Sudanese Football

The Dead Good Footballer, by Tarina Marsac


The Dead Good Footballer: Audio

Jack — Sacha Marsac
Claire, Jack’s Mum — Grace Robson
Sam, Jack’s Dad — Julian Jones
Tom, Jack’s Brother — Max Marsac
Lizzie, Jack’s Sister — Florence Marsac
Daphne Beauchamp — Alicia Marsac
Recorded by Christian Marsac at The Safe Room


30 October 2018

I love playing football. In a different life, I would have been a professional football player. In that life, I would have been good enough to be a professional football player. I would have played for Arsenal and England. However, football is not how I earn my living. I’m a delivery driver with Hermes—and let me tell you—I get a lot of abuse in my job. Customers get annoyed because they’ve waited in for hours. Don’t get me wrong; I get where they’re coming from, so I always give them a smile and a hello. But they can be bloody rude back. Still, none of that matters much because every weekend and one night a week, I get to play football. Mum and Dad are coming to watch tonight’s match. I’m going to tell them I’m getting back with Daphne Beauchamp.

I’m on fire tonight. I’ve scored two goals, one of which I’m incredibly proud of—even if I say so myself.

God, I feel a bit odd. My chest is running out of breath—which is not like me at all. I’m super fit. I eat well. I don’t over-indulge in alcohol and never do drugs. To tell the truth, I’m a bit of a body-temple kind of man. And I’ve watched some of my friends—Mark Wainwright and Robbie Higgleston in particular—their lives ruined with the stuff they’re smoking and snorting.

I carry on running. My breath will catch up with me. I just need to focus. The ball is heading my way. I run to intercept—the world has turned blurry. Everything is in slow motion.

I feel odd.

Oddly weird.
Weirdly good.
I want to kick my leg high, and my right foot wants to point, to flick the ball toward Geoff Berkey on the left side. But I’m falling backwards. The ball passes over me. My ears are whooshing. My heart is banging in my chest.

Why am I on the ground?

I’m trying to stand up, but the weight on my belly won’t let me. I can’t open my eyes to see who is sitting on me—stopping me from playing. I wonder if it’s Brian Williamson, that six-foot-two-inch wing-back on the other team. He’s always had a beef with me.

Why can’t I open my eyes?

Something is pulling me up. I can feel breath on my face, hands on my body, pumping, and rhythmic pressure on my chest.

I feel light.
I don’t understand what’s happening.
I am not afraid.
I look down at the football pitch. People are crowding around me. I’m lying on the ground, yet I can see myself from up here. I’m shouting, but no one is listening. They can’t hear me.

I’m going up.

I can still see myself lying there. Several people are there, and someone has a defibrillator. I had training for that—along with a couple of team members—on what to do, how to use it, and when to use it—I never had to, thank goodness.

I can see it’s too late for me. Looking down there, I know I’m not going back. I can see Mum and Dad screaming. I call them to let them know I’m okay. They can’t hear me.
I can’t help them.

They’re on their own now.
I’m getting lighter.
I’m a marionette, and my puppet master is pulling my strings. Mum and Dad are disappearing, my teammates, the crowd—they are all going. I’m drifting but at speed—upwards, and everything feels good. I no longer mind that Daphne Beauchamp slept with Daniel Frost. I no longer care that Tom steals my football boots, thinking if he wears them, he’ll be as good a footballer as me. And my tooth that’s been giving me gyp for what seems like forever has stopped hurting.

I’m lighter.
I’m soaring upwards like the freest of birds.
This is amazing
I want to tell the world how amazing this feels—except I don’t care. I’m just enjoying the ride.
I am not afraid—not even a bit.


Claire, Jack’s Mum

30 October 2018

It’s freezing outside, and I want to stay home, change into my pyjamas, wrap up with a fleecy blanket and watch the final of the Bake-Off. But I promised Jack that his Dad and I would watch him play football tonight. After all those years of sitting on the sidelines every weekend winter morning, I feel I’ve done my bit. Still, I suppose it’s not that often he asks anything of us now. He’s almost thirty, left home a few years back, and is independent. I miss being part of his daily life.

I’m wearing layers of merino wool and cashmere blend. I’m glad I’ve still got Sally Markham’s Canada Goose coat—I must give that back to her soon. Sam is not as wrapped up as me. Why doesn’t he feel the cold?

Jack is playing his favourite position. He is good. I had forgotten just how good. Shame he didn’t make the grade as a professional. He tried so hard, trained so hard, and worked so hard. Still, at least he gets to play every week. It gives him a break from his day job—people can be rude to delivery drivers.

He scores. It’s a great goal. Even I can see that. The team gather around him, hugging him, cheering him. He looks taller. The game starts again, and he’s off like a rocket. No one can catch him, touch him. WOW! He’s only gone and scored again. I am so glad I didn’t bail out. My nose is icy and running, but I don’t care. This is so exciting. Everyone is watching Jack, including the other team. That big bugger, whats-his-name, Brian something-or-other? He’s very close to Jack—too close. The ball is flying through the air, and I can see Jack and Brian going for it.

What happened? Jack’s fallen.

I don’t think that Brian bloke pushed him, but maybe he did. The ball is still in play, but Jack is on the ground.

Why isn’t he getting up?
My heart is pounding.
Something is wrong.
I feel very hot in my layers. I undo the zip on my big coat. I throw my gloves off. My insides are shaking, not from the cold but something else, much scarier. I don’t know what it is.

Jack is still on the ground, and Coach is near him. People are pounding on Jack’s chest. I’m running. I need to get to my boy. Sam is running a few steps ahead of me, and I feel cross that he’ll get there before me. Somebody has brought a defibrillator.


There is not a sound except the roar in my ears. Only it isn’t in my ears. It’s coming from me—from deep inside me. I scream, and I scream. My knees are weak, and they stop supporting my weight. I fall next to my big, nearly thirty-year-old baby. Sam is next to me.

I’m trying to pick you up, Jack. You’re too heavy. Your Dad helps me. And we rock you, just like we did when you were a little boy and scared of the monsters hiding under your bed.

I remember pushing you out of my body Jack. Those hours of labour, how much it hurt. And the last push when you fell out of me and into the safe arms of the midwife.

I remember her placing you on my saggy belly, and you opened your eyes, looked at me, and everything in the world melted away except us. I remember your Dad crying. He was so pleased to have a son.

I remember knowing how perfect feels.
You’ve gone, Jack.
I can feel it.
I want to look up to see where you are, but I’m afraid in case I don’t see you. In case I do.

I am so afraid.


Sam, Jack’s Dad

30 October 2018

Jack is playing footy tonight, and the missus and I are going to watch him. It’s been a while since he wanted us on the sidelines. When I think of all the weekends we spent in the cold, it’s hard to believe where that time has gone. He’ll be 30 soon. I need to warm the car up for Claire. I’ve had a bit of trouble with the starter motor recently. It’s bloody cold tonight. I’m hoping we don’t break down. I can imagine what Claire would say, and she’s not that happy about going out tonight. The bloody Bake-Off final is on, and she’s been rooting for that Rahul bloke all along. Personally, I find him a bit sappy.

The car is running, warm enough for Claire. I wish she’d hurry up. I don’t want to be late. There is a real bite to the air tonight. I wonder if I should have worn a thicker jumper.

Oh my God! Claire looks like she’s going on an arctic expedition. Where on earth did she get that coat? Still, at least she’ll not complain about being cold!

I’m excited about tonight’s match. Jack has always been a good footballer. When he was a lad, he wanted to be a professional. He was nutty about Arsenal and England–of course. He was good too. A couple of scouts sniffed around. He trialled for various youth clubs and ended up at Crystal Palace, but he didn’t make the final cut. I’m pleased he hasn’t given up, though. It keeps him fit. And that day job of his must drive him mad, the traffic in London is awful, and some people can be very rude to Hermes drivers. What is that about? He does his job well; they get their parcels—’ get over yerselves.’

The match is going well. Jack scores the first goal. It’s a cracker of a goal, too. His teammates are proper all over him. There he goes again, flying down that field— he’s only gone and scored again! I reckon he’ll get ‘Man of the Match’.

Some of the players on the other side are big buggers, but they’re not playing too dirty. I’m glad about that. Bloody hell, the ball is flying through the air. Jack is going for it along with that 6’2 monster Brian whatever his name is. I hope he doesn’t knock ‘im down. Jack would feel that good and proper.

The ball is still in play, but Jack is on the ground.
What’s going on?
He wasn’t pushed—I’m sure of it.
Something feels off. I’m looking at Claire. Her face is off too. What is going on?

There’s a commotion all around Jack. Claire and I are running toward him. I need to get there first.

I need to protect him.
I need to protect Claire—I have to make this better.
Claire’s taken her coat off and gloves, running like the wind, but I get here first. There are loads of people here, and the Coach and someone are putting paddles on his chest. They’ve ripped his shirt. He is going to get so fucking cold.

What is the fucking matter with everyone?

Claire’s trying to pick him up, but he’s too heavy. I help her, and we hold him in our arms and rock him.

Claire is screaming, except it’s not a scream, more of a roar, like a wounded animal.

We’re here now, Jack. You’re safe now, Jack.

I remember your very first football match, Jack. Your eyes were worried when you looked at me, then you jutted out your chin, threw your shoulders back and gave me the thumbs up, and you ran toward Coach Brian. You were brave, Jack. I was so bloody proud of you, Jack.

I am so afraid.
People are pounding on your chest. I want them to stop. I know you’ve gone.
I know you’re not coming back.
I can feel you.
I close my eyes, and I see you.
I don’t want to open them. I don’t want you to go, Jack.
I am so afraid of you going.


Tom, Jack’s Brother

30 October 2018

Jack came around yesterday and asked if I would come to his match. I’m glad I can’t. When I watch him play, my whole insides get hot and wobbly. Don’t get me wrong; I love him and all that—I just hate knowing I’ll never be as good as him. I’d often nick his football boots when he still lived at home. I swear I played better when I wore them. He moved out quite a while ago, so I can’t ‘borrow’ them anymore.

Jack told me he’s going to ask Daphne Beauchamp out again after the match— even though she’s been shagging that Daniel Frost. I told him he was barking mad. Why would he want to go there again, especially after Daniel had? He clipped me around the ear—that hurt—and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about—Jack’s nearly 30. I am seventeen and a half. So what if he knows more than me? I still wouldn’t go there, and I’ve heard things about that Daniel Frost, not good things—if you know what I mean.

Anyway, forget Daphne, tonight I’m going to the school disco, and Sarah Freeman will be there. I’ve got to dance with her. She’s the fittest girl in Sixth Form and clever too. She wants to go to Oxford to study Astrophysics. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to get into Oxford, but I want to, especially if Sarah Freeman goes there.

Jack’s clever enough, but it was all about football for him. He worked hard when he was a kid and trained all the time. Mum and Dad took him to footy matches every weekend. Sometimes Mum would get so cold her nose would still be dripping two hours later—a bit gross. He got scouted for a youth team. But he didn’t make it to the professional club; by then, it was a bit late to worry about schoolwork. He did say that he might go to college to get his ‘A’ levels one day. He thinks his job is a bit shitty— he’s a delivery driver for Hermes. I’m not going to end up doing a job like that. But Jack plays football every week, and, what with that and thinking about Daphne Beauchamp. He’s okay.

I’m at the dance, and I feel a bit self-conscious, Jack says these jeans are a sure thing for pulling girls, but I don’t know. The music’s okay. Shame there are so many teachers here. I’m inching a bit closer to Sarah. She’s dancing with her friends, Cathy Stellar and Maisie Markham—we call her Measley Markham ‘cos she’s small and a little bit nothing. Sarah just looked at me, and I’ve gone all hot. I fiddle with my hair, trying to look casual, but I know my face has gone red. The music is getting louder.

The beat’s buzzing its way through everyone’s bodies. Sarah’s next to me now. Her eyes are closed as she is drinking the music. I fancy her so much it hurts.

My pocket is buzzing.
I ignore it.
My body feels alive, electric. Being close to Sarah Freeman has given me a semi, and I am very grateful my trousers are not so tight, and the room is dark enough that no one can see.

My damn phone again.
It’s Dad. What’s he doing phoning me? The game’s not finished yet.
My heart is pounding, and Dad’s crying. Something wrong with Jack. I can hear Mum moaning in the background. I can’t hear what Dad’s saying. I walk out of the disco hall into the bloody freezing outside—I wish I’d stopped to get my jacket.

The world is quiet except for the rushing blood in my ears and my throbbing chest. My knees buckle. The school railings stop me from falling. I’m sorry I didn’t come and see you play tonight, Jack.
You can’t be dead, Jack. You’re my brother.
You know everything. And you said you would always look out for me.
I remember you telling me to work hard because hard work always pays off. I’m sorry I nicked your boots, Jack
Where are you, Jack?
I close my eyes.
You’re there.
Inside me.
I feel a thump in my guts.
That was you, Jack, wasn’t it?
I’m sitting on the steps. I’m cold, and Sarah Freeman’s sitting right next to me.

I didn’t see her arrive. Did I tell her you died? I don’t remember. Her arm is around me, but I don’t care. I just want your arms around me now. I want to feel you.

Why didn’t I come to watch you play tonight, Jack? I am so, so sorry.


Lizzie, Jack’s Sister

30 October 2018

Jack asked us all to go and watch him play football tonight. Huh, I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. Luckily, I have plans. It’s bloody freezing, and the thought of spending a couple of hours on the sidelines of a footy pitch is a ‘NO THANK YOU’. My friends Sally Walsh, Lucy Freeman, Tash Markham, Alice Bicknell, and I have the evening planned. The Prosecco is in the fridge, along with a bottle of Tanqueray and several cans of posh tonic. It’s the Bake-Off final, and it will be a fab night.

I can hear the pizzicato Bake-Off music winging its way through the kitchen. Noel is chatting with Sandi. I love Noel Fielding.

This is so much more fun—and warmer than watching my brother play football. The signature bake is doughnuts. Not that impressive (though, to be fair, I have never made a doughnut in my twenty-six years of life – why would I? Greggs have delicious doughnuts at six for a pound). The technical is outside in a fire pit—so ridiculous. That Paul Hollywood is an arrogant git.

A phone is ringing.
We ignore it. It rings again—and again. My guts feel weird.
Why is Dad phoning? The game hasn’t finished yet.
I feel the blood fall out of my face, through my body, and slump against the wall—dripping down into a crumpled heap. I pull my hair. I want to be sure that this is not a dream—some awful, horrific, bad joke of a dream.

I can hear Sandi and Noel laughing in the background. I wish they’d stop. Don’t they know what’s just happened?

Sally’s rushing around. My world’s stood still and my friends are on speed. They’re talking, but I can’t hear what they are saying. Tash, Lucy and Alice are on their phones, finding a taxi or something. I don’t know.

I don’t care.
Why didn’t I go and watch you play, Jack?
I remember watching you when we were little, and I wanted to be just like you. And that time, you wrapped your strong arms around me when Tommy Sittbung (you called him Tommy Shitbum—do you remember?) broke my heart. You told me I shouldn’t be with him because we could never marry and have children with a ‘shitbum’ name. And you smoothed my hair, and you wiped away my tears, and you told me that I was an amazing girl who would one day find the person who was good enough for me.

I remember believing you.

I remember crying with you when we discovered Daphne Beauchamp was sleeping with Daniel Frost.

Why didn’t I go to the match, Jack?

My eyes hurt. I close them, and there you are, resting on the inside of my eyelids.

I hold my breath.
I feel a thud in my heart like you’ve just swept through it. I love you, Jack.
Don’t go, Jack.
I’m afraid to open my eyes.


Daphne Beauchamp

30 October 2018

I am so excited. Jack called this morning. He wants to talk.

I fucked up. Monumentally. I never thought I would, and when I did, I never thought he’d get past it, but he has. I really think he has.

I’ve known Jack since, like, forever. We started dating when we were 15. I used to watch him play football. He was good—like, really good. He was gutted when he didn’t get into the senior team. It was a real shame, too. He could’ve been anything he wanted—except a professional footballer—and that was what he wanted more than anything else in the world. Or so I thought. I felt a bit sidelined myself— like football was more important than me—than us. Not just more important but like it was the only thing that mattered to him. That’s when Daniel Frost and I started getting close. One thing led to another, and wham bam, and he thanked this ma’am. I don’t know what got into me. Well, I do—Daniel Frost—but I don’t know why I did it. I loved Jack—I still do. I just felt so bloody lonely and neglected.

I look back now and think I was like a proper spoilt brat. I hurt him so badly. I hurt myself so badly. I hurt his family, especially my best friend, Lizzie. The only person who didn’t get hurt was Daniel Frost. He thought he was the bee’s knees. Well, that was a couple of years ago, I have tried so hard to win back Jack’s respect, and now it looks like we might even get more. He asked me to meet him in the pub after tonight’s game.

The Bake-Off final is on. I’m a big fan. Lizzie and I used to watch with the girls. I bet they’re watching it together tonight. I wish I were with them. I miss them.

I’m putting my make-up on, not too much—I don’t want to look tarty—but enough to show I’ve made an effort. It is fricking cold outside. I shall have to rethink the outfit I was planning on wearing. I dig out thick woollen tights with my almost too- short skirt and biker boots—that’ll do.

They’re making edible landscapes on the Bake-off—nom-nom. I still can’t call who’s going to win. To be honest, I don’t mind. I like them all.

My phone is ringing, but I don’t answer it. It’s too early for Jack to be calling. The game hasn’t finished yet. They’ll call back.

Now the landline. Mum’s shouting at me to pick up the phone. My heart misses a beat.
I feel a bit weird.
It’s Alice. She’s crying, saying something about Jack.

I don’t understand.
I do not understand.
Fear is seeping through my veins, but I can’t tell which direction.
Up, down, all around.
My head is spinning, my heart is racing, and the phone falls out of my hand. I can hear a wailing, I don’t know where it is coming from.
Oh my God—it’s me.
He’s dead.
They say you were running on the pitch. They say you just fell.
What do they mean—just?
I’ll never be able to make it right with us, Jack.

You will never know how sorry I am, Jack.
Oh my God! I will never feel your arms around me again. Jack, I love you, don’t be dead.
Please, please, please don’t be dead. DO NOT BE DEAD!
I close my eyes, and there you are.
I can feel your nose touch mine, tip to tip, like an Eskimo kiss. I feel your breath on my cheek, on my neck. My heart jolts.
I feel you pass through me—taking a piece of me with you.
I don’t yet know if you left a piece of you with me.
Have you, Jack? Have you?
Can you forgive me, Jack—can you?
How can I forgive myself?
I don’t want to open my eyes.
Don’t let this be real.
I don’t want to live without you.

Tarina Marsac is a British writer who lives in South-East London. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.

She is a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. Her biggest challenge has been to find space in her life and allow herself to take it. After years of writing from the dining table, the coffee table, a blanket-covered lap and her bed, she is now writing in a room that is sometimes her own.

3 July 2023