Last to be Picked

Written by Manon Steffan Ros

I remember it so well. The sweltering heat of July, the summer holidays so close I could almost smell the coconutty sun cream and freshly mown grass. The sun beat down on us, standing in the playing fields behind the school, and two of the sporty kids standing in front of us, assessing.

I knew what was coming.

I was last to be picked for the rounders teams. Of course I was. I looked at the floor and shifted my weight from one foot to the other, trying to look like I didn't care. When it came to my turn to bat, I swung blindly, didn't care, even hoped I'd be caught out before I'd have to run.

Throughout my school life, P.E. lessons were my idea of hell. Gymnastics made my body feel like cement, completely unyielding and stiff; I was a good swimmer but even at age nine, my contemporaries had already been programmed to notice my puppy fat; football was too fast, too wild, too competitive. I grew up hating sports with a passion, instantly dismissing those who followed football or rugby or even, as I grew older, those who practiced yoga or went jogging.

I am spending a lot of my time thinking about that little girl at the moment, just as copies of my new middle grade book is reaching the shelves. It's called Me and Aaron Ramsey, and it's a book about football, the magic of it, the community which builds itself around it. It's also about the attack and defence of family life, and I've written it in the hope that my former, football-hating self would enjoy it, though I'm sure of one thing- she would have considered sport and books to be polar opposites.

I am one of the lucky ones. The Welsh football team happened to dazzle at the Euros in 2016, and the buzz around it was infectious. Even my children, who had inherited my suspicion of all things sporty, came home singing football chants and insisting on watching the matches. And then watching them again on catchup TV. In the spirit of good parenting, I leapt upon the dragon-strewn bandwagon in my Wales shirt and fell in love immediately, with the game, with the team, with the community of support. I realised that my body wasn't a reflection of how others felt about it when picking a team for rounders in Year 5. It is a miracle of biological mechanics- and after all that, it turns out that I'm not made of cement, and that I can not only kick a ball, but that football belongs to people exactly like me- the bookish ones who were always last to be picked.

Me and Aaron Ramsey by Manon Steffan Ros is out now from Firefly Press

Photography © Geraint Ros

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