Sheffield United vs Preston North End

findingcory

I lost him in the 72nd when he ran into the concourse for what he said would be a ‘very quick’ wee…

Brothers one day, nephews the next. Football has become a family affair over the week just gone…This time it was Cory’s turn.

He’s our Judd’s lad. There’s pictures of me holding him aloft like the FA Cup at Judd’s second wedding where I wasn’t the best man. There were no such pictures at his first wedding, where I was.

Normally, Cory sits between his step mother and father and has short shrift for both. He tolerates his parents’ mid-game bickering in the same way that he tolerates those fans who leave their seats at 85 minutes. With his folks away at a wedding, it was down to me to provide childcare and a free ride to the match, a ticket too.

On the Saturday morning, Cory announced that he was awake by dressing himself in a United jersey at 7AM and kicking open our bedroom door. “Too early,” I moaned at his breakfast-related squawking, but it was the crack of Dawn that set him off. She loosed a loud, indiscriminate fart, redolent of last night’s Chicken Saag. Get up both of you, it hollered in its own potent way. We duly obliged.

Over a breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns and beans, Cory had continually slipped into involuntary fits of giggles each time his childlike mind flittered to the noise of Dawn’s previously trapped wind. “Do you think Billy Sharp will play?” Cory asked between chuckles.

“He blinkin’ needs to,” I said pointedly.

….

“He is starting,” I told Cory as our backsides hit our seats in the stand previously known as The Streetwise.

The first half started blander than Cory’s Korma. Preston offered as much positivity as a disgruntled employee at a ‘future planning’ meeting. The turgid first half coaxed bored groans from Cory, but his favourite player, Billy Sharp broke the deadlock ten minutes before the break. He punched the air and sang the tune. “Reyt match this Uncle Steve.”

Half time approached like an old dog. Cory and I were excited for the pre-prepared snack. We don’t spend all that much time together on account of my brother being an absolute pleb, but I really grew to like the kid. I’ve never met someone so young enjoy Cheese and Pickled Onion Monster Munch Sandwiches with so much relish, both the condiment and the noun.

The sour taste they left in our mouths was soon sweetened by, first, a Revel’s Sharebag, second, a can of Dandelion and Burdock and, third, a second goal to the Blades. This time my favourite player, Bash, was at the ready to flick header beyond the Preston keeper for 2-0.

The second half quickly deteriorated, as did Cory’s ability to hold his bladder. On the 72nd minute he nipped to the loo. When he failed to return in the 74th, I was wee bit worried. By the 76th I was almost pissing myself with panic. By the 79th….

…I dashed down into the concourse, each left step bound up in anxiety, each right step bound up stress. A tautological mess, I headed for the men’s toilets, bounding into the gents and opening each cubicle door like a Cop looking for the Criminal.

….a muted but unmistakable noise. A goal; an away goal. Crap! I shook away the thoughts of football; I have a nephew to find!

I jogged breathlessly through the extent of the Family Stand like the idea of a lazy Leon Clarke, hurtling through double doors, checking the loos, looking behind each serving hatch. In my mind, I could hear his voice cry out, “Uncle Steve, uncle St-ee-eeve!”

It clouded my mind and grew louder as I stopped to ask anybody and nobody, “Seen a lad? This high. Crisps around his mouth. Lazy eye. United shirt. Blonde. Called Cory.”

…nothing. Only the growing ringing in my ears that I hoped would not be imprinted on my mind for years to come: “Uncle Steve.”

I managed to work my way to the far, far end, pausing only for a couple of deep inhales. Hunched over to catch my breath, I saw him. Clear as crystal. Pangs of frustration run through me. What on earth’s he doing there? Sweeping home an effort to make it 2-2 is Preston’s Daniel Johnson.

“Hi, how are you? Uncle Steve? Uncle St-eeve?”

“…bloody hell Cory where have you been?” His small hands tugged at my coat, breaking me from the spell of blind rage at conceding an equaliser.

“You ran off. I was walking back up the steps you just started running. So I started running but you were too fast. I shouted and shouted and shouted. Whats going on?”

“Do not tell your father that just happened.”

“Tell him what?”

“Exactly Cory, exactly.” I grabbed my nephew by the hand and was about to jog back, when I decided in the interest of seeing the last couple of minutes that we’d find any old seats.

“Sit there, gu on,” I tell him. He squeezed himself next to a robust woman who despite lacking any pointy features, made up for it with sharp looks of disgust. Peering up at the scoreboard and then to me with all the bafflement of a defender after a Basham Cruyff-turn, Cory said, “What’s happened, why is it 2-2?” I almost respond by saying something prophetic like, “that’s what life as a Blade is all about kiddo.” I did say it, but realised immediately that it isn’t prophetic at all.

With minutes left on the clock I felt pretty contented despite the scoreline, I am nephewful after all. Some things are bigger than football; family for example, or this lass who’s squashing our Cory.

In the 87th, Enda Steven’s picked up the ball, skipping forward and playing a one-two that gets him in the box. I watch my nephew in slow motion. He inhales with excitement. Stevens takes a quick glance up and as he approaches the byline, he squares the ball across the goal mouth. Cory’s eyes are wide and so is the gammon fist of the woman who catches him full on in the forehead as David McGoldrick fired home the winner. He screamed; in pain or joy?

Joy mostly….but there is a bruise.

The Blades won the day, despite shoddy defending and questionable tactics. I won the day, despite shoddy loco parentis and questionable Search and Retrieve techniques. I have to explain a bump on Cory’s head to our Judd, but it’s a much easier sell than “I lost him, somewhere, int Lane.”

Finding Cory was easy, he did the hard yards himself. Finding a winning streak is task at hand for Dem Blades and, despite a decent day out, I am determined to observe their efforts without the family…at least for a few weeks.

Man of the Match

Paul Coutts

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