Thursday, 3 March 2016

The week I lost my sole

I've included a picture of me ‘in action’ to prove that I am still playing! Also to show that despite ‘advanced age’ we can still enjoy one of those what I call ‘Maradona Moments’ in a game – when your opponents seem to pause as if mesmerised by your ball control and you manage a deft touch, or to execute a difficult pass that shows foresight; subtle yet penetrative assertive movements that you can mindfully replay, trudging off the pitch or into dream land.
It is a useful picture because I have had terrible games this week – on Sunday I suffered one of those games when your side just cannot seem to string more than 3 passes together and the other side realises this very early in the game, so they seem to have an extra player to pass to, always in control, dancing past us like leprechauns on heat.                                                                                                                                         It didn't get much better on Wednesday on the astro turf pitch (which I call ‘ash tray turf’ because of fine grains that collect like black sand or termites flying into your boots) : I almost lost my voice shouting ‘keep it on the floor!” and “keep it short!” but everyone, even the better players in my side were always trying to ‘beat the world by themselves’, needing extra touches of the ball before offering ‘hospital passes’ to fellow players – we got walloped 8-1 and topping that: I forgot my gloves so the game was followed by a painfully slow hard and bitter bike ride home in the blue fingered cold. 

Trying to cycle with hands in pockets is not recommended in any coaching manual, it is depressing and becomes easy for one to begin to doubt if playing three times a week is advisable or even obsessive.                                                                                       Also, with both groin and lungs taking turns to complain about switching from heavy mud on to synthetic wet pitches, then to dry /sweat stained indoor gyms for ‘5 a side’ - is this realistic for ‘someone of my maturing age’?

My thoughts kept slipping back to the last time I saw my father.                                         It was November 2014, he was resplendent with his favourite cloth cap across his chest, permanently asleep in his coffin, his grandchildren standing beside me like sapling trees; and yes, I was thinking about football!                                                                         Not just because his cap reminded me of a cartoon of an infamous football fan called ‘Andy Cap’ (that used to festoon newspapers in my childhood), but also because his life was cut short by a disease that is related to poor diets and sedentary lifestyles, a disease that has attacked almost every ancestor in my family.                                                       I was asking myself a question: if I had not been playing football so regularly, would my children be looking down on me as I am doing at my father? Silent – knowing that pleadings and reprimands are fruitless, finally falling on deaf ears…

My children, now young adults, reminded me that he was in a coma or recovering from a stroke for so long they never could ask him anything and had been berating me for at least two years to stop smoking, to a point of desperation that pushed them to breech boundaries of parental respect – “it’s a stupid habit for an asthmatic!”
Something changed in me when his body was laid to rest - within 9 months I had given smoking up completely, by simply loosing the taste for it. But what else helped me dampen the habitual behaviours? Apart from gaining the use of my taste buds, heightened sense of smell and no longer fearing halitosis? It was the lovely sleep / dream / waking routines one gets from playing a full game, when your body says: ‘yyyyeeeeeeeaaahhhssss…that was gooooood – feel your body healing? Nice…’

But stopping smoking wasn't good for my football. My lungs humiliate me by forcing me to double over like someone hit me in my stomach and they keep shouting ‘payback!’ every time I run with or without a ball; or even worse as I gasp for air they murmur as if in a defiant whisper ‘you deserve this! Fool!’                                                                        I was in the middle of one of those mazy wall passing runs I used to love doing when I was younger - bursting away from a defender with a neat side step to gain a couple yards, then rather than try to beat the next player I play a ‘one / two’ and get into the ‘the box’, the ball is now laying there naked, begging me to kick it low and hard into bottom corner of the net when “gasp!” my lungs (both of them) stopped me dead - declaring ‘think you get away with abusing us didn't you? Well take this!’ and my heart joined chorus by banging a Morse code on my rib cage ‘and take that!’

The dreaded possibility of playing ‘walking football’ becomes a morbid reality but in between my guilty gasps for a second wind, even after acknowledging that I sacrificed my health for briefly lived respites that comes from fleeting pleasures of puffed smoke, despite the loss of form of my typical speedy runs, I am grateful for the extended quality of life that playing football has given me.

Fellow abstinent friends say that it will take months, even years before my lungs stop complaining and return to working normally with no more threats of strike action. But you know what? I eat exactly what I like when I like and I weigh the same as I did as a young man; I confidently burn off unwanted calories and sweat out toxins by doing something I love throughout the year. It’s all about balance really…

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