This week, our favourite guinea pig Alexi Duggins drags his ragtag team of no-hopers on to the ice for a low-impact remake of ‘Slap Shot’.
Near-silence prevails around Broadgate Ice Rink as I step up to the penalty spot. The opposition keeper huffs tense breath into the chill air. He is my mortal enemy. And my mortal enemy looks like a poor approximation of Jason from ‘Friday the 13th’.
This is broomball: a Canadian variant of ice hockey with ice skates replaced by trainers, a ball instead of a puck and ‘brooms’ in place of sticks. Although given that the broom is actually a giant orange spatula, I doubt they get much cleaning done in Canada.
I’m here because, while broomball’s in its twenty-sixth year at Broadgate Ice Rink near Liverpool Street, they’ve only just opened it up to amateur six-person teams to play in one-night tournaments. And I plan to make it count. Fixing my mortal enemy with a glare, I lash out wildly. The world judders into slow motion. The ball makes straight for the palm of the keeper’s hand. I hang my head.
Then time speeds up as the ball spins improbably off the keeper’s glove and into the goal. Suddenly, the world explodes from mute into surroundsound. I’m engulfed in a rushing sea of red Time Out jackets and my ears are filled with a deafening roar. ‘We won! We actually won – at sport!’
Though perhaps ‘won’ is overegging it. In fact, given that rain rendered the ice unsafe for us to do anything other than have a practice knockabout, ‘won’ is lying. But, hey, I never win at sport. My idea of excellent hand-eye co-ordination is eating a whole bowl of soup without spooning any of it up my nose.
So maybe it’s just as well we never find out what it’s like to play an eight minute match all the way through. (‘Knackering’, an official tells us.) Because even the slippy playing surface can’t explain away this performance. Every time one teammate receives a pass, his pockets shoot out a shower of loose change. My turn in goal sees me face down on the ice so often people are concerned I’m suffering from narcolepsy. Another Time Outer approaches tackling like her teammates’ shins are part of a game of ‘Whack-a-Mole’. And the one time the ball lands right in the path of our forwards, they’re on their knees, using their brooms to prise frozen two pence pieces loose from the ice.
There is one thing that makes it a shame we don’t play a proper game. We can’t take advantage of the rule whereby you can substitute yourself at any time. Which is a pity. Sitting on the sidelines sounds just about my ability level.