I tend to write these stories in advance of publication, so forgive me for being in a buoyant mood, having just cheered England to victory in the second of their Euro 2016 games. I figured I would celebrate (because, being an England supporter, I have to cherish these moments when they happen!) by writing a football story...
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Danny And The Magic Football
Danny had two left feet. He was always tripping over what seemed like thin air, he wasn't very good at dancing and worst of all, Danny was terrible at football. He wished he wasn't, because he loved to watch the game on TV, or even head down to the park for a kick-about, but somehow, he always managed to fall over his feet, or kick the ball straight to a player on the other team. He wanted to be great; in his mind, he was the captain of the England team, leading the players to victory in tournament, after tournament. But in reality... He was always picked last at school and his friends had given up even trying to teach him their cool tricks and skills on the pitch.
One, sunny Saturday afternoon, Danny was sitting in the grass at the park, watching his friends play a five-a-side match, feeling rather sorry for himself. "Guys, can I join in?" He pleaded.
Tom, Danny's best friend, gave him a sideways glance. "You know you'll just kick the ball into the wrong goal or something," he said. "You're better off watching. You can be the referee!"
Danny sighed. He didn't want to be the ref! He wanted to be out there, running the whole length of the pitch and scoring goals! He sat and watched for a little while longer, before sighing and scrambling to his feet. "I'm going home," he called to his friends, digging his hands into his pockets as he trudged out of the park.
He hadn't gotten very far, when out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something sticking out of a bin. It was round and golden. He rushed to get a better look and when he pulled the object out, he was surprised to see that it was a football! But no ordinary football. This ball seemed to shine and sparkle in the sun, and when Danny picked it up, his fingers tingled.
Danny didn't have a football at home - it seemed a bit pointless, considering how bad he was at the game. So, seeing as it was in the bin, which surely meant nobody wanted it, Danny decided to take the ball home to practise with.
He was only halfway back to his house, when Danny suddenly got the urge to put the ball on the ground and kick it. It was a risky move; he was well known for kicking the ball in the wrong direction, whenever he took part in a game at school, after all. But, as Danny placed the shiny, gold ball at his feet, his toes seemed to tingle, just like his fingers had when he first picked it up. He gave it a little tap. It rolled perfectly in front of him! Danny gave it another little tap and still, the ball rolled exactly where he wanted it to.
Danny started to feel brave. He began jogging, carefully dribbling the ball at his feet. To his amazement, he was able to pass it from one foot to the other, without it ever rolling away!
When he reached home, Danny burst in through the front door, clutching the ball in his hands. "Dad!" He cried. "Can we go into the garden and practise football?!"
His dad frowned. He thought Danny had given up on football a long time ago! But he rose up, out of his chair and smiled. "Okay," he said. "We'll have a little kick-about."
But Danny didn't want just a kick-about. "Stand by the fence," he told his dad. "I'm going to try to score a goal past you, okay?"
Again, his dad frowned. Danny was notoriously bad at scoring goals. Still, he was proud of his son for having a go. He held out his hands and bent his knees, ready for the kick. WHOOSH! Danny's dad blinked and stared as the ball sailed past him and bounced off the fence.
"GOAL!" Danny cried, an ecstatic smile filling his face. "Let me try again!"
Another goal followed, then another, then another. Neither Danny or his dad could believe it!
"Try tackling me," Danny said, dancing with the ball at his feet. His dad ducked and weaved around him, but he couldn't get the ball, no matter how hard he tried.
"Have you been secretly practising?!"
Danny shook his head and laughed. "It's this ball," he said. "I think it might be magic!"
That night, Danny slept with the magic football under his bed.
At school the next day, he couldn't wait to to show his friends what he could do with his new ball. Everyone watched in amazement, as Danny ran around the school playing field, dribbling the ball, bouncing it from his chest to the ground, scoring goals past the school team's best keeper. Danny didn't tell anyone that he believed the ball was magic. He decided it would be his secret.
Over the coming weeks, Danny's skills got better and better. Soon, he was asked to join the school team and before long, he'd become their top scorer!
The end of the Summer term was in sight and that meant just one thing, for Danny and his football teammates: the final of the County Schools Championship. Danny's team had won every game in the tournament since Danny had joined them and insisted on using the magic, gold ball in their matches. Now, they were in the final, holding the game at their school, with a chance of winning the trophy and Danny could hardly wait!
When match day finally arrived, Danny was the first into his kit, ready for the game. Clutching his magic football, he strode onto the pitch with his teammates, feeling confident and excited. Finally, all his dreams were going to come true!
The whistle blew and the game started. Within minutes, Danny had scored a goal. He was on top of the world! His best friend Tom headed a second goal soon after and before the first half was over, Danny had scored the third. Three-nil up, in the first half! It was better than Danny could ever have imagined. The whistle was just about to blow for half-time, when one of the players from the other team booted the ball towards goal, missed and sent it flying into a tree. Danny could only stare in horror as a replacement ball was thrown onto the pitch. "We need to get my ball back," he begged the referee, but to no avail. Danny was rather glad when the whistle was finally blown for half-time.
"Come on," he urged his teammates, as they left the pitch. "Let's get the ball back!"
But the ball was wedged too high up for Danny to reach it, even climbing on Tom's shoulders. They tried shaking the branches, but nothing would shift it. "Hang on," Danny said, suddenly. "The school groundskeeper must have some ladders in his shed!"
Sure enough, Ted, the groundskeeper, did have a set of ladders. Danny's joy was short-lived, however. When the magical, golden football was finally retrieved from the tree, it had been punctured on a branch. Most of the air was gone. It was useless.
Danny's face fell. "What are we going to do?!" He wailed.
"We'll just have to carry on," Tom said, patting his friend on the shoulder. "We'll be fine; you're our lucky charm, Danny!"
Danny's cheeks reddened. He didn't dare admit that the only reason he was any good was because of the ball. He tucked the deflated ball into his gym bag and wished he could magic himself somewhere far, far away...
When the second half began, Danny trudged onto the pitch with his heart in his throat. His teammates kept passing him the new ball, hoping for him to score a brilliant goal, like they'd gotten used to him doing. But Danny's feet slipped all over the place and his shots flew wide. Before long, the other team had scored a goal of their own. Then another. Then another!
With just minutes to go, the score was level. Danny's hopes and dreams felt as flat as the gold ball had become. As he darted around, desperately trying to regain his control, he noticed that the laces had come undone on one of his brand new football boots. He hobbled to the edge of the pitch to do them up and his dad came hurrying over to see him.
"Son? Are you okay? You look nervous."
Danny sighed. "We're going to lose the game, Dad," he sniffled. "And it's my fault. I was only any good with the magic ball. Without it, I'm rubbish again!"
His dad shook his head. "Nonsense," he told him. "Maybe it was the ball that made you good in the first place, but practise makes perfect and you've done nothing but practise since you found it. All the ball really did was make you believe in yourself enough to try, Danny. You've got all the skills you need!"
Danny stood up, tall. He puffed out his chest. He gave his dad a smile and marched back onto the pitch. Within seconds, one of his teammates passed him the ball. Danny ran with it, keeping it close to his feet. He passed one defender. Then another! Before he knew it, he was getting close to the goal. He saw the keeper, standing, waiting to make a save. Danny thought of all the hours he'd spent practising with the magic ball. Could Dad be right? Danny took a deep breath and whacked the ball as hard as he could.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Time seemed to stand still. Then, suddenly, there was an enormous roar from the crowd and Danny felt the arms of his teammates, reaching out to hug him in celebration. He finally opened his eyes, to see the ball - the normal, standard football - nestled in the back of the net.
The next thing Danny knew, the referee was blowing the final whistle.
"You did it, Danny!" Tom squealed. "You won the game!"
Danny left the pitch to claps and cheers, feeling like a champion. He got to lift the trophy and he and all his teammates were given winners' medals. It was the perfect ending to the day.
Danny was just getting all of his things ready to go home, when his dad found him. "I'm so proud of you," he beamed. "You were fantastic!"
Danny grinned. "I didn't think I could do it," he confessed.
"I never doubted you for a second," his dad replied. "I think we'll go out for tea as a treat. Have you got everything?"
Danny nodded, picking up his gym bag. He followed his dad for a while, then paused. "Actually..." He dug into his gym bag and pulled out the deflated, "magic" ball. With a smile, Danny tossed it into a bin. "Yeah," he said. "I've got everything I need."