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Born Offside

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Montreal. (France v. Canada)

 

**

 

“It’s not that I’m nervous. It’s just...it’s a big game, y’know? I mean, way to kick off this whole campaign with a game against France. Would’ve been good to get into our stride with Thailand first before we hit the big boys, right? Amiright?”

 

“Sure,” Beth Childs offered, glancing around the changing room. It appeared, once again, that she was the only person listening to Cosima’s long-winded rambles. Alison was singing along to whatever broadway crap was on that iPod of hers, Deangelis was busy strapping on her captain’s armband and making a show of it because she was so much better than them (and more mature, Beth liked to remind her). And Cosima, their star playmaker, fresh off an amazing season in the bundesliga, would not stop talking.

 

“It’s not like their attack is brilliant, though,” Cosima carried on. “Solid midfield and their defence is gonna be fun to run around with Beaumont injured.”

 

“I think Cormier’s captaining instead,” Beth said half-heartedly; she hadn’t managed to get through the entirety of Eminem’s Lose Yourself due to Cosima’s eager interruption and was beginning to think she should at least get to the end of the song.

 

“Yeah.” Cosima grinned. “France’s first error. You don’t stick your keeper as captain.”

 

“She’s about as good as you get, though,” Beth mused. “If Beaumont’s out they’ll need someone to organise the defence. And wasn’t she captaining Lyon when they kicked your ass in the champion’s league?”

 

Cosima groaned. “That was three years ago! I was a little Bambi back then, big elegant deer now. C’mon, tell me I’m right, for patriotism’s sake.”

 

Beth’s gaze was flat and unamused, and she held it for such a long period of time that eventually Cosima mumbled something about getting into the zone and pottered restlessly around the changing room. Relieved, and hoping that Cosima saved the energy she spent talking for actually completing passes on the pitch, she unwound her iPod earphones and tapped at the screen, glancing upwards to meet Alison’s eyes.

 

“She’s a very capable speaker, I’ll give her that,” were the first, hushed words out of Alison’s mouth. “I missed half of ‘Tonight’ listening to her dissection of the French starting eleven earlier.”

 

“At least she can run as fast as she talks,” Beth laughed, patting the space on the bench next to her. Alison obliged, only after huffing about her messing up her pre-match routine. “Feeling alright?”

 

“Yes.” Alison’s nod was curt and determined. “I do think though, that actually, the French are hugely overrated.”

 

Beth laughed again, already beginning to feel sorry with the way her team were cutting down their opposition. Cosima had a lazy sense of mild arrogance (completely steamrollered by Deangelis’ big head) but Alison’s opinion was usually backed up by video evidence and colour-coding, somewhere. “The French are decent.”

 

“Well, they’ll get through, but we are in a group with Thailand and Mexico. Qualification, if anything, is simple necessity. Not an indicator of their ability.”

 

“Hey, the Mexicans might surprise us. Their men had a good run last year.”

 

“Yes, well, that’s the men, Beth. Where do you see the men’s Canadian soccer team, hmm?”

 

Beth crinkled her nose. “Watching this match and wolf-whistling at their screens?”

 

“You are so crass,” Alison huffed, turning back to her iPod and dabbling with her screen. Beth took great offence to see that she was, in fact, turning the volume up and plugging her earphones back in. She was even more offended by the notion that she’d been somewhat crass, when there had been zero crassness.

 

“Fine,” Beth said loudly, “enjoy your Rent, and I know it’s Rent because you always have the same playlist in the same order -”

 

“Beth, will you stop shouting -”

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaa -”

 

**

 

To Alison and Cosima’s credit, France were playing awfully. Not awfully, actually – just really, really dully. The whole point of the world cup was to score ridiculous goals from amazing plays on the biggest stage in the world, the best opportunity any of them would get every four years to showcase what they could do. But France were content with sitting deep; their back four were impenetrable. 

 

“Hey - fans fly over here to see this shit, and you’re just sitting round like a bunch of lemons?” Beth yelled at the right back, because the game was so slow that she had enough time to vent.

 

Cosima was playing as well as she could given the tight conditions. She’d made a couple of decent runs on the left side, given them a few scares – but like every single move they tried, she’d been closed down by multiple French players and left on the ground.

 

They hadn’t mustered a single shot on target, hadn’t tested the much-hyped-about Lyon goalie at all, and the one corner they’d managed to gain had been scuffed high and out by Alison.

 

She could hear the unappreciative boos and jeers as they jogged off for half-time, both teams wanting to escape to the changing rooms as quickly as possible. In front of her, Cosima – still bouncing on her feet – was side-by-side with the French captain.

 

“Wow, I mean, you guys -” Although Beth couldn’t see Cosima’s face, she knew she was grinning that fang-exposing grin of hers - “I didn’t know the French came with a bus station, my God, so many buses parked, I feel like I’m seeing a London transport strike or something.”

 

“I suppose they do not let Canadians on these buses then, no?” Cormier said. Beth snorted loudly, but her noise was lost in the commotion being caused further on down the tunnel.

 

“Huh, I guess not.”

 

“Ah, well anyway...pas mon problème,” Cormier teased. “As I am French, not English.”

 

“I know that,” Cosima insisted. “It was a saying. Or something. Dude, you don't always have to take it literally.

 

Cormier chuckled. “Well, you know, just before you started to try to - rightly - give the stick to my team’s tactics, I was going to find you and tell you how I admired your season this year... you are different to the quick little winger I played three years ago in Munich. Always talking and swearing and making these runs and never playing the ball in enough.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yes. I believe you were very cheeky to the ref. You had two, maybe three chances in that final and you did not make it past me, no? Clearly your rubbish-talking still requires a little bit of work. But your feet are perhaps better talkers for you.” Cormier’s smile was that kind of lopsided, half-smile that always looked charming no matter who wore it, and the way Cosima’s jaw was trailing on the floor was a good indicator of just how charming the French keeper was.

 

Cormier wasn’t done yet. “Perhaps, if you re-focused your brainpower here -” Cormier tapped the side of Cosima’s head with a gloved finger, “and redirected the energy to, ah, playing some football, you would be able to board this proverbial bus?”

 

Cosima’s sullen silence was almost funnier than her failure to trash-talk.

 

“Your ears are very red,” Cormier pointed out, still smiling. “Très mignon.”

 

With that, the tunnel unblocked and there was all kinds of movement - mainly shove-based – as the two teams and personnel shuffled towards their respective changing rooms.

 

“I’ve still got forty-five minutes to put a ball past you,” Cosima shouted, over the general noise and buzz.

 

“Is that so?”

 

“Yeah, that is so. And when I do, I’m expecting a bottle of wine. As an apology.”

 

Cormier was too busy laughing to follow the general direction of the crowd. “Apology?”

 

“Yep. You know why.”

 

“Alright.” Cormier’s confidence was not comforting at all. “You score a single goal against me tonight and I will personally cook you dinner. Nutritionally balanced yet delicious enough to make the cheeky girl weep.” Soon, even Cormier’s hair disappeared within the crowd of people, although she made sure she stuck up a gloved hand and waved goodbye.

 

Beth gave Cosima a very satisfied smirk as she passed her, only to be met with a glare.

 

“She’s lucky she’s hot,” was all Cosima said before covering her head with a sweat towel.

 

**

 

News reached them at half-time that Mexico were up on Thailand 3-0. The French must have had a particularly vicious kick up the arse at half-time – scary too, judging by how closely the French gaffer seemed to resemble a Bond villain, balding and big teeth. It meant that the wingers dropped back less often. It meant that they were getting balls further upfield, and because their strikers weren’t the most technically gifted, it meant Canada gained possession.

 

“About freakin’ time,” Cosima laughed as Beth hauled her up from the ground; they’d countered quickly after a French corner, with Cosima tearing down the left wing and cutting in just outside the box, only to be absolutely clobbered by the centre back. And now they had a free-kick. Beth wiped the sweat off her forehead, as Deangelis sprinted over.

 

“Shot’s mine, motherfuckers,” she announced, “you considering it, Childs?”

 

Beth shrugged. “I reckon I could make the French cry from here.”

 

The French captain was dutifully organising her wall, alternating between placing three or four in the wall. She’s waiting for us. She knows Deangelis will try to scoop it over the wall. But she doesn’t know me. 

 

“I think I can take it, Deangelis,” Beth said, firmer in her conviction this time.

 

“Hey.” Cosima was staring at them. “I’m gonna be the bringer of tears. I got this.”

 

Deangelis scoffed. “Yeah...no.”

 

It seemed inevitable that Deangelis was taking the run up – and even more inevitable that she’d blasted it sky-high over the bar. Beth and Cosima watched, side by side, as the ball sailed into the crowd, greeted by a loud cheer from the fans who’d gained a new souvenir.

 

Deangelis pursed her lips. “Host pressure.”

 

Beth lolled her head backwards, groaning towards the sky. “Oh, fuck off, Deangelis.”

 

Cosima hooted loudly, but she’d already gone - and Beth was kind of glad. Deangelis always got horrendously ill-tempered past the seventy minute mark. “Host pressure my ass,” she muttered under her breath as Cormier launched another long kick deep into their half, sending their defence scrambling to cope with the French forwards.

 

The breakthrough, however, did not take very long.

 

If the first half had been static and dull, the second half had been lively – not very skilled or with any kind of artistic flair, but scrappy and careless. The ref had booked six players in the second half alone. Scrappiness meant the French back four were a lot nervier in their formation, and too many times Cosima had tempted them out of their line with troublesome runs, before knocking a loose ball into the box for Beth. She’d never capitalised on it, because the defence had been excellent in running back and closing her down, until the one time they didn’t.

 

It was the same scenario as it had been for the past five minutes. Cosima would scare the defence shitless, and Beth was on the receiving end of the next pass – except what worked this time was the ever-daunting presence of Deangelis charging for the same ball, scattering the defence.

 

Except this time, Cormier was racing from her goal, and all of a sudden they had gone from a delicate knock-on from Cosima into a three-way race for the same ball, and no one had any intention of slowing down. Cormier dived to the floor, spreading her arms and legs wide – Deangelis was still running – and Beth couldn’t find a way to stop running -

 

There was a crunch and a blinding pain in her left knee as the trio collided violently. Beth felt her body flip over Cormier’s, sending her flying over behind the goalkeeper, body clattering onto the grass. Groggy, she stayed there for a few moments before slowly rolling over onto her side. She could see the referee running over, dressed in bright yellow – like Deangelis’ armband which was almost gleaming in the distance as her eyesight readjusted. Deangelis was to the left of the keeper, by quite a way out, staggering to her feet.

 

Beth blinked, the cogs in her brain working in overdrive to make some sense of the whole situation. There were a lot of people crowding over Cormier, who was lying a few metres away. Deangelis was walking over; Beth could feel her arms straining as she pushed herself back to her feet, knee throbbing wildly.

 

“Oh shit.” Beth stared blankly at Deangelis, who was just as wide-eyed as her. “You think we killed her or something?”

 

“I’m not going to prison for running too eagerly for a ball,” Deangelis murmured as they hobbled over towards the scene - and they quickly realised that the crowd hadn’t been for Cormier. Although Cosima, Alison and a few of the other French girls were attempting to talk to her – the majority of the French team were hassling the referee, who was stood over Cormier’s unmoving body.

 

“Oh shit,” Beth said again, almost wanting to laugh but having the decency to hold it in as she studied the French, attempting to listen to what they were saying – or screaming – at the ref. The ref, who was pointing firmly towards the spot.

 

“Shit.” Deangelis had clocked on, too. “Shitshitshit – we got a freakin’ penalty!”

 

“Shut up.” Beth reached out with a limp hand to smack across Deangelis’ mouth. “Stay here. I’m gonna get Cosima. I don’t think either of us are gonna score at this rate.”

 

“Yeah, screw that. Saving the hat-trick for Mexico?”

 

Beth rolled her eyes and picked up the abandoned football. “Something like that.”

 

Beth’s eyes widened at the sheer amount of blood on the floor, subconsciously checking her own knee to see if any had come from her – but nothing – just redness and friction burns. The French physio was there with bags of ice, dabbing at the back of Cormier’s head, which was being supported up. By Cosima, of all people. She almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, but that was maybe a tad too insensitive.

 

Cosima’s hands were steady - a complete whirlwind away from the blatant panic on her face.

 

“Hey - hey, Cormier,” Cosima said shakily, “I’m just gonna hold you still, OK? I’m not supposed to let you move your head...obvious reasons. Just...keep up with me. D’you know what happened?”

 

“Uh...” Cormier hissed as the doctor slid the ice pack just underneath Cosima’s hands. “I got... hit? By a hammer?”

 

Cosima grinned. “Pretty much. Um, can you tell me your name?”

 

“I – what? Delphine.”

 

“Wh -”

 

“Delphine Cormier.”

 

The French players were now shouting so loudly that Beth couldn’t even hear her own thoughts. Cosima, who was beginning to understand what was going on, hovered awkwardly over Cormier’s head in an attempt to block out the fuss - without much success. “Precautionary question. Listen...they’re gonna stick you on a stretcher. Just be careful -”

 

“FLORENT! Quoi? Penalty?!

 

“Cormier, for fuck’s sake -”

 

- Florent -”

 

Florent, the number 4, was speaking so rapidly that it was beginning to stress Beth out, and she was not the concussed one here; Cosima was shouting over the both of them: “There’s blood all over the back of her head can you just fuckin’ shut up about the penalty -”

 

The stretcher was slowly brought to the ground, with the officials rolling it onto the side so they could simply strap Cormier on without having to jostle too much. Cosima hesitantly let go, firmly instructing them about the ice pack as if they didn’t already know. Cormier was even more hesitant to let go, as if she was in the right state of mind to stay on the pitch and save a spot kick.

 

“Cosima,” she called, ignoring the fact that she was rather certain she’d heard her say goodbye to Cormier with an inappropriate ‘bon voyage’, which was the best example of language-massacre she’d heard all night. She jogged over, the ball tucked underneath her arm. Cosima glanced warily at it.

 

“Not Deangelis?”

 

“Don’t be giving her ideas.”

 

With a sigh, Cosima took the ball from her hands, and together they made their way towards the spot - ignoring the crowd of French players that were now making a beeline for them

 

Deangelis was already on the edge of the box, shouting at them – with absolutely no shame - “Take this one, Niehaus. And then we sit deep and fuck them with their own game. In the ass.”

 

**

 

 

“The only highlight of the mind-numbingly slow game were Canadian forwards Childs and Deangelis simultaneously clattering into the French goalkeeper Delphine Cormier, in a move so violent that it belonged in a Saw movie. Cormier is potentially ruled out of the Mexico game, and would have most likely wanted to stay on the pitch to make the key save as Niehaus’ scuffed excuse for a penalty somehow found a way into the net, past the young substitute keeper Reno’s flailing hands, and sent the last ten minutes into an unimaginative passing game. With the likes of Germany, USA and Sweden still to play, Canada have not opened with an impressive or promising performance.”

 

Although no-one was quite sure why Alison had decided to read this to them off her phone, all disapproving and haughty, the entire team remained silent throughout her shpiel anyway.

 

“I mean, at least we got moment of the match, Childs,” Deangelis snickered, throwing a sideways glance at Beth. She managed to hold back a smirk - if only so Alison would not murder her in her sleep for ‘sheer disrespect’.

 

“Fifty dollars says Cormier’s back for Mexico,” Deangelis carried on, waving a bunch of bills in the air.

 

Beth snatched them out of her hands. “Didn’t you listen to anything, Deangelis? They think she’s gonna be out of the game.”

 

“There’s no way she’s gonna let butterfingers play Mexico,” Deangelis laughed.

 

“Well, either way,” Alison cut in curtly, sitting down in between the two forwards. “I think you’d both be best issuing a public apology. Deangelis, there’s a meme of you laughing at Cormier’s injury.”

 

“Hey- she brought it upon herself!”

 

“She’s in hospital,” Alison snapped. “That is a human being in there!”

 

“She’s right,” Beth offered mildly, trying to ignore the hole Alison was burning through the side of her head with her glare. “Maybe get her a card and a Kinder egg. Or something.”

 

Deangelis tossed her head backwards; her laugh was loud and booming. “Come on, Hendrix, ease up. Childs always reverts into such a moral twat when you’re around,” she observed, her eyes twinkling - not with good-natured humour but with shit-eating mischief. “Look, it’s horrible that she had to get stretchered off but she’ll probably be okay for the Mexico game. Stop worrying about it - let the French do that.”

 

“Let the French worry about what?” The trio glanced up to see Cosima approaching their table, her plate piled high with chicken and bacon pasta. Beth noted that she’d already tucked a napkin into her collar - ready to eat.

 

“That goes for you too, Niehaus. No amount of ‘I hope you get better soon’ tweets are gonna change the fact that you scored that penalty and they still lost...”

 

“Dude, common courtesy,” Cosima said indignantly, her mouth full of pasta. Beth could almost feel Alison vibrating with disapproval as a kernel of sweetcorn fell out of her mouth onto the table. “Shouldn’t you be tweeting her? Like... ‘sorry I kicked your head in’?”

 

“Outta sight, outta mind.” Deangelis waved a dismissive hand. “What? She made the first contact, that’s why it was a penalty!”

 

“She’s not saying it wasn’t a penalty,” Alison interjected, her right elbow jabbing painfully into Beth’s rib. Repeatedly. “She’s saying that regardless of Cormier’s foul, you -” she pointed towards Deangelis, “- kicked her in the face and you -” she slapped Beth in the stomach, “- are very lucky her brains didn’t just explode on your leg because it was awful! If I were her mother -”

 

“You are not her mother,” Beth groaned, rubbing her belly.

 

“If I were her mother -”

 

Deangelis was laughing. “Hendrix -”

 

“Regardless,” Beth interrupted, “we have other items of concern to discuss.”

 

“We do?” Deangelis paused, her brow furrowing; she rarely liked it when Beth knew something she didn’t. “Not Thailand, surely? Our game plan can be ‘sleep’ and we’d still win.”

 

“No...” Beth turned in her seat, mischievous gaze set firmly on Cosima. Cosima, her mouth continuously full of food, stopped chewing for a moment. “Cosima has secured us a bottle of wine, because she managed to put away that cute little penalty.”

 

Cosima blinked.

 

“Cormier,” Beth said, by way of explanation at Alison’s frown, “made a bet and lost it, because this baby scored a goal.”

 

“I didn’t get past her, though,” Cosima pointed out. “She specifically said if I scored against her, and I didn’t, because Reno was in goal by then.”

 

Beth stared at her for a moment, fervently trying to rewind her memory back to the half-time tunnel. “What a bitch,” she moaned, scrunching her napkin up and throwing it onto her plate in frustration. “She couldn’t have at least stayed on and let you score it? You would’ve scored anyway!”

 

Alison sighed.