Charity starts at home. She pulls on a grey Duffle coat, opens the door and potters out of ‘Dun Roamin’ with not so much as a shuffle of irony. She waits at the stop and when the bus pulls up she flashes her pass at the driver and they exchange ‘Thanks loves’.
Charity nips into the Bernados and St Luke’s on Abbeydale Road with her pull-along trolley, a proclivity for lovely cushions. I know Charity from my school days where she oversaw a mixed-bag of duties: sewing lessons and bread baking, calming down the naughty kids and making the costumes for the Nativity.
Since childhood, I’ve been unable to detect the origin of her accent, but I’m sure she isn’t a Sheffield native. Trudy carries an Irish Lilt, which she bought in Dublin in 1998, part of the same transaction as a £20-winning Scratch Card. By virtue of this fact, Charity reckons that the can of pop is the single luckiest item that I have ever owned. For that reason, it remains unopened in the bottom of her shopping trolley, to bring luck and ward off reckless drivers.
I bump into Charity just shy of midday, giving her a wave and mouthing ‘hello’ across the busy cafe. This happens almost every time the Blades play at home. I get an Americano and read the paper. She scoffs down a sandwich with one hand and nurses a coffee with the other.
We don’t chat but we do finish our drinks at the same time and I walk her to the bus stop. “You get owt nice, Charity?” I ask her. She hesitates and moves to open up the trolley, but then she notices the bus and tells me, “luck would have it, I found a lovely cushion for our Claire.” The bus pulls up.
“See you love,” she says, before stepping on and flashing her pass. As she moves to sit down a hole in the bottom of her trolley reveals the lucky Lilt and dispenses the tropical pop like a machine. The can rolls out of the shutting doors and lands at my feet. I pick it up and with exaggerated movements try to hail her attention. I’m pop-eyed and panicking, she’s cockeyed and squinting, seeing my wild flailing as an elaborate wave goodbye, which of course, she reciprocates.
It crosses my mind to run up the road to where I parked The Cube, jump in and follow her. But I reach a neater conclusion: she only lives roundt’ corner, she’s hardly going to notice for a couple of hours and, if this Lilt Can can charm the Blades with good favour, then we could be in for a serendipitous afternoon…
I feel lucky to get through the gates without being checked for missiles. Luckier still when, as peckishness hits me like a Basham tackle, I order a Steak Pie and the lass serving brings me Steak Pie, Chips, Peas and Gravy….and DOES NOT charge me for the extras. “It were my fault, I thought that’s what you ordered.”
As I walk to my seat on the Streetwise (they say you are where you sit) I stumble and drop my lunch and the cardboard tray and starchy accompaniments. But they all land sunny-side up. Not a single chip lost. This is going to be my lucky day…
Coutts on the bench. What magic is this? It takes a moment to settle down and then Jack O’Connell heads into Villa’s net after six first-half minutes. “Coutts almighty, what a start!”
The Lilt Can feels weighty in my pocket despite its stature. Made heavy and burdensome by its luck-inducing enchantment. If I clutch it, I’m worried that I’ll become invisible like Frodo or Jack Grealish. But it’s spell continues to work. Duffy breaks forward, shakes off a challenge, and drives it home for 2-0.
We rise above Aston Villa like John Egan does every time they lump it. Oliver Norwood steps up to take a freekick and surprises the Villa keeper by drilling a low curling effort towards the near post; it’s in! Magic. 3-0.
It’s been a Bashamful half. The referee has done his best to keep Steve Bruce in a job and Gary Sinclair, by virtue of crass gloating on the stroke of half-time, has done his best to curse the second period, but I doubt anything can tip the Lilt-weighted scales.
Nothing can go wrong now. Famous last words, eh? They might be, were it not for them being proceeded by, “go on Billy, go on, YEAAAS!” We won back possession, Freeman played the ball to Sharp, Sharp spun on it and drilled it home. 4-0…against Villa!
They get a break after a solitary moment of sharp passing on the edge of our box and score a consolation. Moments later McGoldrick almost caps-off his fantastic performance with a goal. Both instances are a disappointment, but not as sickening as Little Jack Horner Can’t Buy a Corner.
Look, I have seen a dog vomit onto a dead slug and gratefully eat the lot. I have cracked open an egg into a hot frying pan only to find myself sizzling an embryonic chick. I once knew a man who claimed to think ‘Dean Hammond’s not that bad really’. I have seen things, a lot of things. Never have I seen something as wretched as a Jack Grealish on a losing side.
Nothing, however, could sour this stunning tropical storm. The sweet, aluminium-enclosed nectar in my pocket might have brought about the luck required to secure the points, but it can’t have affected the style with which we won the game…could it?
Post-match, my feet carry me to The Cube but my mind is elsewhere. What dark sorcery is in this can? There is good fortune and then there is the affectation that magic alone buys. Do I keep the can? Charity never saw it go missing. Need I tell her? I must. I shake the dark thoughts from my head and turn on Radio Sheffield and then shake my head some more and switch it off.
Charity’s house his only a moment from my own, so I park The Cube outside her front door. I give her a knock. “Charity,” I call through the letterbox, “Charity it’s Steve, I’ve got your lucky can here.” I hear her shuffling through the house.
“What’s that?” she says, opening the door onto the latch.
“It’s me Steve…I’ve got you-”
“Hiya Steve, what’s up?”
I hold up the can of pop, “Your lucky Lilt, it fell out the trolley. I’ve held onto it for you.”
“Don’t be daft, I don’t keep that in me trolley.”
“Where’dya keep it then?”
“Well I don’t, not anymore. I buried it wi our Stan for luck on his travels. He hated pineapple though, so the magic might not have rubbed off on him.”
“So what’s this, then?”
“Let me put me specs on,” she pulls them from around her neck onto the bridge of her nose, “It’s a can of Lilt, Steve. Not a lucky can by the looks of it.”
“Not the lucky can?”
“No love, of course not. Three for a pound at Home Bargains. I got a Fanta Icy Lemon and a Coke Zero too. For the Grandchildren.”
“For the Grandchildren…okay. My mistake Charity. Have a good’un love.”
When I get home about ten minutes later, I ask Dawn if she wants any of this can of Lilt. She didn’t and she wanted to know why on earth I had one. I didn’t tell her. Just tossed the can in the bin. There’s no such thing as luck. Dem Blades were a triumph of lucks’ opposite, which is, well… hard work.
Resigned to this thought, I run upstairs to the loo and on my way out slip on the bathmat and bang my knee. So this is what it feels like to be Jack Grealish.
Man of the Match
Never has there existed a bench quite as strong as a Couttsful one.