Gemma Sutherland isn’t happy. A year after the death of her mother, her dad has married Shelley, whose daughter, Portia, is a spoilt brat. As if that wasn’t enough they’ve moved house and Gemma has to go to Naylorsfield Comp where they don’t let girls play football like they do at her old school. Frustrated with her new life, Gemma rebels, shocks her dad by becoming a Goth and vows to drive Shelley and Portia away. She also starts a campaign to introduce girls football at school. Mr Cassidy, her PE teacher, lends his support and the other girls become interested, but Tyrone Collins, Shelley’s big headed nephew and the star of Naylorsfield’s First Eleven, will do anything to prevent the girls from training or playing in fixtures. Meanwhile, there’s a mystery surrounding Shelley and Mr Cassidy, and Gemma sees her chance of getting rid of Shelley for good.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I am a massive football fan (I support Liverpool FC) and I wanted to transfer that passion into writing football fiction for children and young adults.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
With the growing popularity of ladies’ football, I wanted to turn the concept of the game being only for boys on its head, so I wrote about a young girl called Gemma with a passion for football, basing her in my home city of Liverpool where football is a religion as well as a sport. Her desire to start a girls’ team at her new school is opposed by talented footballer Tyrone and sports teacher Mrs Lawford, although she does get support from young junior teacher Tom Cassidy. Family is important to Gemma and she is very close to her dad, but that relationship is threatened by her stepmother Shelley and spoilt stepsister Portia.
‘Now don’t forget, Candice, you mark Lee Barnes. Josh Simpson will be marking you, Gemma. Now, as for Tyrone…’
Miss Shelby was talking at top speed and we were straining to keep up.
‘You’ll need to make sure you don’t let him get away with the ball. Close him down as much as possible, but whatever you do don’t get too close and let him trick you into a foul. He’s very good at making sure your feet make contact with his! And defenders, you need to keep tight in front of goal if they get the ball in the penalty area. Remember you have to help Tanya stop that ball from going in.’ She clapped her hands. ‘Right, it’s five past four. The lads are waiting!’
‘Yuk! It’s raining again,’ said Kristy.
So it was. Daz ran past us, hissing ‘Good luck’ before finding a space to sit on the Away Team bench.
The Seconds, wearing the Home colours, were warming up and Mrs Lawford stood in the centre of the pitch, checking her watch.
‘Oh God, look who’s Referee!’ I muttered. ‘We’re playing against twelve men!’
We stared round at the spectators. Quite a few kids and teachers had stayed behind to watch the match, wrapped up against the rain in their thick coats, fleece jackets or parkas, stamping their feet on the ground to keep their circulation going. A member of staff and a First Eleven sub had volunteered to act as line officials and were waiting on the touchlines with their flags.
‘Look at them, all waiting for us to fall flat on our faces!’ said Candice, wringing her hands nervously.
When we appeared into view there was a roar of female voices and male boos, then laughter and pointing as they noticed our shirts. Some of the boys, led by Zack and Tommo, started to chant the names of the Second Eleven, whilst the girls tried to out-chant them. ‘Two, four, six, eight, who – do – we – appre-ci-ate?
G – I – R – L – S! YES! GIRLS!’
Amy Harper waved me over.
‘What happened to your kit?’ she hissed.
‘Tell you later.’
‘Hey, Gem!’ Tyrone shouted, jumping up and down. ‘Got enough ‘lazzy in your shorts this time?’
I smiled, lowered my shorts and displayed my knickers to roars of approval.
‘It didn’t work, did it, Tyrone?’ I shouted back.
Tyrone looked puzzled. ‘What didn’t work?’
‘You know very well!’
‘Say your prayers, Golden Balls! This is going to be a walkover!’
‘Sir!’ Candice pulled at Mr Cassidy’s sleeve.
‘I need the lav, like, now!’
‘Tch! Why didn’t you go before you left the locker room?’
‘Well, you’ll have to wait till half time now. And is that a necklace you’re wearing? Take it off at once and give it to Miss Shelby.’
‘Come on, girls, don’t dawdle!’ commanded Mrs Lawford. ‘Hurry up and take your positions. Tanya!’ Tanya had stopped to kiss an embarrassed Lee Barnes on the cheek. ‘This is a football match not a hot date! Get into your goal!’
‘I was only wishing him luck,’ murmured Tanya.
‘Whose side are you on, Tanya?’ jeered Zack, and Tanya ran to her goal, her face blazing.
The ball was placed on the centre mark and Mrs Lawford tossed the coin. We lost the toss and Tyrone pointed to the goal he wanted to attack.
‘Girls to kick off,’ said Mrs Lawford, raising the whistle. It was the usual practice at Naylorsfield to make their opponents kick off if they won the toss. ‘Ready?’
The whistle shrilled. Our very first competitive match had begun!
I had no idea what the record was for the earliest goal scored, but I reckon the Seconds came close to getting it. Lee Barnes rushed forward, won the ball from Candice and legged it towards our goal, cheered on by his fellow players and the male supporters. Candice screamed when she realised what had happened and chased after him.
‘Get him, Candice!’ Tyrone yelled. ‘He’s pinched yer handbag!’
I could see Tanya dancing from side to side on the goal line, her arms outstretched and her face terrified. Lee passed to Tyrone, who dodged girls easily and got to the penalty area without any trouble. Then Tanya did the worst thing a Goalie could possibly do. When Josh rammed the ball she ducked, covered her head with her arms and fell on her knees. The ball flew past her body and landed in the net.
All I could hear as I held my head in my hands was the sound of the lads cheering. I peeped through my fingers and saw Tyrone being mobbed. Mr Cassidy was shaking his head in despair and Tanya was in tears. We trooped dejectedly back to our starting positions.
The Seconds kicked off at the restart and things went from bad to worse. We slid in mud, grazed our knees and whined when we landed face down in the dirt. In the space of twenty minutes the girls had conceded fourteen corners, twelve free kicks and collected four yellow cards. Candice struggled to mark Lee and I had a pretty tough time with Josh, although I had more experience in tackling for the ball. But I was unable to make a break forward and get near the Seconds’ goal. I was getting more and more frustrated and worn out, trying too hard to make up for the shortcomings of the others.
Our defence had no chance. Tyrone and Lee cut through us like a hot knife cuts through butter. It quickly became two-nil, three-nil (an own goal scored by Candice!), four-nil, and Lee scored a fifth on the stroke of half time.
After Lee’s second goal I had a quiet word in Tanya’s ear about ducking when a shot was made. She tried not to do it again, but she just couldn’t judge the direction of the ball. She also kept forgetting she shouldn’t handle the ball outside the penalty area and was warned by Mrs Lawford if she kept doing it she would be sent off.
At half time eleven hot, sweaty, muddy, exhausted girls limped off the pitch and collapsed on the ground at Mr Cassidy’s feet.
Born and brought up in Liverpool, England, Tracey Morait writes self-published fiction for children and young adults. Her husband, Keith Mitchell, designs her book covers and K&T Mitchell is their own small press.
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