Match days. When I played soccer regularly I loved match days. From an early age, I had been told that I needed to take care of my body especially on such days. Do not take risks: no jumping off walls; no climbing up ladders; no running headlong anywhere. Save all of those actions for the time when you needed to beat your opponents. I remember once my club team manager being absolutely livid when one of our players limped into the dressing room on crutches. “My wife asked me to put up curtains this morning, and I fell off the ladder,” one of my team mates seemed to whimper. Our manager looked at him and said “You moron!”. We had a good-sized squad, so were able to field a strong team, but the message was clear for all who needed a good example of what the message meant.
From school days, I was always full of adrenalin on match days; imagining how I would play, the moves I would use; how I would celebrate any goals. In the early years, I had plenty of time to think as I rode the trains and buses to the game, and anxiety was better controlled once I met my team mates at school or Victoria station and we travelled to the pitch together. Playing; laughing; getting each other ready. Pulling each other in the dressing room and messing with each other’s equipment was perhaps a way of loosening our tensions.
When I played for my club and university teams, things were a bit different. We had a long team talk; a serious warm-up session. Some of us–me, for sure–had a physiotherapist give a good rub down. We checked our team shirts, shorts and socks were in order; all I had to carry to the game were my boots and shin guards. The smell of embrocation wafted over us. The manager spoke. We put on our game faces. This was serious business, for which we trained very hard. The stakes were high. At times, we knew we were up against far superior opposition. When my university team was playing against select teams from professional teams, we knew we were in a shop window: perhaps a scout would be impressed. My club team displays could mean a step up too. You never knew who might have been there looking to poach some talent.
But, that had to be blocked out. The referees came and checked equipment and talked about how they wanted they wanted to officiate the game. Then, we would run out. Let’s not think about crowds and spectators: the few, the many; the friends, the enemies. They gave atmosphere and also support or more opposition. The coin was tossed. We chose our sides. We said our prayers. The whistle blew. All was now out of our control. Game time.