'Number four. That was my dad's number.'
'Yes,' said Glenda. 'We know. Listen to 'em cheering, Trev.'
Trev looked like someone trying to find an escape clause. 'I've never even trained with the new football. You know me, it's always been the tin can.'
'It's a football. It's just a football,' said Nutt. 'You'll get the hang of it in a second.'
The former Dean strode up. 'Well, this is all very gratifying with a touch of welcome pathos, ladies and gentlemen, but it is time we continued this football match and I would be very grateful if all non-players could stand back behind the touchlines,' he said, shouting to make himself heard above the noise of the crowd.
Trev left Nutt at the goal. 'Don't you worry, Mister Trev,' said the orc, grinning. 'With me saving and you striking we can't lose. They won't get me the same way a second time.' He lowered his voice and grabbed Trev's shoulder. 'When it starts to get hot down this end, run like stink towards the other and I'll make sure you get the ball.' Trev nodded and walked across the turf to the cheers of the crowd.
The editor of the Times later reported as follows: At this point, United seemed to feel that they had a working strategy and poured every resource into the university side in a mĘ║lĘŽe that was clearly beyond the referee to control. The plucky orc custodian had also learned a lesson and two or three times recovered the day with magnificent saves, on one occasion kicking the ball, in our opinion, directly at the head of one of the milling opponents, stunning him and then catching it upon the rebound, dropping it on to the boot and sending it far into the opposing half where Trevor Likely, son of the famous football hero, ran pell-mell towards the goal where Mr Charlie Barton had happily been provided with a chair, a table, a late lunch and two stalwart defenders, whose clear purpose it was to see that none shall pass. All breathing in the park surely ceased as the young paladin fired off a tremendous shot, which was, alas, out by a few inches and only served to rattle the woodwork and rebounded towards the defenders. Nevertheless, Likely tackled like a man possessed and spirits lifted once again as the two defenders got in each other's way just sufficiently for the boy to once again power the sphere back towards its intended resting place. Your correspondent believes that even the supporters of United joined in the groan as once again this second shot failed to find a slot and this time rebounded almost to the feet of H. Capstick, who lost no time in sending it screaming towards the Academicals' end before it could do more harm. Once again, the indefatigable Mr Nutt warded off a number of attacks while the rather pathetic remnant of the university boys' defence proved that prowess with the magic wand is of little avail if you do not know what your feet are for. At this point, Master of the Dark Arts Dr J. Hix was summarily dismissed from the field after the crowd's persistent chant of 'Who's the bastard in the black?' alerted the referee to his attempts at endeavouring to strike down F. Brisket, one of the notorious Brisket boys, with the soul-eating dagger of the Deadly Vampyre Spider Queen. Which, as it transpired, turned out to be neither magical nor, as it turned out, made of metal, but one of a number of similar items available in Boffo's Joke Emporium, Tenth Egg Street. Ranting apparently fearful oaths about university statute, Dr Hix had to be dragged from the field by members of his own team, leaving our spirited magicians in an even more depleted spell of difficulty, probably wishing they had a magic carpet to get them out of there!
At least Dr Hix's tirade and attempts to drag the ground with him bought them some time. Glenda ran on to the pitch to a dishevelled and downcast Trev.
'What happened, Trev?' she said. 'You had it right there in front of you. You had it in your hands, well, on your boot, anyway.'
'It doesn't do what I want,' said Trev.
'You're supposed to make it do what you want. It's just a football.'
'Yeah, but I'm tryin' to learn with all of this goin' on.'
'Well, at least you nearly did it. We haven't lost yet and it's still only the first half.'
When play was resumed, according to the editor of the Times: A certain amount of backbone had been retrieved by the men in pointy hats and captain Nobbs led a concerted attack in an attempt to further interfere with Charlie Barton's lunch, but to the dismay of all, the son of Dave Likely still appeared to have only a nodding acquaintance with the art of goal scoring and it appeared very much that his only chance of putting one away would be to have the ball wrapped up and sent via the Post Office. And then, to the shock of all, the occult gang appeared to prove that they were far better at billiards than football when another of Likely's powerful, but directionless, attempts rebounded again off the goal on to the head of Professor Rincewind, who was, in fact, running in the opposite direction, and was in the back of the goal before anyone, including Charlie, knew where it was. This got a cheer, but only because the game now appeared, in our opinion, to be a comedy routine. Alas, there was no comedy about the fact that in several parts of the Hippo, fights were breaking out between gangs of rival supporters, doubtless inspired by some of the shameful performances on the pitch...
As the two sides trooped or hobbled back to their places, the referee called the captains together. 'Gentlemen, I'm not quite sure what we are doing here, but I am quite certain that it's not exactly football and I look forward to the inquiry later on. In the meantime, before anyone else is injured and especially before the crowd start to tear this place apart and eat one another, I will tell you that the next goal scored will be the last one, even though we are still only in the first half.' He looked meaningfully at Hoggett and said, 'I sincerely hope that some players will examine their consciences. If I may coin a phrase, gentlemen, it's sudden death either way. I will give you a few minutes to impress this upon your teams.'
'I am sorry, sir,' said Hoggett, looking around, 'some of my lads are not people I would have chosen, if you get my drift. I'll give them a good talking to.'
'In my opinion that would only work if you were hitting them with a hammer at the same time, Mister Hoggett. They are a disgrace. And do you also understand me, Mister Nobbs?'
'I think we'd like to carry on, too. Never say die.'
'And I would not like to see death here, either, but I suspect that your request for extra time is in the hope that Mister Likely will learn how to play football, but I fear that will not happen in a month of Sundays.'
'Well, yes, sir, but can't you - ' Hoggett began.
'Mister Hoggett, I have spoken and I am the referee and right now I am the nearest thing to the gods.'
I am the nearest thing to the gods. It came back as an echo. Softer. Brighter. He looked around, 'What? Did you chaps say something?' Nearest thing to the gods. There was a sound like gloing! But the ball was still in his hands, wasn't it? He stared at it. And was it just him, or was there something in the air? Something... in the air... the silveryness of fine winter days.
Trev did an embarrassingly jiggly little run on the spot as he waited. When he looked up, there was Andy Shank watching him.
'Your dear old dad must be 'aving a fit,' said Andy cheerfully.
'I know you, Andy,' said Trev wearily, 'I know what you do. You corner some poor tosser and taunt 'im until 'e loses 'is rag and so 'e starts it, doesn't 'e? I'm not risin' to it, Andy.'
'Not risin' to anythin' very much, are you?'
'Not listenin', Andy,' said Trev.
'Oh, I reckon you are.'
Trev sighed again. 'I've been watchin' you. You and your chums are bloody masters at stickin' the boot in when the ref ain't lookin' and what 'e don't see 'e can't do nothin' about.'
Andy lowered his voice. 'Well, I can do something about you, Trev. You won't be walking out of this place, I swear it. You'll be carried out.'
There was the sound of the whistle, followed by the unstoppable 'ANY BOY WHO HAS NOT BROUGHT HIS KIT WILL PLAY IN HIS PANTS!'
'Sudden death,' the former Dean said and the sides collided, Andy emerging with the ball at his feet and his dishonour guard flanking him at either side.
Ponder Stibbons, in the path of their advance, calculated quite a lot of things very quickly, such as speed, wind direction and the likelihood of being physically trodden into the turf. He made an effort at any rate, but ended up flat on his back after the collision. As the editor of the Times put it: in this scene of despair, dismay and disarray, one lone defender, Nutt, stood in the way of United's winning goal...
There was a roar immediately behind Nutt. He daren't look round, but someone landed on top of the goal, making it shake, dropped down and indicated by means of one huge and horny thumb that Mr Nutt's assistance was no longer required. There was a green crust around the Librarian's mouth, but this was nothing to the fire in his eyes.
At this point, according to the editor of the Times: Seemingly nonplussed by the return of the wizards' famous man of the forest, Shank essayed another attempt at the winning score, which was stopped one-handed by the Librarian and effortlessly thrown back into United's turf. With everything to play for, it seemed to us that every man on the pitch was chasing the ball as if they were a pack of boys, scuffling in the gutter for the traditional tin can. However, Mr Nobbs, who we are assured is no relation, was able to make some space to give the unlucky Mr Likely another attempt at following in his father's footsteps, which he failed to do by the width, from our estimation, of about half of one inch and the ball was snatched up by Big Boy Barton who then collapsed, choking, having stuffed, we understand, a considerable amount of pie into his face to keep his hands free.
'It shouldn't be like this,' said Glenda, and the thought echoed back in her head: It shouldn't be like this. 'Trev has to win, it can't go any other way.' And her voice came back again; could you get echoes in your own head? They were going to lose, weren't they? They were going to lose because Andy knew how to break the rules.
I am the rules.
She looked around, but apart from the doctor and his groaning or, in Ridcully's case, cursing charges, there was no one near her apart from Juliet who was watching the game with her normal, faint smile.
'Good heavens. All he needs is to get only one goal,' said Glenda aloud.
I am the goal, said the quiet voice from nowhere.
'Did you hear that?' said Glenda.
'Wot?' said Juliet. She turned and Glenda could see that she was crying. 'Trev's going to lose.'
I am the ball.
This time it had come from her pocket, and she pulled out Trev's tin can.
As Doctor Lawn gave a groan and hurried back up the pitch towards the choking Charlie (as the Times later put it), she followed him and caught up with Mr Nobbs. 'If you ever want a cup of tea and a piece of cake again in your life, Mr Nobbs, you kick the ball towards me. You will know where I am, because I will be screaming and acting silly. Do what I say, okay?'
Do what she says, okay? he heard her voice echo. 'And what will you do, throw it back?'
'Something like that,' said Glenda.
'And what good is this going to do?'
'It's going to win you the match, that's what. Can you remember rule 202?'
She left him wondering and then hurried along to Mrs Whitlow and the cheerleaders who, right now, had nothing to cheer about. 'I think we should give the boys a really good display at this time,' she suggested. 'Don't you agree, Juliet?'
Juliet, who had been dutifully following her said, 'Yes, Glenda.'
Yes, Glenda. And there it was again. One sentence. Two voices.
Mrs Whitlow was not the sort of person who would take an instruction from the head of the Night Kitchen, but Glenda leaned forward and said, 'It's the Archchancellor's special request.'
The resurrection of Big Boy Barton was not an easy job and there were possibly fewer volunteers for putting their fingers down his throat than there had been for the Librarian. And his emptying and cleaning up took a little more time.
As the referee summoned the teams back into position, Glenda arrived out of breath and handed him a piece of paper. 'What's this?'
'It's the rules, sir, but you will see that I have put a ring around one of them.'
He glanced at it, and said dismissively, 'Looks like a lot of nonsense to me.'
'It's not, sir, not if you look at it a bit at a time, sir, it's the rules, sir.'
Archchancellor Henry shrugged and stuffed the paper into his pocket.
For a moment, Bledlow Nobbs glanced at Glenda, defiantly out of place amongst the cheerleaders. Glenda was known to be generous to her friends and she made the best tea in the university. This wasn't about football, this was about a hot mug of tea and possibly a doughnut. He leaned down to Nutt. 'Glenda says I've got to remember rule 202,' he said.
Nutt's face brightened. 'Clever idea and of course it will work. Did she tell you to kick the ball out of the pitch?'
'Yes, that's right. Are we going to cheat?' said Bledlow Nobbs.
'No. We are going to stick to the rules. And the thing about sticking to the rules is that it's sometimes better than cheating.'
Nobbs's chance came soon enough, surprisingly with an obviously misdirected pass from Hoggett. Had Hoggett been standing very close when they had been talking? And had he just said 'Go for it?' It sounded very much like it. He kicked the ball straight towards the cheerleaders, where Glenda snatched it out of the air and pushed it into the folds of Mrs Whitlow's skirt. 'You haven't seen this, ladies, you haven't seen where it is and you're not moving for anyone, okay?'
As the crowd booed and cheered, she pulled the tin can out of her bag and held it up in the air. 'Ball lost!' she yelled. 'Substitute ball!' and threw the can directly towards the bledlow, who was quick enough to flick it on to Nutt. Before any other player had moved, it landed with a little gloing! sound on the end of Trev Likely's boot...
According to the editor of the Times: We have been assured that no magic was used on the day of the match and it is not my place to contradict the honourable faculty of Unseen University. All your correspondent will say is that Trevor Likely kicked the 'ball', against all probability, towards the Academicals' goal, where he stood, apparently waiting for the stampede of the enraged United squad. What followed, your correspondent must declare, was not just a goal, but it was a punishment and it was a retribution. It was writing the name Likely, for the second time, in the annals of football history, as Trevor, famous son of a famous father, wiped the floor with United, wrung them out and did it all over again. Running. Dodging. Sometimes obligingly kicking the 'ball' directly towards a defender who then found it heading off in quite a different direction, which just happened to be where Likely was now. He taunted them. He played with them. He caused them to collide with one another as they both went for a ball that, inexplicably, was no longer where they were sure it had been. And it must have come as a relief to the more steady members of United when he relented and skipped the 'ball' over the head of their standby keeper, Micky Pulford (latterly of the Whopping Street Wanderers) and into the net, where it circled and then returned to land precisely on the tip of Likely's boot. The silence...
... spread like warm butter. Glenda was sure she could hear distant birdsong or, possibly, the noise of worms under the turf, but definitely the sound from Dr Lawn's impromptu field hospital, the sound of 'Big Boy' Barton chucking up again.
And then, where silence had reigned, sound poured like the gush of water from a broken dam. It was physical and it was complex. Here and there the spectators started chanting. All the chants of all the teams, united and harmonizing in one perfect moment.
Glenda watched in amazement as Juliet... It was like the fashion show all over again. She seemed to light up from the inside, bars of golden light floating away from the micromail. She started to run towards Trev, tearing off her beard, and, Glenda could see, gradually rising from the ground as though she was running up a stairway.
It was a strange and wonderful sight, and not even Charlie Barton, still throwing up, could detract from it.
' 'scuse me,' said Mister Hoggett. 'That was a goal, wasn't it?'
'Yes, Mister Hoggett, I think it was,' said the referee.
Hoggett was pushed out of the way by Andy Shank. 'No! It went to one side! Are you bloody blind, or what? And it was a tin can.'
'No, Mister Shank, it was not. Gentlemen, can you not see what's happening in front of your faces? Look, everything that happened was perfectly legal under the rules of the game, rule 202, to be precise. It's a fossil, but it is a rule, and I can assure you that no magic was used. But right now, gentlemen, can you not see the golden lady floating up in the air?'
'Yeah, right, that's just more weird kids' stuff, just like that goal.'
'This is football, Mister Shank, it's all weird kids' stuff.'
'So the game is over,' said Mr Hoggett.
'Yes, Mister Hoggett, it is. Apart from, and I insist on drawing your attention to it, a beautiful golden lady floating over the pitch. Am I the only one seeing this?'
Hoggett glanced towards the rising Juliet. 'Yeah, right, very pretty, but we've lost, have we?'
'Yes, Mister Hoggett, you have clearly and emphatically lost.'
'And, just to be precise,' said Hoggett, 'there are no more, like, rules, are there?'
'No, Mister Hoggett, you are no longer subject to the rules of football.'
'Thank you for that clarification, your worship, and may I also thank you on behalf of United for the way you handled the trying events of this afternoon.'
With this, he turned and punched Andy full in the face. Mister Hoggett was a mild man, but years of lifting a pig carcass in each hand meant that he had a punch that even Andy's thick skin had to reckon with. Even so, after Andy had blinked a few times he managed to say, 'You bastard.'
'You lost us the game,' said Hoggett. 'We could have won fair and square, but you had to muck it up.' And those around him felt able to murmur in support of the accusation.
'Me? It wasn't me! It was that bloody Trev Likely and his little orc chum. They was using magic. You can't say that wasn't magic.'
'Just skill, I assure you,' said the former Dean. 'Amazing skill, certainly, but he is well known for his prowess with the tin can, which itself is a veritable icon of football.'
'Where is that bloody Likely, anyway?'
Glenda, eyes fixed on the centre of the pitch, said in the voice of someone half hypnotized, 'He's rising up in the air as well.'
'Look, you can't tell me that's not magic,' Andy insisted.
'No,' said Glenda. 'You know what, I think it's religion. Can't you hear?'
'I can't hear anything, dear, with all the noise from the crowd,' said the former Dean.
'Yes,' said Glenda. 'Listen to the crowd.'
He did. It was a roar, a great sky-filling roar, old and animal and coming up from the gods knew where, but inside it, travelling like a hidden message, he made out the words. They swam into focus, if indeed the ear could focus and if he was actually hearing them with his ears. They might have been coming through his bones... If the striker thinks he scores Or if the keeper cries in shame They understand not the crowd's applause I make, and hear and earn again For I am the crowd and I am the ball I am the triumph and the blame I am the turf, the pies, the All Always and ever, I am the Game. It matters not who won or lost Nothing is the score you made Fame is a petal that curls in the frost But I will remember how you played.
And it stays there, Glenda thought, like sound in a banner. Everybody one part of it.
Juliet and Trev began to float down, hand in hand, turning gently until they landed lightly on the turf, still kissing. A sort of reality began to leak back into the arena, and there are some people who, even when hearing the voice of the nightingale, will say 'What's that bloody noise?'
'Cheatin' bastard,' said Andy and launched himself directly at Trev, covering the ground at speed as the boy stood there with a very bemused but happy expression on his face. He did not notice the hell-bent Andy until a huge boot kicked him squarely in the groin, so hard that the eyes of all male watchers watered in sympathetic pain.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Trev felt the micromail sing as the thousands of links moved and just as quickly settled down again. It was as if a little breeze had blown up his pants. Apart from that, he hadn't felt a thing.
Andy, on the other hand, had. He was lying on the ground, bent double, making a sort of whistling noise through his teeth.
Someone slapped Trev on the back. It was Pepe.
'You did put my pants on, didn't you? Well, obviously not my pants. You'd have to be suicidal to want to put my pants on. Anyway, I've come up with a name for the stuff: I'm going to call it Retribushium. Can't ever say it will be an end to war, 'cos I can't imagine anything putting an end to war, but it sends the force back the way it came. Didn't chafe either, did it?'
'No,' said Trev, amazed.
'Well, it did for him! My word, though, he's a game one. That reminds me, I'll need a picture of you in them.'
Andy was rising slowly, elevating himself to the vertical almost by willpower alone. Pepe grinned, and somehow it seemed obvious to Trev that anyone who was going to get up and try any threats with Pepe grinning at him was more than suicidal.
'Got a knife, have you, you little squirt?' said Andy.
'No, Andy,' said Nutt behind him. 'No more. The game is over. Fortune has favoured Unseen Academicals and I believe the traditional ending is to exchange shirts in an atmosphere of good fellowship.'
'But not pants,' said Pepe under his breath.
'What do you know about that sort of thing?' growled Andy. 'You're a bloody orc. I know all about you people. You can tear arms and legs off. You're black magic. I'm not scared of you.' He came at Nutt with commendable speed for a man in such pain.
Nutt dodged. 'I believe there is a peaceful solution to the obvious enmity between us.'
Pepe and some of the footballers were closing in. Andy had not been making friends. Nutt waved them away.
'I'm sure I could help you, Andy. Yes, you are right, I am an orc, but doesn't an orc have eyes? Doesn't an orc have ears? Doesn't an orc have arms and legs?'
'Yeah, at the moment,' said Andy, and leaped.
What happened next happened so fast that Trev didn't see the middle of it. It started with Andy jumping and finished with him sitting on the ground with Nutt's hands clamped around his head, claws out. 'Let me see now,' Nutt mused as the man struggled in vain. 'Twisting the skull with enough force to snap the spine and spinal column should not present much difficulty since it is a non-rotating joint. And, of course, the ear holes and eye sockets allow for extra grip in the manner of a bowling ball,' he added happily.
There was a horrified hush as he continued. 'Using the unit of measurement of force invented by Sir Rosewood Bunn, I should think that a mere 250 Bunns should do the trick. But, of course, and possibly surprisingly, it is the tearing of the skin, tendons and muscles that would present me with some difficulty. You are a young man and the tensile strength would be quite high. I imagine the skin alone would require a force of about a thousand Bunns.'
Andy yelped as his head was gently twisted.
'Oh, I say! Look here now!' said Ridcully. 'A joke is a joke and all that, but... '
'From then on it gets rather messy,' said Nutt. 'Muscle would tear off the bones comparatively easily.'
Andy gave another strangled yelp.
'But taking it all in all, I would think a force of between three to five Kilobunns should do the trick.' He paused. 'Just my little joke, Andy. I know you like a laugh. I would also, I believe, be quite capable of putting one hand down your throat and pulling out your stomach.'
'Go ahead,' croaked Andy.
And around the arena of the Hippo, the beast smelled blood. After all, it wasn't just horse racing that had taken place in the Hippo over the centuries. The comparatively small amount of blood that had been shed today was nothing compared with the oceans of the centuries gone by, but the beast knew blood when it smelled it. The cheering and the chanting now picked up, and the words grew louder and louder as people rose to their feet: Orc! Orc! Orc!
Nutt stood impassively and then turned to the former Dean. 'Could I please ask everyone else to leave? This may become messy.'
'Oh, come on!' said Trev. 'No way.'
'Ah, well,' said Nutt, 'maybe just the ladies?'
'Not likely,' said Glenda.
'In that case, would you please be so kind as to lend me your megaphone, referee, and I would be grateful if you would instruct some of the stronger players on the field to restrain Mister Shank who is, I believe, sadly not in his right mind.'
Wordlessly it was handed over. Nutt took it as the storm of Orc! Orc! grew louder, walked a little way from the rest of the group and stood there impassively with his arms folded until the taunting stopped out of sheer lack of momentum. With every eye watching him, he raised the megaphone to his lips and said, 'Gentlemen. Yes, indeed, I am an orc and will always be one. And may I say that it's been a privilege to play here today and to see you all. But I do gather now that being an orc in this city may be seen as something of a problem to some of you.' He paused. 'So I would ask you to excuse me if I request that this matter be sorted out between us now.'
There was laughter and some jeers from various parts of the ground, but also, it seemed to Glenda, the beast was calling upon itself for silence. In that pin-drop silence the thud of the megaphone hitting the ground could be heard in every corner. Then Nutt rolled up his sleeves and lowered his voice so that people had to strain to listen.
He said, 'Come on if you think you're hard enough.'
First there was shock and then the silence of disbelief and the whisper of every head turning to every other head and saying, 'Did he really say that?' and then someone high in the stands started to clap, at first slowly and then at an accelerating tempo, as it reached the crowd's tipping point, when not clapping would be unthinkable. Ceasing to clap was also unthinkable and within a minute the applause was a storm.
Nutt turned back to the rest of the team with tears streaming down his face. 'Do I have worth?' he said to Glenda.
She ran towards him and hugged him. 'You always did.'
'Then when the match is over there are things we have to do.'
'But it's been over for ages,' said Glenda.
'No, it's not over until the referee blows his whistle. Everyone knows that.'
'By Io he's right,' said Ridcully. 'Go on, Dean. Give it the works!'
The Archchancellor of Brazeneck University felt gracious enough to let that one pass. He put the gigantic whistle to his lips, filled his lungs with air and sent the pea rattling. Despite everything, the shade of Evans the Striped had the last word: 'NO BOY IS TO FIDDLE ABOUT IN THE SHOWERS!'
As the crowd streamed down from the stands, trampling the now sacred turf, Ridcully tapped a gloomy Mr Hoggett on the shoulder and said, 'It would be my privilege to change shirts with you, sir.' He dropped his hat on the ground, pulled off his shirt and revealed a chest so hairy that it looked like two sleeping lions. The United shirt he received in return was somewhat of a tight fit, but that was unimportant because, as Andy had predicted, the Unseen Academicals were indeed picked up by the yelling crowd (except for Mrs Whitlow who fought back) and carried in glory through the city. It was a triumph. Whether you won or lost, it was still a triumph.
You think it's all over?
The wizards of Unseen University knew how to party. Pepe and Madame Sharn were impressed. However, business was business and they had to think about Juliet. 'I can't see her anywhere,' said Madame.
'I think I saw two of her a while ago,' said Pepe. 'These fellows do themselves wellĘCI have never seen such a large cheeseboard. It almost makes celibacy seem worthwhile.'
'Oh, do you think so?'
'No. By the way, have you noticed that very tall wizard giving you the eye, my dear?'
'That's Professor Bengo Macarona. Do you think he - ' Madame began.
'Without a shadow of a doubt, my dear. I know he's hurt his legs, but I doubt if that would be a problem.'
Once again, Madame craned to search the crowd for the glittering figure. 'I do hope our young model is not getting involved in any hanky panky.'
'How could she? She's totally surrounded by admirers.'
'It's still possible.'