niagara Falls, living in a poor part of Greenville. He works as a cashier at the local 2 Chefs fast-food joint and he smiles more than anyone in the world has ever smiled before. More on him later.


I was staying with my cousin Katy here and had wandered into the park around 2pm with her husband Ian and two children, Hunter (18) and Keegan (10).


I plonked my jumpers down for a game on a patch of green near an open air stage. Shakespeare plays are performed for free to the public here every week.


Even though it was quite busy in the park, it took quite a while for us to convince people to have a kick-a-bout. Church goers were still in their finery, white trainers didn't want to get dirty, mysterious blisters appeared on big toes, lovers were busy loving and muscle bound young blokes in vests wouldn't be seen dead kicking the wrong shaped ball around. Although people were very polite in refusing to play, I couldn't help feeling that our Sunday footy recruitment efforts were somehow intruding on ancient southern customs.


Eventually Darryl (15) and his sister Kayleigh (8) who were strolling with their grandparents joined us. Their brother Josh took today's pics. We needed one more player. That's when Julius showed up. He looked super-cool on his bike with his Stevie Wonder shirt on, wearing headphones and pulling wheelies to impress the girls. I asked him to play and he couldn't wait to get started.


3 v 3 in the mid-afternoon southern heat. I was on the same side as Ian, who at one point was going full-pelt down the slope, trying to stop the ball going into the nearby river, when he brilliantly slipped on his bum , arms and legs rotating like copter blades.The spectators watching from the bridge applauded and whooped as Hunter waded in to get the ball back. Ian, now caked in mud, took it in good spirit and got stuck straight back in.


On the pitch, little Kayleigh for my team was defying the odds against the big boys, scoring 2 and saving a few on the line. Darryl put the ball through my legs one too many times for my liking (cheeky git). Hunter was brilliant in the nets for them and little Keegan retired when he got hungry. Julius just laughed and smiled all the way through. Not a footballer by any stretch, but worth at least £30 Million in the transfer market for sheer enthusiasm and fun. Ian was working hard in our nets but he couldn't do anything about the eventual 8-5 scoreline. 2 old blokes and an 8 year old couldn't quite crack it again those young whippersnappers.


Tough getting a game going amidst all this tradition and well honed manners, but we did it. Great game in what my cousin calls the buckle of the southern baptist bible belt...and on a Sunday afternoon too. Many thanks to Ian, Hunter and Keegan for their energy in making it happen today.