750-word competition - Winner

Charlie Place

750-word competition


Having always been a reader rather than a writer, Charlie started entering Writing Magazine competitions for something to do during lockdown when it got too cold to go walking and he ran out of box sets to watch. He loves reading the competition winners, and is always blown away by the talent that’s out there, so is really excited to have joined their ranks with something he wrote to be seen in the same light.

Beauty? By Charlie Place

Take a journey through the murky world of social media and you find a society that is obsessed with beauty. ‘My beautiful clothes!’ ‘Look at my beautiful banana bread!’  ‘Kim Kardashian is so beautiful!’
And we all admire beauty, right? But beauty and beautiful are powerful concepts and I worry that we risk cheapening the words when we use them to refer to some tacky jewellery or airbrushed soap star and then maybe we won’t appreciate real beauty when we see it.
Let me tell you about John.
At seven o’clock on Saturday morning John was sipping tea, munching toast and contemplating the day ahead. Grimsby away. One to sort the men out from the boys. It’s a good five hours on the coach from Chester and on a brutal February afternoon the wind will be whipping in from the North Sea, chilling you to the bone. But it’s Saturday and Saturday’s the day John goes to the football, no excuses, so he tightens his scarf, pulls on his hat, buttons up his coat and he’s out the door.
John is 77. He’s been doing this for 60 years now. Jobs, wives and money have come and gone, but there’s always been one constant, the love of Chester, the love of his club. He’s seen them beat ex-European Champions and he’s seen them lose to small villages you’d struggle to place on a map. He’s seen it all. Well, nearly all, because he’s never seen them win at Grimsby.
On the coach they’re discussing Chester’s chances this afternoon. It’s not looking good. Various reasons are offered for the gloomy predictions. The choice of goalkeeper. The team’s formation. Big Si forgetting to put his lucky boxer shorts on. Whatever, it’s unanimously agreed that Chester are in for a pasting and yet here they all are, and John loves them all like brothers and sisters.
Because this is what John lives for. He loves hard earned points away on a Tuesday night. He loves seeing old friends on the coach. He loves Chicken Balti pies with molten meat fillings that burn the roof of your mouth. He loves that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as the opposition get a corner deep into injury time. But most of all, he loves his team.
Half time and the Chester fans are buzzing. Pre-match pints are still flowing round their systems and contrary to all predictions Chester are winning. A scrappy goal to be fair, ‘hard to see who got the final touch’ the local paper will admit later, but the narrow one nil lead is something to cling onto.
The second half is a different story. Grimsby have equalised and are pushing for a winner.
The atmosphere has changed. Darkness is falling now, and it reflects the mood of the Chester fans. All the banter and joviality has gone. Tense faces stare on anxiously. John can’t watch. He’s seen this film many times before and the end is so predictable.
Then deep into stoppage time something incredible happens. Attempting to change the angle for a one last attack, the Grimsby left-back plays a sloppy ball across the pitch but he’s unaware of Patrick Underwood, the Chester striker who is lurking in the vicinity. Quick as a flash Underwood latches onto the stray pass and hares towards the Grimsby goal. He pauses briefly to draw out the keeper before slotting the ball into the bottom corner of the goal with a calmness and a skill that belies his day job as a sheet metal worker and sparks absolute scenes behind the goal.
John rises from his seat and he’s celebrating, waving his scarf, hugging all around him, but soon he knows that something isn’t right. There’s a tightness in his chest and a stabbing pain from the back of his head which brings him to his knees. It would appear that the final whistle has blown for John too. And as he closes his eyes for the final time, the last thing he hears are the voices of the Chester faithful who are still focussed on the drama on the pitch and blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding in the stand and have launched into a chorus of ‘Chester ‘till I die’.
He died doing what he loved. With the people he loved, watching the club he loved, from the town he loved, and he finally saw Chester beat Grimsby.
And I ask you. What could be more beautiful than that?

Judges Comments

Shwing perfectly why football is known as 'the beautiful game', Charlie Place's Beauty?, the winner of WM's competition for 750-word short stories, is short, sharp, unsentimental and yet euphorically emotional. 

Charlie has chosen an intimate first-person narrator to create the feel of a story that gets told amongst mates, in a pub - the kind of story that achieves the quality of a legend. John is an old boy who has followed his team through thick and thin. His love for football has been a constant that has sustained him through the course of a long life. The narrator's impassioned conversational tone weaves details of the match, precisely observed, with details of John's life. Molten Chicken Balti pies, for instance. Not just any old pie, but a specific, precise kind of pie. This kind of detail is vital, because it grounds the piece in authenticity. You're engaged with the narrator because of their impassioned delivery, and you trust them because the details are accurate.

Add the pub-philosopher frame, questioning the very nature of what constitutes beauty, and Beauty? is given an Everyman transcendentalism. Beauty? isn't just a story about an old fellow and his football team - it is, in its down-to-earth way, a story about what matters. A story about transcending the everyday. A story about love, and commitment, and becoming something the very opposite of ordinary - becoming a legend.


Also shortlisted in the 750-word short story competition were: Jane Ayrie, York; Deb Bridges, Bovey Tracey, Devon; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Jess Crandon, Wokingham, Berkshire; Sue Gale, Brookwood, Surrey; Phil Gilvin, Swindon, Wiltshire; John Holmes, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear; GP Hyde, Grimsby, NE Lincolnshire; Colin Lee, Thame, Oxfordshire; Jeanette Lowe, Sheffield, South Yorkshire; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Janine Pulford, Ferndown, Dorset; Joanne Rush, Trowbridge, Wiltshire; Jane Scampion, Ilkley, West Yorkshire; Karen Tucker, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.