Authors: Pete Kalu
Praise for The Silent Striker
‘This is a book full to the brim with the joy, heartache and passion for the beautiful game. Along the way it deals with racism, disability, bullying, jealousy, young love, family life and friendship – all without a single patronising or forced word from beginning to end. It is written in beautiful clear prose and tells a story that every lover of football and life will instantly understand’
‘YA novels featuring a protagonist from a “culturally diverse” space are rare. Pete Kalu’s,
The Silent Striker
in which Marcus, a gifted footballer, confronts and overcomes many of the challenges of young people his age, is a welcome addition to British writing in this genre.
The Silent Striker
is a strong inspirational story about human aspiration, overcoming and achievement.’
Jacob Ross, author
‘Touching, funny and well tackled!’
Dr Muli Amaye, novelist
‘A richly compelling, emotionally resonant tale of courage.’
Melanie Amri, award-winning author
‘I have never understood the bigotry that has existed against deafness so I welcome a story that discusses it alongside cultural identity in a voice that is clear and understanding. This is a book that needs to be sat on every school library shelf as well as a role model of achievement. Well done Kalu.’
‘A compelling story about a boy losing his hearing. Pete Kalu is a wise and sensitive storyteller.’
Rajeev Balasubramanyam, author
For Jakob, who placed his hand on my record player, showing
me how music could be felt as well as heard. And for my brother,
Jonah, whose footballing skills I always admired.
arcus looked around the field for someone to play the ball to. Nobody wanted it. He shimmied past two midfielders and fired a pass up to Horse. Horse tripped over his own feet. The ball rolled out for a throw-in. Marcus groaned. It was like everyone had put their boots on backwards.
At last, the referee blew his whistle. Half-time.
Marcus took in the panorama. That was what the art teacher had called it. Two tower blocks, a housing estate, a scrap cars yard, the supermarket slip road and Ducie High School ‘A’ Block. And rain.
‘What are you looking at the sky for, Marcus? I said get over here!’ yelled Mr Davies, the coach. Marcus jogged over to catch up with the rest of the team by the touchline. He sat on the soaking wet grass sucking on an orange slice as the coach laid into them good and proper.
‘You numbing knuckleheads, we might as well all go home. This isn’t double maths. Marcus, step it up. Horse, pass, move, look, call, positions! Rocket hug the touchline. Come on. Get past this Chorlton Academy rabble and we’re in the final. It’s there for the taking. Do you want it?’
‘Yeah,’ Marcus mumbled, along with the rest of the team. They lost the semi-final last year and the year before that. It felt like things were going the same way now. All the other Years had been knocked out of their Cup competitions.
‘I didn’t hear you,’ yelled the coach, ‘do you want it? Or should we all just give up and go home?’
There was silence.
‘I’ll arrange double rice pudding at the canteen for you all if we win,’ said the coach. ‘Can’t get better than that, right? Dinners? Horse?’
‘Okay, that’s the spirit. Come on lads, up you get. Marcus over here a minute.’
Marcus followed the coach, who, he decided, was built like an upside down street sweeping machine. The coach had a bin-like body and a head of bristle hair that stuck out sideways. And he went up and down in straight lines, making a lot of noise. He liked the coach. Mr Davies led him a little away from the rest of the team to where a tall, thin man was standing.
‘Marcus, get the ball and do your thing, it’s time to turn it on, right?’ the coach said.
Marcus nodded. He looked briefly at the man standing next to the coach. He had the sharp, assessing look of a football scout. They always came to the big matches.
‘Go on then, start playing.’
Marcus trotted back towards the centre circle. When he turned round, the coach was deep in conversation. Marcus saw the coach mouth ‘estate kids’ and ‘motivation’. He didn’t catch the rest.
He made his way to his position in the centre of the midfield. The wind was coming at them sideways now, driving rain through their Ducie High jerseys.
At the restart, the Chorlton left-winger raced all the way to the touchline then crossed. Only a diving save from their keeper stopped Chorlton scoring.
On the touchline, Mr Davies did a puppet dance in his sleeping-bag-coat (a coat that looked like a sleeping bag), screaming at Dinners and then at Horse, telling them to give Marcus the ball.
Horse booted it to him. The ball dropped at Marcus’s feet. Marcus looked up. The Chorlton goalkeeper was leaning on the post, picking his nose. After fifty minutes and not one shot even close to his goal, Marcus could see his point.
Somewhere inside his head he heard his dad singing a song,
I Who Have Nothing
. He loved that song. His dad was a balding Rasta who loved wailing this ballad by an afro-bobbed disco queen called Sylvester.
Something clicked in Marcus. He slipped the ball through to Rocket who trapped it, sprinted along the touchline then laid if off to Marcus again.
I Who Have Nothing
was still playing in Marcus’s head. It blanked out everything else except the rhythm of the game and in that moment the football became music.
Marcus danced the ball forward. His marker hesitated, dithering whether to close him down or zone him out wide to the wing.
Meanwhile, Horse was waving like mad, making for the near post, their keeper tracking him.
Their left-back is titchy,
Marcus realised. He sped forward, looked up for one last check, then, as the defender’s tackle smacked into him, he let the ball fly.
The ball looped up, the wind clawed it, flung it higher. The left-back leapt for all he was worth but the ball was already behind him. Their goalkeeper simply watched. Maybe there was an element of luck. The wind pushed it a metre further inside the upright than he’d intended.
Mr Davies danced a jig. Marcus picked himself up and trotted back, taking high fives from Rocket and Horse. Briefly, he scanned the touchline for his dad, even though he knew his dad was on the early evening shift. He saw Leonard, the Ducie substitute, arms folded in the rain. He saw the thin man nodding. But Marcus’s dad wasn’t there.
It was Horse. He was pointing to Marcus’ left shin. There was a streak of blood where the defender’s studs had caught him.
‘Looks worse than it is,’ Marcus said. ‘Switch sides and I’ll fly them over for you.’
The final. He was not going to let it go now. Marcus turned it on. From the kick-off they won the ball back from Chorlton and Horse got it to Marcus again. Marcus made a fool of his marker, dragged the ball back twice and span away from him. The Chorlton defence back-pedalled.
Marcus stopped and placed a foot on the ball. Still no Chorlton midfield player wanted to tackle him. The Chorlton coach was chopping the air on the other touchline.
Someone slid in on him. Marcus dinked the ball over the tackler’s leg and vaulted forwards.
Ducie poured into the Chorlton penalty area. Marcus could pass to three different players. But he saw the goalkeeper was out of position. He rifled a shot straight into the top middle of the Chorlton net.
It was a rout after that. The Chorlton players’ heads dropped. They looked like they wanted the game over. Horse barged his way straight through the heart of the Chorlton defence and tapped it to Marcus who danced the ball into the net.
Ducie ran out 4–0 winners and Marcus picked up man of the match from the referee. He got to keep the match ball. They made their way to the changing room in a carnival of studs and back-slapping and cheers. As everyone got changed, Mr Davies collared Marcus from the changing room. He pointed. The thin man was waiting to meet him in the coach’s changing room office. They went over and Mr Davies introduced them:
‘Marcus is our Messi, our Ronaldo. Marcus, this is Mr Peabody, a scout from Manchester United. He’s looking to sign someone up as an apprentice.’
Another player popped his head round the coach’s office door. ‘Sir!’ The coach dismissed him:
‘Not now, Leonard. Go collect the water bottles.’
Leonard disappeared, but not before giving Marcus an ugly look.
‘I’m not the main scout,’ Mr Peabody said to Marcus, ‘Nobody’s sent me to Brazil or Italy yet.’ The scout had a friendly face. He stretched out his hand to Marcus. ‘Well played lad … on the whole.’
Marcus shook his hand. He had watched the thin man’s lips so he knew he had said a word before ‘on the whole’ but he didn’t know what that word was.
The coach gushed again at Mr Peabody. ‘Marcus, he’s so calm, in all the noise and fire, he can see an opportunity. He makes the right move every time, just glides in and “bam!” He’s our silent striker.’
‘Though sometimes he disappears, wouldn’t you say?’ Mr Peabody added, smiling again at Marcus to take the edge off the criticism.
‘Yes,’ the coach admitted. ‘Starts staring at the sky or at his boots. I’ve told you that haven’t I, Marcus? The best players stay focused.’
A Manchester United coach was here and interested in him. A Man United coach. This was amazing, Marcus thought. And they’d won. They had broken their semi-final jinx and they were in the final. Marcus bounced the match ball on the coach’s office floor. This ATC now belonged to him. It was no ordinary ball. It was an Adidas Teamfeist Capitano. He was not going to let it out of his sight.
The coach had his arm around Marcus’s shoulder and led him and the scout back into the changing room, then shouted out above the din:
‘Well done, lads. Bit of hush please. This gentleman with me is a Manchester United agent.’
Jaws dropped in the changing room. Mr Peabody shuffled his feet, embarrassed.
‘He liked what he saw. Particularly Marcus today. When Marcus gets going, he doesn’t stop. That last goal, the whistle blew, you played the extra second after the whistle, didn’t you, Marcus? Got the shot away, the referee allowed it. Technically, the ref’s wrong there, but there’s a message in that, isn’t there, Mr Peabody? Stick the ball in the net and worry about all the rest after.’
‘He bagged the goal,’ Mr Peabody agreed. ‘A different ref and he could have been sent off.’
Marcus thought quietly to himself that he hadn’t heard the whistle, that was why he had played on, but he said nothing. It didn’t matter now.
‘Marcus bagged the goal,’ repeated the coach. ‘We’re on our way to the final, boys. We can win it. Only Bowker Vale between us and glory. Each and every one of you, you’ve got training tomorrow evening, on the dot, no latecomers, no excuses.’ The coach rubbed his hands. ‘C’mon! We can win this!’
r Chips was running the afternoon detention class. Marcus knew the ropes. He chose a desk at the back and slumped in his chair. Another fifteen minutes of his life about to be wasted. There were eighteen of them in detention. It was a disused classroom in ‘B’ Block with a ripped out ceiling. Some people said it had had asbestos in it that could kill you. Others said it used to be a store room for canoes. It smelt of mould. Mr Chips got into his groove:
‘Fold your arms, sit down, and be quiet. You are here for misbehaviour. Those of you who have been fighting, think of other ways you could have resolved your conflict. Without resorting to pushing people’s heads into doors, Benjamin.’
Marcus settled back. He actually enjoyed Mr Chips’s little roastings.
Mr Chips continued: ‘Those of you who have been late to arrive at class, think about what steps you could take to get to class on time. Such as not stopping in the corridors to compare notes on boys you fancy. Kayleigh. Abigail. Those of you who have been misbehaving in class, consider the effect your behaviour has on others who want to learn, but can’t because of you. Not everybody in class wants to indulge in a farting competition. Andrew. Mustapha. Those of you who are here for any other reason, reflect quietly on the error of your ways.’ Mr Chips craned his eagle head. ‘There will be no talking. Else you will be here again tomorrow. And you wouldn’t want that, would you?’