It’s a typically mild Sydney winter’s day. The sun is beating down. After 12 regular season games of 11 a–side football today is the Semi-Final. Second versus third to decide which team goes to the ‘Grand Final’ – a concept and format so alien to me five years ago but of one that I am now the biggest fan. The game is locked at nil-nil (or “nil-all” in the Australian language). My team are buoyant after dominating the game, playing impressive flowing football but to be denied several times by an acrobat of a keeper. Our last regular season game against this team finished with a 1-0 loss as they scored with the last kick of the game. It was heartbreak as we had outplayed them in a dirty contest. The first half of ‘Golden Goal’ extra-time is almost up and we break away yet again down the left wing. Our left midfielder gets to the by-line and crosses to the far post. The ball bounces awkwardly across the six-yard box and steaming in like a runaway train is our right midfielder, a stocky engine that somehow jumps like a ballerina. Time slows to a crawl as his right foot rises the highest it ever has to push the ball into the roof of the net. Cue pandemonium. We scream, punch the air and my fellow centre-back and I sprint downfield to hug, wrestle and jump all over him. His face is one of absolute shock and happiness rolled into one. Forget Mandela, this is our hero.
This was our World Cup, our Champions League; this was the ‘Domain Soccer League’, midweek corporate league soccer at it’s finest. My fiancé, in reference to the title of this piece, does a fantastic impression of me when we are exchanging “banter”. It normally occurs at a time of high tension as we argue about the heating being left on. “Put another jumper on!” I say. Her trademark retort usually involves a high-pitched warble and flailing hands as she exclaims: “Oooohhh, I just wanna write and play football!” (It’s one of those scenarios where you have to be there to get it). And do you know what? She’s spot-on.
Football is the greatest game on the planet. Calling it a game is doing it an injustice really. It doesn’t matter that this football league was played on a pitch scaled down so dramatically to fit between two pathways and the sidelines are plush against trees. Why is anyone complaining about the pitch; an African village in the middle of Kenya would be proud of this dust bowl? Who cares if half the players wear fluorescent shorts and never match the rest of their teams’ kit? Forget that the goalkeeper has no gloves and is adopting the 1930s method of spit and mud on the hands. It should not bother anyone that the ref is older than the Queen and blows his whistle should anyone come within five metres of an opposing player. And a no-net policy for the goals is absolutely acceptable; at least you can enthusiastically claim ridiculous goals when the ball goes within a few metres of the posts.
I read an excellent article about football a year ago that popped into my mind today. To be exact, it had little to do with the 90 minutes of football. I had just had a few scary episodes of passing out after sport and after ten years of it happening and doing the typical man thing, it took an ambulance and a full-on collapse to persuade me to see a Cardiologist as a precaution. I had played football since I could walk and hoped I’d be playing for many more years. As I sat in the waiting room thumbing the copies of June 2011’s Women’s Weekly and skimming through Homes and Gardens Magazine, I spotted the distinctive GQ (Gentlemen’s Quarterly) at the bottom of the pile. It was crumpled and worryingly a sticky substance made some of the pages uncomfortable to touch but I soldiered on. Eventually I stopped at a piece that caught my eye, ‘Making Man Time’ by Dan Rookwood. His view was that football was the glue that had brought his friends together, on and off the pitch. I was so impressed with it I cautiously did the “fake cough and rip the page out of the magazine” trick and pocketed it. I then scanned it at work and sent round to all my mates to reassure them that our imaginatively titled “Work Footy Team Weekend Away in Byron Bay” was fully justified. A week later, we knew it had been. I think it makes sense (and for the safety of our lives) not to write about the tour but I’m confident in saying the trip will go down in the annuls of textbook legendary footy trips.
Once you read Dan Rookwood’s article you will just smile and nod for at least an hour. If you like football of course. This is football to the everyday man. This is why we play it. No matter the level or ability. We play it for the moments of ecstasy. We play it to have the sick agony come pleasure of a lost penalty shootout. We play it for the worryingly high count of ‘foul throws’ in a game. We play it because it’s perfectly acceptable for grown men to hug, kiss and wrestle each other in victory. Or defeat. Or even a draw. We play it because there’s nothing more satisfying than hacking down a player that is too fast for you. We play it so we can analyse and debate every kick of the game over beers. We play it so when we are drunk we are convinced we could have played professional if we had not found beer. We play it because it gives us an excuse on weekends to have a whole day of banter. We play so one week after another and disgraceful performances we can say we are never playing again, but know we are lying. We play it so at the end of season presentation we are awarded “Most Improved.” We play it so we can tell the missus that we are gutted we can’t brunch with her Great Aunt as the coach will drop us if we don’t turn up. We play it so we can reassure ourselves a beer after the game is purely for team morale and not so we stumble in after midnight and expect the missus to be ready for the most generous loving she will ever experience. We play it so we have an excuse to spend more time with the lads.
Ultimately there are two pleasures for me that magnetically attract like Wayne Rooney and mature escorts. Please forgive me darling, my beautiful soon to be wife. Apart from all the incredible times we have ahead in life, I just wanna write and play football.
If you would like me to send you a scanned copy of Dan Rookwood’s GQ article ‘Making Man Time’, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org