Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I played football...with other People

On 18 October 2012 finally, 8 1/2 months after my operation, I played a game of football with other people.

It was just a 7-a-side, but considering I haven't played for over a year I did ok and most importanly I came home under my own steam, on my bike.

My feelings before the game were  mixed, partially excitement, partially terrified. My fears included things such as would I hold up to it, would a tackle make my knee collapse as it had done the previous time I played. All through the day I was doing the exercises; stretching, warming up, the star excursion test. I even went to the gym in the morning, to do a few sprints and some interval training.

As the day went on my excitement was getting less and less and my fears getting more and more. There was even a point about 4 o'clock when I looked out the window and part of me hoped that it might be raining. That would allow me not to go, and still to save face having told everyone this was the day of the come back.

The day had actually started with a humorous incident. I was walking back from the gym with my hoodie on, it was quite cold and I was cold and sweaty and I didn't want to catch a cold. I was walking along when I heard someone behind me shout: "Oi sonny.". I didn't look round because I'm nearly 50 and only people who are older than me will call me sonny, so I carried on walking. A couple of seconds later he shouted again but this time slightly more aggressively: "Oi, son stop.".  Again I ignored it but a moment later I felt a hand on my shoulder, not aggressive but very firm, and obviously someone much taller than me. I stopped, and turned round. To my astonishment I was being towered over by a young copper, no older than 23 at best.

"Why didn't you stop when I called you?"

"I didn't think you were talking to me. Your voice sounded quite young I can hardly be your son."

I realised at this point that he was as surprised as I was. So I asked him what the problem was.

Replying straightfaced he said "You should know you're not allowed to wear your hood up in this area, there's notices everywhere." I shrugged not really understanding him, he continued, "I thought you were one of the hoodies from the estate, up to no good but now I see your middle-aged and unlikely to do anyone any harm. Sorry to trouble you sir." He turned away and carried on looking for ner-do-wells. I just felt a little insulted.

I got over it, but I couldn't get over the fear nagging away at me. About half an hour before kick off, it still wasn't raining and so I got my kit on. I clambered gingerly on to my bike and headed off for the game.

On arrival it was heartwarming to see all the old faces running up to welcome me back. I wanted to chat to them all, find out what they'd been up to since I last played but I knew I needed to do a thorough warm up. I started, but every few seconds someone else came over for a chat. Eventually we were quorate and the game began.

Actually it didn't, just as we were about to kick off, Jenson shouted out to everyone: "No one tackle Daniel." He said it seriously, no one argued, and the game began. I had decided beforehand that as people weren't going to tackle me it would be unfair if I got in their way if they were running at me. I played a friendly game but soon got involved in the normal business of trying to win a football match. It's a pick-up game so the teams are never the same but once you're on a team you can't stop the competitive instincts coming out.

Every time I ran with the ball I was aware that I was consciously thinking ahead, looking for danger and working out how to get rid of it without getting my body, and legs, into tricky situations. It was fine but a little strange. A little like a brilliant artist suddenly having to paint by numbers.

My passing was good, my shooting not bad either. The few games of solo football had certainly got me ready. I even scored a couple of goals. I can't really count them as even I appreciate that scoring is easier when no one tackles you.

As the game wore on I took my turn in goal and used the time to do some sprinting and turning exercises. I came out and carried on and the game finished and I was still standing, on my own two legs.

By this point I think everyone else had forgotten about me being away for a year and not playing. It was just another normal Thursday night game to them, but for me it was another step, almost the last one, on a very long journey. As I lay in bed later, after the obligatory visit to the pub, I flexed my leg, it felt fine, and I closed my eyes and I no longer had to imagine playing football. I'd played and I'd scored, one a really nice goal. I replayed it in mind and smiled as I fell asleep.

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