September 6, 2013 7:42 pm

Gareth Bale? Pah! We’ve scored a hamster

While the transfer system has its critics, it concentrates the mind, which is why we try it out for major domestic decisions
Hamster foosball illustration by Lucas Varela©Lucas Varela

Like many football fans, I spent Monday transfixed by transfer deadline day, that moment when the permitted window for player trades closes and teams scrabble to spend millions theoretically bolstering their squads. It has become to soccer what tyre-change strategy is to Formula 1, the administrative process that has become bigger than the game itself. It comprises all the will-they/won’t-they intricacies of a Jane Austen novel as fans live on false rumours and the fear of being gazumped by another club. Then, a year later, a sizeable percentage of those bought with great fanfare are disposed of with, er, less.

Yet while the system has its critics, it also concentrates the mind while distracting from past failures, which is why we have been trying it out in a domestic setting for major household decisions. The great joy of the football season is how every year seems like a fresh start, even if reality has normally set in by September. The domiciliary transfer window offers the same illusion. There is, of course, the January window, currently known as New Year’s resolutions, but these are thoroughly discredited.

After many years of marriage, and the doubtless numerous disappointments I have brought to my family, this offers an annual optimism injection while containing demands to a limited period. It may also help to dissipate the lingering anger that we have now gone six years without clinching the Richmond borough award for the best-kept front garden in proximity to an arterial trunk road. Even the decision to make a feature out of the urban fox den under the shed failed to secure the prestigious piece of silverware. We were beaten by that snotty woman at No 63, who managed to snag a water garden and koi carp pond in the last transfer window.

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Robert Shrimsley

So I have been determined to do better this year. Things started well. I announced our first deal at the weekend when we agreed terms on a new hamster to fill the key gap left by the previous incumbent’s transfer to the great wheel in the sky. We secured its services from Pets at Home for £10 – a family record for a rodent – plus another £22 on home furnishings by way of a settling-in bonus. We were again overshadowed by No 63, which paid big money for a miniature pig, but we are unfazed as they are known to gain weight and have a very bad disciplinary record (the pigs that is, not the neighbours).

It’s not that our first team lacks the key skills to function at the highest level but we lack strength in depth. This can lead to family members having to play out of position. Neither of the spawn, for example, have clear dishwasher-loading skills. The boy is ready to take on the role but on terms that would make him the Gareth Bale of domestic drudgery. He has offered us all marketing and image rights but we now hear he has retained an agent and is in talks with the family at No 97.

Still, even if the dishwasher deal does not come off, I hope to please the faithful by unveiling a new guitar teacher before the close of play today. Crowds have already begun gathering outside our house amid rumours of the new signing, hoping for a glimpse of him playing “Cavatina” from the bedroom window.

More troubling for the faithful has been my consistent failure to sign a plumber. A number of friends have offered us theirs on loan, only to “lose” the contact details as soon as we tried to seal the deal, and if we don’t find one before the window closes, we will be stuck with our leaky pipe for another four months. To make matters worse, No 63 has signed three prospects from the Spanish club Pamplona Plumbers.

It can all get very exciting as the hours tick down. Last year, with just 23 minutes to go, we were manning a phone bank, juggling bids for tutors, Sky Digital and a gas-powered barbecue, while trying to offload an exercise bike, a babysitter and the man who built our bedroom closets. It didn’t all go our way but we did secure a Primus stove and new window cleaner from the Czech leagues. I was sorry to disappoint the fans, but at least if you miss out, there are only a few months till the next window.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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