I’ll Say Your Name

By M.J. Hyland

Jimmy lived in a Salford rooming house for sick and indigent men. He slept behind a thin, partition wall, had his own cot, a bowl of hot porridge in the morning, soup for lunch, and some meat and vegetables for tea.

One day, a football coach came to town. The coach was ex-second division and sometimes offered his services for good causes. Even though he didn’t much enjoy it, free coaching was a good thing to be seen to do.

To qualify for the football clinic and game (plus a free hot lunch and a pair of boots) the men from the rooming house needed only to be sober on the day.

At the first clinic, in an oval in the middle of an athletics field round the back of Jimmy’s rooming house, Jimmy made a mess of the game. He was capable of playing a good game, but every time the ball was passed to Jimmy, he picked it up, held to his chest, smiled, and ran the length of the field.

It didn’t matter whether the Coach screamed, ‘Drop the ball!’ or ‘This isn’t rugby, you fool’, Jimmy clutched the ball and ran as fast as he could. Every Wednesday afternoon for nine weeks it was the same. The other men shouted at Jimmy, but Jimmy wouldn’t let go until he was tackled to the ground, and then, when the ball was taken from him, he’d run as fast as he could to see if he could get hold of the ball again.

The Coach lost his patience and, on the tenth Wednesday, he took Jimmy aside with the plan to bar him. The two men stood in the changing room and some of the other men, who had finished showering, listened and hoped that Jimmy (who they otherwise liked) would stop ruining their game.

‘Listen,’ said The Coach. ‘You don’t need the rules explained to you again. Why won’t you stop running with the ball? Why do you do this every bloody time?’

Jimmy answered: ‘It’ll be eight years this Christmas, I’ve been in this rooming house and in seven years I’ve not heard anybody say my name. When I’ve got the ball, you all shout my name. I like it. I like hearing it.’