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01/09/2014

Gareth Bale’s Boots

Mitchell Johnson

‘Budi!’

Rochy is shouting because the machines are really loud today. Apparently we’re behind on a big order so all the stations are working at full speed.

‘What?’ ‘Did you know that the top footballers only wear a pair of boots three times?’ ‘No – is that true?’ ‘Yeah, they wear them for two training sessions to get used to them and then use them for the match!’ ‘Then what do they do with them?’ ‘I don’t know – probably throw them away!’ Now, Rochy knows a lot about football, but that is definitely not true. If that were true it would hardly be worth the effort of making them. I imagine there are probably fans like me who collect them, or the players inlower leagues get to use them, or there is a big boot-shaped museum that displays them all. If I manage to save enough money I would like to visit that museum (as well as seeing Gareth Bale play at the Bernabéu). I’d like to take my whole family, including my grandmother, but I have to be realistic.

‘Maybe that’s why they get paid so much money!’

Rochy looks up from the boot he’s stitching. ‘What?’

‘Maybe footballers get paid a lot because they have to buy a new pair of boots every week!’

Rochy shakes his head. ‘Footballers don’t buy their own boots!’

I’m pretty sure that is wrong too. If footballers don’t buy their own boots, then who does? Their parents? My parents bought me a pair of boots once. Well, they got them from this place that gives away clothes other people have used and don’t want anymore. My boots are still a bit too big so I have to stuff newspaper in the ends to make them fit, but I’ll grow into them. I know they didn’t used to belong to a footballer because they’ve definitely been used more than three times: the studs are all missing and the upper is coming away from the sole. But I still like to imagine that Gareth Bale scored a hat-trick against Barcelona in them. Barcelona are Real Madrid’s worst enemies. Lionel Messi is their secret weapon, but Gareth Bale is better because no one has ever paid €100 million for Messi.

I want to ask Rochy who pays for footballers’ boots but I don’t want to look stupid so I just keep stitching. I also want to ask him how much it would cost to see Gareth Bale play at the Bernabéu, but then he might guess that I want to go and I’m scared he will tell me I can’t.

It’s really difficult to save money because most of what I earn goes towards paying for my family’s food and the rest goes towards buying medicine for my grandmother. Hopefully she will get better soon and then I can start saving. There’s a rumour going round that we might be getting a pay rise of 3,500 rupiah a day. If that happens I’ll earn almost 280,000 rupiah a week – almost as much as Gareth Bale! I could save all those extra rupiah and visit Madrid and the football boot museum, and maybe get an autograph from the greatest footballer in the world.

5

ELEVEN REASONS WHY GARETH BALE IS BETTER THAN LIONEL MESSI:

No one has ever paid €100 million for Lionel Messi.

Gareth Bale is taller which means he is better at headers.

Being bigger also means he is better at tackling.

And shielding the ball.

Being taller means that if the goalkeeper gets sent off and Real Madrid have already used all three substitutions, Gareth Bale would be a good stand-in goalkeeper.

Gareth Bale is really quick – probably quicker than Lionel Messi.

Gareth Bale is stronger.

Gareth Bale is younger.

Gareth Bale plays for a team who have won five more Champions League titles than Lionel Messi’s team.

Gareth Bale plays for a team who have won ten more La Liga titles than Lionel Messi’s team.

Gareth Bale wears the number 11 shirt, whichismy favourite number and one better than Lionel Messi’s number 10.

6

Today is my birthday, and I got the BEST PRESENT EVER! It’s not as good as meeting Gareth Bale or watching him play, but it’s still amazing.

My parents bought me a poster of Gareth Bale. It’s so cool! He is clapping his hands above his head and looking up to the crowd. I can almost hear them chanting his name. And the best thing about it is that he is wearing MY BOOTS! Okay, not my boots, but the boots I make at the factory. It looks as though he is applauding my craftsmanship. The other best thing about it – the thing I can’t stop staring at and running my fingers over – is the autograph in the corner. THE POSTER IS SIGNED BY GARETH BALE HIMSELF!

I can’t thank my parents enough. I hug them both and want to stay at home and look at my present all day, but I have to go to the factory.

When I tell Rochy he thinks the poster is really cool. I feel really proud and I work faster than I’ve ever worked before. The foreman even says I’m doing a good job. I think our pay rise must be just around the corner because some of the other workers say it has been in the national paper. Apparently everyone in Indonesia who earns as much as us will be given a pay rise. I spend the day dreaming of Spain and planning my visit to the Bernabéu. It is the best birthday ever.

When I get home Mum cooks extra spicy rendang with sweet martabak pancakes for dessert. They are delicious. I decide not to put the poster up because I want to preserve it. The poster is worth a lot of money so I don’t want it to get damaged. Also, if someone sees it through the window they might climb in and steal it. So instead I roll it up and hide it down the side of my bed. But not before I kiss the feet that are wearing my boots.

7

One of the factories in the next town collapsed yesterday. They put a new machine on the top floor and it brought the whole building down. Quite a few people were killed. Some white men in suits arrived today and there’s a rumour that the dead people’s families have been given some money, so now they’re the richest people in the town. Or they will be when the white men leave. It’s like they’re famous because now all their relatives and neighbours keep pestering them for money.

The collapse is really controversial because they can’t make any shoes until the factory has been rebuilt. Hopefully

someone has sent a message to the footballers to not get rid of their boots this week because they won’t be getting a new pair for at least a month. If the message arrives too late I don’t know if they’ll have to play in their socks or borrow a pair from the substitutes. It would be a disaster if the football got cancelled because there was a shortage of boots. At least Gareth Bale would be able to play, because I make his.

I ask Rochy why the footballers who use the boots made in the other factory can’t use ours until it’s been rebuilt.

‘They’re not allowed!’ he shouts.

‘Why not?’

‘Because! It’s pretty much the worst thing a footballer can do! If a footballer is seen wearing stripes when he should be wearing a tick, he’ll be in big trouble! It’s like Bale being seen in a Barcelona shirt!’

Despite the heat of the workshop, I shiver at the thought. This talk about stripes and ticks seems like another one of Rochy’s questionable facts. The worst thing a footballer can do is dive, or get a straight red for punching the referee, or miss a penalty in a cup final. Obviously wearing your worst enemy’s shirt is pretty bad, but that’s got nothing to do with ticks and stripes.

I stop talking to Rochy and really concentrate on my work. I want to make as many boots as possible just in case there is a shortage and everyone decides it’s okay to wear our boots. Surely they would rather play football in the wrong boots than cancel all the matches? That would be a nightmare. I wouldn’t want to be the man in charge of rearranging a hundred football matches.

Then I remember the football boot museum where all the old pairs are kept and realise they will just use those. I feel relieved and stop working quite so fast. My head throbs from the noise of the machines, and I can feel my t-shirt sticking to my back. When the buzzer goes for my break I am glad to get outside.

It is a really hot and humid day so I don’t feel like eating. Rochy is on the same break so I suggest we play football for a bit.

‘We haven’t got a football,’ he says, wiping his face on his Manchester United shirt.

I don’t want to run home and fetch my football so I look around for something else.

‘We can use this,’ I say, and kick a plastic bottle towards him.

‘It’s too hot.’

‘Come on, Rochy. You can go in goal – all you have to do is stand there.’

He shrugs and we go round to the back of the factory. Football is called football because you use your feet, not because you need a football to play. It’s obviously better to play with one, but you can use empty bottles, stones, sticks – pretty much anything that moves when you kick it. My football is a bit flat and most of the patches have peeled off, but it still works. Hopefully I’ll get a new one for my birthday next year.

There isn’t anything better than the bottle round the back so we use that. Rochy stands in front of one of the big industrial bins and I take penalties against him. I like shooting against Rochy because he’s a few years older than me and quite a bit taller, which makes it a lot harder. In total I take twenty-seven penalties and score fifteen of them. That doesn’t seem like a lot but it takes me about five shots to get used to the shape of the bottle, and the bin is only a bit wider than Rochy stood with his arms out. He only saves four penalties and the rest go wide – but not by much.

The buzzer goes as the bottle pings off the bin for the fifteenth time. I make the heart shape with my fingertips and pat my chest where the Real Madrid badge should be. Rochy picks the bottle up and turns to put it in the bin.

‘Hey, Budi, come and look at this.’

I walk over and stand on tiptoe to see into the bin. I can’t believe it. There are literally hundreds of shoes. It is like

there has been a huge shoe war and all the remains have been dragged from the battlefield and dumped together. Most of them are in pieces, but a few look brand new.

Then I see a pair tied together by the laces. A perfect pair. Gareth Bale’s boots. Rochy lifts me up and I reach in for them. We both stare at them in silence.

‘We need to get back to work,’ Rochy says.

I stare at the boots. They look like they might fit me.

‘Budi, come on!’

I run my fingers over the upper.

‘Budi!’

I lift up the lid and drop the boots back in. I can’t take them. It would seem too much like stealing.

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