11 December 2003
This is one of the reasons why I am here, sweating under the lights, and you are one of a global audience of hundreds of millions, on the sofa with one fly button undone: you have never seen Hotshot.
Not the Charlie Sheen movie. This is a serious matter. Hotshot is a tale of suffering and redemption in which Jimmy, a young footballing tyro, wastes his god-given ability in selfishness and loose living. Chastened by a career-ending injury sustained by his friend and Blackie Gray-style companion, he travels to Brazil to track down faded legend "Santos", played by Pelé. Santos refuses at first to help him and then, much in the manner of Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi, teaches him the crane technique of "soccer", the bicycle kick.
You can see where this is going, can't you? Jimmy's youthful enthusiasm rekindles Santos's love of the game, while Santos teaches him that soccer is about more than individual talent, but is rather about working as part of a team. The "World Soccer Cup Final" or similar is won at the death by an overhead kick from our hero. Some would say that a failure to realise that football is a team game makes you constitutionally unsuited to play it at the highest level, but never mind. After all, everybody associated with the game at any level in the strange parallel universe where the film is set, where the USA in 1987 - between the death of the North American Soccer League and the beginning of Major League Soccer - played host to "soccer finals" attended by tens of thousands of rabid fans, seems blessed with at best a schematic understanding of how the game is played.
Suffice to say, it's not a classic. It does, however, have a touching moment where, having learned the importance of selflessness from Pelé, Jimmy Christidis crosses to the veteran midfielder playing his last match, who has begged his fellow players to fight back from one goal down to make his final game a victory (in what must be one of the most dispiriting half-time talks ever - the guy is practically in tears). The midfielder knocks it in, and we hear an announcer telling us that this goal makes him the third highest scorer in the history of the Neverland Nephelokokugia Nowhere Invitational League.
In another world I didn't watch Hotshot, and was never inspired to go into competition, wasting my talents instead on nightclubs and Dance Dance Revolution. In another world I went out that night instead of settling down with a movie, was hit by a car while crossing the road and lost a leg. In another world I discovered maths first, and now I'm an actuary. In another world the sport doesn't even exist. In another world I died as a child. In no other world was there a successful US soccer league in 1987.
I don't know why I'm thinking of this right now, except maybe for last night nerves. And because the woman standing out there is never going to compete at this level again, and I am here not to slip her the ball having dribbled through eight defenders, but to ruin her night and send her home crying.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not enjoying this. That woman inspired me to get onto the circuit, kept me going when I was ready to quit for a normal life, sick of the seclusion, the self-starvation, never being able to go to the disco for fear of spies and sprains. The poster is still on the wall in the bedroom my mother has turned into a shrine to my success. The autographed photo her letter-openers sent back when I wrote to her at 13 (not, alas, with any helpful advice about my incipient eating disorder, but you can hardly bear a grudge) still lies in the drawer by my bedside. If there was a way to do this without hurting her, I would. But the Unexpectedly Literal Rock and Pop Dancing World Championship is an unforgiving environment, and no place for emotion.
She and I have been level through every event so far. When Debarret of Canada dropped out with a nasty muscle pull, (an amateur mistake on the first line of "Something's Got a Hold of my Heart") and my UK team-mate Carrington knocked herself unconscious in a spectacularly unwise tilt at The Man with the Child in his Eyes, we both knew it was me or her. One of us to make her name, the other to sign off in style. As she mimed turning the wheel of an imaginary car as Marc Almond sang that drives into the heart of me I realised that I could do this. She looked tired, and a novel counterspin on You Spin Me Right Round couldn't hide it. As she offered the judges another little bit of her heart (textbook extension, arm straight, eyes pleading) it felt like she was giving me the title.
You know you've got it if it makes you feel good.
My final number is Boys Don't Cry, the culmination of a goth-themed programme that included, if I say so myself, an absolute fucking stormer of a combination in Temple of Love.
Run on spot, cower with hands held out, palms towards the ceiling, hands together in attitude of prayer, hands still together, moved onto heart, hands apart with two fingers and thumb together to signify pistols pointing toward the ceiling, then one hand retaining this form and extending perpendicular to the shoulder and straight ahead while the fingers of the other part and curl in front of the thumb to signify the holding of a syringe, this syringe being inserted into the upper shoulder of the shooting arm and the plunger depressed (double meaning of "shot", you see), this action causing the extended arm to curl round the body as if to protect it from the pain inside.
Comparatively, BDC is something of a standard, but I think my decision to mime not crying rather than crying in the final chorus is going to cause some surprise and garner a few vital points for artistic merit. I am on second. I can almost smell the bouquet, feel the too-tight skin on the cheek of the miss Teen America delivering it.
She's picked a standard as well - mid-period Adams. I'm already running through the chorus in my head. Run on spot. Run on spot. Expression of feeling (one of the points where a good choice of the standard expressions can be diamond). Turn right. Run on spot. Check watch. Signify appearance of dawn with one hand while shading eyes with other. Run on spot. Cringe as if overborne. Place hand against hand, and my head is full of her hand on mine, her mouth on mine, during and after the dress rehearsal. Forget all that. It was just a rehearsal. It was just TaTu. And then frantic running on the spot, of course.
I nearly miss it when it happens. It takes a second to understand that, having used the momentum from swinging her own clasped hands away from her heart to launch herself into the air, she has just described the letters of the element Au, YMCA style, using her entire body. She lands just a little heavily but well enough. And the crowd goes wild.
They're still applauding when she starts running (on the spot, naturally) with extended arm and pointing finger. No way I can top that now. The essence of second place is starting to rise up around my clever clever approach to Robert Smith. Shame to waste a finish.
In another world, she messes up the landing. Everyone applauds the attempt, but the judges can't reward her for it, and it will be me at the top of the podium. In another world, she messes up the landing, and I do just what I am about to do now anyway. And I take silver just like I am about to. In another world I am clearly a complete fucking sap, who should never have let Pelé teach her the meaning of self-sacrifice.
It isn't easy to force yourself to go over on your ankle - the body tries to stop you instinctively - but I'm swearing like the Steven Berkoff Great Expectations as they carry me off. And all I can think of is her hand on my breast, my medal on her throat, me beneath her. Me beneath her.
I'm going to run to her.