Annika Sturm is German and has been living in England for over 10 years. Aside from working in marketing, she loves running, hanging out with her friends and has very recently started writing just for fun. As she is fascinated by football, she would love to see more open-mindedness towards homosexuality in sports in future.
This is the story of two boys, two friends, two professional footballers. One day they discover they have feelings for each other that go beyond just friendship. Suddenly the boys find themselves having to make difficult decisions with life-changing consequences. Together they embark on a tough journey against prejudice and discrimination. Can their affection for each other survive in the world of football?
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of geographic facts and references of football teams and tournaments, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For previous instalments (chapters 1 – 6) click here.
It was late and wouldn’t stop snowing in Dortmund. The city had become quiet and the snow had silenced any sound of traffic still moving outside Tom’s house.
The boys were lying in bed facing each other as they tried to unwind listening to some of their favourite music. They had dimmed all the lights in the flat, they couldn’t bear any more flash aggressive ones after today’s events. Alex was stroking Tom’s hand reassuringly. Both boys still felt somewhat traumatised.
The picture of them leaving Tom’s flat earlier that day had started appearing all over the news and web. Tom walking ahead of Alex, holding him by his hand, with their heads bowed low, hiding behind their sunglasses and baseball caps as much as that was at all possible. They had been inundated with questions by loud journalists both outside Tom’s house and at the training ground. When they had arrived there they had been confronted by dozens of angry fans who had gathered to voice the disapproval of their relationship. As they had tried to make their way through the crowds, security guards had had to step in to safely get them into the club. Both had kept clutching each other’s hand and had not said a word to anyone, just like they had agreed.
As Tom had tried to start his training session and concentrate on his work, Alex had been checked by the team doctors, who had confirmed he was not fit to play the next day but instead was to rest another few days until the bruise and the swelling of his stomach would have gone down.
Alex had watched his own club’s press conference on television and similar to Tom’s team, the managers had all expressed united support for Alex. This had again been backed by Winter, who had stressed the importance of accepting homosexuality as a reality and normality and condemning any homophobic behaviour in football.
‘Tommy,’ Alex whispered, ‘we got through it in the end.’ Tom opened his eyes and looked at him seriously. ‘That was only the beginning,’ he said, ‘it will get worse. We’re playing at home tomorrow, that will be the real first test,’ he gulped and closed his eyes again, ‘in front of thousands of people who just cannot understand.’ ‘But there will be some who will understand,’ Alex stroked his cheeks and kissed him gently, ‘I have to say,’ he picked up the evening newspaper again that had their shot on the front page, ‘I think we make an awesome couple,’ he grinned, ‘don’t you?’ Tom couldn’t help but laugh. He shook his head in disbelief. ‘Let’s have another look,’ he propped himself up on his elbow. He looked at the picture and laughed again, ‘not too bad.’ He winked at Alex. Tom stroked his friend’s strong shoulder and neck and gazed at him. ‘I couldn’t have done this without you today,’ he paused, ‘you knew, didn’t you?’, Alex met his eyes looking up from the newspaper, ‘you knew I needed you. More than I knew myself,’ Alex smiled and kissed him. Tom pulled him close, ‘God only knows what is going to happen next,’ he shouted and laughed, ‘but you’re worth it all.’ They gently kissed each other again and eventually fell asleep in one another’s arms.
On Saturday morning the boys were greeted by warm winter sunshine streaming into the bedroom. It had finally stopped snowing and Dortmund had turned into a sunny winter wonderland. Alex stretched in bed as he woke up.
Tom was still fast asleep on his front and Alex gently stroked his hair. He noticed how exhausted and drained he looked even in his sleep. Tom had kicked the duvet off him at some point during the night and Alex studied his naked body admiringly. To him, he was the most beautiful creature with his toned shoulders and arms, his muscular back and bottom, his strong thighs and carves. He could have looked at him for days and yet not get tired or enough of him. ‘You’re perfect.’ Alex smiled as he kissed his cheek. Tom stirred in his sleep but didn’t wake up. The last two nights of restlessness had clearly caught up with him. Alex fished the duvet off the floor and tenderly covered him again. He kissed his hair and got up to make them breakfast.
Tom sleepily appeared in the kitchen in his dressing gown about half an hour later. He wiped his eyes and yawned and Alex smiled at him. He grabbed him and picked him up, beaming. ‘Alex, what the hell,’ Tom giggled trying to get his feet back on the ground, ‘put me down!’ He shouted chuckling. Alex gently set him back down and held him in his arms. They smiled at each other lovingly. ‘Good morning.’ Alex whispered. Tom kissed him. ‘I slept for hours,’ he yawned again, ‘must be almost time to get ready.’ ‘Breakfast first.’ Alex said and served them some scrambled eggs. Tom stared at him with wide eyes. ‘Since when can you cook breakfast?’ ‘Weeks of bachelor experience.’ Alex winked at him and Tom laughed.
They ate their breakfast together and even though Tom was getting anxious about the match that afternoon and the fans’ reactions in the stadium, Alex managed to distract him and help him relax a little. ‘What time are you playing?’ He asked him eventually, taking a sip of coffee. ’17.30. At least we have a bit of time,’ Tom hesitated, ‘when are you going back to Hamburg?’ ‘Tomorrow,’ Alex said quietly and Tom nodded, ‘should be a good match this afternoon.’ Alex continued looking at him. ‘Yeah,’ Tom forced a laugh, ‘it will certainly be an interesting one.’ He ran his hands through his hair
as he was getting stressed again. ‘Don’t worry,’ Alex smiled at his friend cheekily, ‘I’ll be there.’ Tom looked at him confused. ‘Where?’ He asked him. ‘In the stadium watching the match you idiot.’ ‘You want to come to the stadium?’, Tom frowned at him, ‘Alex,’ he said gently and put his cup down, ‘why do you want to do this to yourself? Isn’t it enough if I get whistled at?’ Alex took his hands. ‘Tommy,’ he whispered, ‘you need me. Remember?’ He grinned at him. Tom just stared at his friend. ‘You really are a nutcase, you know that?’, he sighed. Then he smiled at him gently, ‘okay, fine. I can’t stop you anyway. You never listen to a word I say to you!’ He laughed in despair. Alex smiled and cast his eyes down. Tom sat down on his lap. He carefully opened Alex’s dressing gown and checked his bruise. His whole upper stomach had turned dark purple. Tom looked into his friend’s eyes. ‘No-one will ever hurt you again. I’ll make sure of that.’ He stroked his hair and kissed him.
Alex took a look around the sold out stadium after he had sat down in the VIP box. He could see various banners up and most of them made him feel sick and angry. Alex’s and Tom’s faces were on pretty much all of them. They were ridiculed by caricatures of them snogging, having sex and oral sex. Alex pulled his cap deep down into his face and tried to hide in his winter jacket. He was hoping Tom would be able to just blank them throughout the match. His eyes kept wandering across the stadium. Then he noticed a couple of smaller banners in the crowd. It looked like it was a group of girls holding them high up in the air. ‘Now we love you even more!’ The boys’ faces were framed in a big red heart. Alex almost laughed when he spotted them but it gave him a glimpse of hope on this daunting afternoon.
As soon as Tom and his team walked onto the pitch the whistling started. Not only was it the fans of the opponent team, who booed him and sang abusive songs, but what was worse, it was his own club’s supporters who started howling abuse too. Tom tried to keep his head held high and avoided looking at the crowds too much. But Alex could tell how stressed he was, he knew him too well. Kai and Felix stayed close to him until they had to jog off into their positions. Alex felt nervous for him. He was hoping Tom would be able to have a good match despite the humiliating messages around him. He wanted his friend to show everyone what a talented footballer he really was. And Tom did just that.
Alex watched in awe as Tom dominated his team and the match setting the pace. Kai and Tom played together perfectly. When Kai scored twice in the first half, he made a special gesture and ran towards him, pointing at him for having served him the perfect ball. Tom high-fived his friend but didn’t overly celebrate, he just got on with his work instead. Alex turned his hand into a fist and encouraged him to keep going. ‘Come on.’ He mumbled under his breath as if Tom could hear him.
He briefly joined the team in the changing rooms at half time. ‘Good work!’ Alex said and patted Kai’s head. He saw Tom sitting in the corner in front of his locker. He was resting his arms on his thighs and looked focussed. Alex walked towards him and slowly sat down next to him. ‘Hey,’ he said gently, ‘you are doing great!’ He smiled at him proudly. Tom looked at him with tears in his eyes. ‘Have you seen the banners?’ He asked him. Alex nodded sadly. ‘Yes, of course I have,’ Tom couldn’t say anything. He sipped his energy drink and tried to concentrate again, ‘but you are showing everyone what a brilliant footballer you are Tommy,’ he took his hand briefly, ‘you couldn’t have responded in a better way,’ he smiled at him again, ‘I’m so proud of you,’ he whispered. Tom just stared at him expressionless. Alex cast his eyes down, ‘I better go.’ He got up and was about to walk off when Tom grabbed his hand. He was breathing hard with stress as Alex turned to him. ‘Thank you.’ He mouthed at him and smiled.
The second half was less noisy. The majority of fans had got bored of whistling and the celebratory atmosphere of their team currently up 2-0 was thankfully more prominent now. The supporters of the opponent team on the other hand, angered by the score and Tom continuing to play sharply and faultlessly, tried to put him off his game by commencing the booing and whistling again whenever he had the ball. But he fought defiantly and delivered. He managed to set up another goal in the second half and his team went on to win the match 3-0. It was the perfect result and response to Tom’s tough week. Alex jumped up at the final whistle and clapped and cheered. The cameras had finally spotted him and didn’t miss the chance to take pictures of him smiling, clearly admiring his boyfriend. Tom was looking at him and waved his fist high up in the air in victory and relief. Alex nodded at him, taking deep breaths. He was the proudest man in the stadium.
Back in the changing room, Kai and Felix tried to convince the boys to come out and celebrate their win that evening. Tom was unsure and hesitant. ‘Come on,’ Kai said, ‘you had the game of your life despite those twats out there giving you such a hard time. You deserve a drink man!’ Tom shook his head as he was putting his shoes on. ‘I don’t know Kai. It might be a bit too soon to be out celebrating, don’t you think?’ ‘Why?’, Felix intervened, ‘you have every right to be out with your team mates after a 3-0 trashing! Besides, we’ll be a 10 minute walk from your house. We’re only going to our local bar.’ Tom looked at Alex for some support in making a decision. ‘What do you think? You need to fly back to Hamburg tomorrow.’ ‘Ahhh, do the love birds fancy a romantic night in? Is that what it is?’ Felix mocked them and giggled. Tom slapped him. ‘Idiot!’ He laughed. Alex smiled as he was leaning against the lockers with his hands in his pockets. ‘I’m easy Tommy, it may be a good way to take our minds off things a bit though?’ Tom took a minute to consider the options. Then he laughed. ‘Oh what the hell, let’s go out.’ Kai and Felix cheered and high-fived each other and Tom stood up and gave Alex a kiss.