Sidelines - Andrew Martin on the art of yob tennis
The pin-headed kid began booting his ball at the sign, trying to dislodge it
I was thirty-love down on the park tennis courts and had just hit the top of the net with my receipt of serve. "Shot!" called a horrible voice. I turned around and saw a tall, pin-headed kid playing keepy-uppy with a football.
He booted the ball over to a similar-looking kid, and I went back to tennis. A couple of games later, I hit a return that landed a foot over the baseline. Two shouts went up: my partner called "Out!" and the yob called "Shot!"
I turned around and saw the yob, who was now walking across to a sign he'd noticed that was hanging from a fence. "No Ball Games", it said. He began booting his ball at the sign, trying to dislodge it. In a consummate piece of thuggery, he was in fact playing a ball game with the "No Ball Games" sign.
I returned to my own game. My turn to serve. The serve was pretty good, but clipped the net. Again came the double shout: "Let!" from my partner and "Shot!" from the yob. Clearly, his tactic was to call "Shot!" whenever I pulled off a near miss, so leaving open the remote possibility that his shouts were meant in a genuine spirit of approval.
A few games later, there was a kerfuffle from the direction of the yob. He was ripping the "No Ball Games" sign off the fence. As I waited to receive serve, I saw him sling the sign on to the top of a park keeper's hut. A second afterwards, I heard another racket from the direction of the little gazebo that stands near the tennis court. Another yob had begun single-handedly destroying this.
The gazebo half-wrecked, he walked away and some park police arrived. They played with their Alsatians for a while as a new gang of yobs appeared near the place where the "No Ball Games" sign had been, and kept up a constant simmering mutter of "I smell bacon . . . I smell bacon".
The first yob, meanwhile, had gone back to keepy-uppy. He was very good at football, but very bad at being a human being: an overfamiliar combination.
At least he'll shut up now that the cops are here, I thought, as I let go another long serve - just slightly too long. "Out!" called my partner. "Shot!" called the yob.