2024 winning short story: In Safe Hands, by Philip Ferguson

Congratulations to Philip Ferguson for his winning entry to the 2024 Prescot Festival Short Story Competition. Read it below:

In Safe Hands
By Philip Ferguson

Frank smiled at me as he turned away from the open grave; he dimmed the liquid sparkle in his eyes with a dab of a handkerchief. We were the last two players from the nineteen seventy-one Milton Street open-age F C team that won the John Bedford Trophy, who still live in the town. Stephen and Mark moved to Scotland to work in the oil industry. Colin died in a sea fishing accident. Peter Johnson and Phil emigrated to Spain; Peter Crowther died of a heart attack aged fifty-six. Jimmy, Tommy and Robbie moved away to be closer to their children. Leaving three of us…. until now. 

I sat at a small, round table in the lounge of Milton F C, our old social club. Like us, the clubhouse survived him; the adjacent football pitch and changing facilities, however, are no more—the land sold off for housing. Frank handed me a pint. “Here yer go Andy, get that down your neck.”

He sipped from his glass before raising it to eye level, “Here’s to Chris; he was a good mate and a great keeper, kept us in the game on many an occasion—Chris”. I joined Frank in the toast and took my first drink, and looking around the familiar room, I said “D’you know it’s years since I was last in here. I can’t believe how little it’s changed.”

“Aye, it all looks the same except the ceiling isn’t that nicotine brownie yellow it used to be.” A glass cabinet hung on the wall to the left of the bar; it contained cups, shields, pennants and various trophies that, over the years, had been presented to the now defunct team, and in the centre of the display was a conspicuous gap where the John Bedford Trophy should have resided. Frank, looking at where my eyes were focused, nudged me, nodded towards the glass case, and leaning over, spoke with a conspiratorial grin, “D’you know what ‘appened to the cup?

  “It was nicked, wasn’t it?” He chuckled, “you could say it was and it wasn’t”

“What d’you mean?”

“Well, that summer after we won the cup, they were doing this place up (his eyes scanned the room disdainfully), nothing fancy, just a lick of paint and new curtains. Me and Chris volunteered to help, thinking we might get some free ale out of it if nothing else; anyway, the fella doing the job had two guys working for him, and this particular Friday, he left at lunchtime as he was going away for the weekend. These two smart arses disappeared an hour after he did, leaving me and Chris there.”

Frank gulped a quarter of his pint before continuing, “so, we decided to carry on covering the furniture, taking down the pictures. Then, we decided to take the trophy cabinet off the wall”. He exhaled then, heavily through his nose while shaking his head, with the smile fading from his lips. “We thought the four bolts we could see only held the glass; they didn’t. They held the whole bloody thing, and it crashed to the floor when I undid the last one. The noise it made was unbelievable and there was glass everywhere. We panicked, locked the place up and ran off, not knowing what to do for the best.

 So, I went out that night, I went out every Friday night back then, and bumped into one of the painters in The Lion. I told him what had ‘appened and he realised they would be in the crap too if the truth came out. The four of us returned to the clubhouse early on the Saturday to try and come up with a solution. We surveyed the carnage open-mouthed from the doorway until one of the guys said.”

“Why don’t we make it look like a robbery?”

“So, we made some more mess, smashed a window in the lady’s toilets at the side of the building to stage the break-in, and they made off with couple of cases of spirits and two boxes of crisps; there was never any money kept on the premises. Our story went like this: we were all there till quarter past five on the Friday afternoon, and everything was as it should have been, locked up a little after that and left. Chris took the cup; it had gotten dented when it fell. Told us he was going to fix it up. On the Monday morning, we opened up and called the police who, without CCTV, witnesses or any other evidence, had to take our word, and that was the end of the matter. Unfortunately, the cup that Chris tried to repair was old and the metal, thin; it split as he was working on it, and we couldn’t do anything else with it: it was scrap. Chris was heartbroken; he felt he’d let the team down, and he carried that guilt for the rest of his life.”

“So, what happened to the cup?”

“Chris hid it under some rags in a box in the corner of his garage.”

“Is it still there?”


“Oh, where is it?”   The smile returned to Frank’s face; he picked his glass up slowly and finished his pint. “We’ve just buried it.”


“As we were in it together, Chris confided in me and asked that, if anything happened to him, would I bury the broken cup somewhere…a place that it wouldn’t be found. So, I wrapped it in an old Milton shirt—there’s still a box of them in the storeroom behind the bar; I don’t think anyone will be needing them—and went to the undertakers where he was at rest. I tucked it down just under his feet, where it still lies. I think it’s safe to say Chris took his secret to the grave…Your round, isn’t it? I’ll have the same again.” 

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