lost in 90mins

23May11

It was the last day of the Premiership season, with five teams still thrashing out for survival in the top flight. Barely 3 months ago Birmingham City were delighting us with a triumphant Carling Cup-winning streak, but since then it’s all been ‘tired and weary’ with the road looking ever more slippery. The peculiar optimism felt at Wembley had given way to something all too familiar and dare I say it …inevitable.

So, avoiding the match coverage, I decided instead to capitalise on a weekend of family fun, (which embraced sister Elaine’s 40th and a visit to the Tolkien ‘Middle Earth’ weekend at Sarehole Mill) with a picnic in the wilds of Sutton Park.

At kick-off we’re striding through copse in sunshine and a bracing wind, with bulging food-bags and ball at our feet. Everything to play for. Friends Peter & Natalie are onside. At half-time the scores are even and we stop for our feast. At this stage Blues are just safe on goal difference. The whistle blows and we’re off past Blackroot Pool for the second half of our journey. It’s at this point everything goes belly up. Grown ups wander ahead, Boythings start to dawdle. Boy.1 darts forward with the ball, leaving a leaky defence. Then Boy.2 stops paying attention and wanders off the main track, witnessed up ahead by myself, waving like a disconsolate linesman. He disappears into the woods and I follow him, expecting this to be part of a hide & seek game-plan. But no. He has actually disappeared. Vanished in the thicket. There follows a whole heap of shouting, running, marshalling our team, gathering supporters and summoning officials. Sutton Park is vast and disorientating. I struggle to know where I am in this place so how on earth will an (albeit headstrong and savvy) 7 year-old cope? To make matters more difficult there’s no phone signal, so the team are not really communicating efficiently. Through the anguish of uncertainty one must never give up hope, though. I know he’ll be ok. I know he will. I’m covering the left side of the pitch, Peter the right side; tirelessly running trails that criss-cross the Park. Natalie defends the centre with Boy.1. Everybody we pass is also brought into the sweep, including (by this point) the Park Rangers, the Police and their not so secret weapon, the Police Chopper.

Meanwhile, the fugitive has made his way coolly to our car on the opposite side of the park and is waiting for us. He admits feeling shocked when a policeman called Matt approaches him and seems to know his name. Ah! The game is all but over.

Back at Blackroot Pool dad knows he’ll get probably get the sack. Ultimately the Manager is culpable. There is a police car, a ranger’s jeep and three fire engines gathered around the pool. (I still don’t understand the fire engines, but thankfully their presence is unrelated.) Jacob gets out of the Jeep and somewhat sheepishly approaches his ragged wreck of a father.

The final whistle has blown. People pass the pool on their onward journeys. They all know who Jacob is, because they’ve all been looking for him. Then a new face passes; a bloke in a Birmingham City top, somewhat worse for wear. His face says it all. I don’t need to see the scorelines to know that we’re down and out. The ‘lost’ is insignificant, however, in the presence of a ‘found’. Boy.2 is, after all, safe and well.

The walk back to the car is a mixture of relief and bewilderment. I ask ‘Lost & Found Boy’ to guide us as a test of his powers of orientation. Astonishingly, he takes us straight there. The terror of it all seems worse after the event and I’m in no doubt there’ll be a few more sleepless nights. Birmingham City will live to fight another day and will be back where they belong. In the meantime I would like to issue a personal message of eternal gratitude to everyone who helped  look for and find Jacob. Hereon, all eyes will be kept firmly on the ball.

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2 Responses to “lost in 90mins”

  1. 1 Nick Walker

    This post leaves me exhausted and elated and moved in equal measure.

    • Me too, Nick. It’s the unimaginable nightmare played out. J later ‘fessed up to the fact that, being at the back – he’d try to find a ‘short cut’ and beat us all back to the car (a convoluted mile away)…which of course he did.


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