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Today’s my daughter’s birthday and to celebrate, in her absence, I’m giving myself licence to be the Dad I am—a bit loony.

I’m a former footballer of not bad skills; think Adama Trouré with dashes of Wilf Zaha, on the right wing, mainly, sometimes on the left, as I was a good player with both feet. I was also a midfielder in later years, both right and left—energy bunny—and even played sweeper and full back when I was a player-manager—wide head. Gawk! Have to do everything, myself!

I often see sporting parallels in lots of life—I’m also a former sprinter of decent ability as a teenager.

I was singing Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘September’ to myself when I saw something about one of our political leaders. So, I wondered how things would be if, we were just savouring the FA Cup Final—played under COVID-19 rules, with very few spectators, but the usual intensity. Belmont (aka ‘The Bells’, playing in their familiar green and white and sporting footwear from a new sponsor), just crowned league champions, again, played Hope Academy (aka ‘The Academics’, having their roots in the intramural university football scene). Hope played in their usual orange and black, but their uniforms looked a bit worn and rumours of financial troubles looked to be true.

Belmont really rang the Academics’ bell, much like Leicester shellacked Southampton last year 9-0, coming out easy 4-1 victors; the win was sealed by half time. A couple of decisions had gone to VAR, but nothing really mattered to the overall score.

So, let’s peep into the dressing rooms and hear the managers’ team talks. First, let’s listen in on Hope, whose manager, in his 70s, is more like a Roy Hodgson figure—having steered the national team through some tough matches some years ago, but now trying for success at the club level. He’s somber and not given to rashness. He’s a local, and goes by the nickname “The Rock”:

“Put the blame on me. I led the team. We weren’t well prepared. Up front, in defence, especially in the middle, where we lost control and gave away the ball too easily. Damion, you had a shocker. Sorry, mate, truth hurts. You wanted all the plays to go through you, whenever we released you into space, you turned around a million times, your hair got into your eyes—those locks, mate—and you shot the ball at our goal at lest three times! We couldn’t win with that. Buck up, man!”

Damion was the team darling, and though he’d left the club a few times are being booed by home and away fans, had decided to give it another go, and had been awarded the captaincy. The Rock turned in frustration and said:

“You know, stuff this for a game of soldiers! I think you’re not serious and I don’t see that I need any of this, now. We’ve just had our heads hand to us, and as I’m talking I can hear you catfighting over who’s going to get the Digestive biscuits. What a bunch! You, Bunsome! You talked a lot before the match, but where were you when we needed someone to get stuck in? I’ll be surprised if you don’t get put on the free transfer list right away.”

“My health is a bit dicey and I’m in the vulnerable category for COVID; my family is really where I should focus. I’m done! The owner and director can figure out who they want to run this show, but it ain’t me.”

Along the corridor, we can hear the frenzied singing of a winning team: “Campeon! Campeon!…” We ease the door open, and the players are spraying each other and the gaffer with what looks like huge bottles of pineapple soda. Champagne will come later, we imagine. But, let’s get a bit closer as he gathers them together.

He’s another local manager, who likes to be called ‘Brigadeer’—he’s a natural leader with boyish good looks; he’s much younger than ‘The Rock’, and not as experienced, but he’s just come off a superb season—his team had an unassailable lead in the table, before COVID-19 forced all matches to be abandoned.

Little had got past his team in league games, especially on the wings, where masterful coverage was offered by two relative newcomers, Cameron Jordan-Smythe (a polyglot, who spoke the many languages of football style), and “Faithful’ Wilberforce, whose tactical brain and positioning meant being at least a move ahead of any opponent, and had grabbed her chance to impress when one of the team stalwarts was suspended in mid-season.

Some of his flamboyant forwards, were often wasteful in front of goal. One especially tricky dribbler, Darius Vasco de Gama, who has Brazilian blood, had really skated on thin ice once too often with match officials and seen the red card for some reckless play. He had a public tongue lashing from the manager: “His judgement has been poor! Really poor!”. A couple of seasoned players had also tipped the boat badly by getting into some money trouble and hanging with the wrong crowd, and had to be suspended for a number of matches—Rogelio Rendon and Andres Vietlief. But, the team had regained its confidence, come together well, blending some players thought well past their prime, with some stunning young talent, and sealed the deal once matches resumed in mid-June.

Here’s Brigadeer:

“What can I say? We did it in the league. We put in the road work and our legs stayed strong, even after the little lay off. We showed stamina; they took water breaks, we just sucked up the air and stayed focused. I love it! Hands in, on five, ‘My team!’. You know I don’t like pointing to anyone but myself for our successes or our failings—though we’ve few of those, eh. Hehe! But, I want to say a word about Nilesy (Niles Christensen). He came from Iceland and I really wasn’t sure he’d survive in the rough and tumble of our football, with its faster play, tough tackling, and some hostile crowds. But, he did. He had everyone on the carpet with his calm distribution. Nilesy, you’re the man, our MVP. My other word has to go to Cristoph (Tottenburg, for the media). Boy, did you come good for us after the break; re-energized and it seemed that no one could mark you. Untouchable, mate! I know you’ve ambitions to try a club in Europe, and whispers are Barcelona are interested but so too are Bayern; or you may just say it’s your time to manage a team. Whatever, happens, good luck, and I really appreciate the dedication and the vision. Kristoph!”

We’re being waved away, now, as the team looks to say a few words in private prayer. That really was a good look at how defeat and victory sit on the shoulders of players. Back to the studio.