After I paused a lifetime of taking casual sport far too seriously, I assumed it was safe to play again. I was sorely mistaken.
There he was, striding toward me. Fists clenched, his puffy eyes given over to violence. A jigsaw of misplaced rage and testosterone, he wanted my blood by virtue of location. I knew that a discussion was now out of the question. My options were rapidly winding down to nil. I peered over his shoulder and saw the nucleus of the original conflict expanding.
Two dear friends of mine (Now married to each other) were shrieking in an indecipherable bogan whine behind furiously swung limbs; I looked toward the audience, separated by a green plastic mesh, in the vain hope of some sort of flashing lights to save me from what would be arriving in a matter of seconds. The only figure that stood out in the frozen mass was the pathetic balding man who ran the place, who gave up on life years ago but clung to the remnants of his hair. Would he save me? Probably not.
So it has come to this. I was going to be punched in the mouth. And punched in the mouth I was. While my bowels were voided, my jaw remained strong.
That marked my last game of indoor soccer.
The instigators of the fight were my teammates. They are life members of a sub-culture in the weekend casual sports world. Those who take the game too seriously.
I’m not judging. For, I have walked with, and perhaps even lead that crowd. You know the ones. Those shouty, sweaty, expletive-laden bundles of conflict. Those who don’t see it as a bit of fun, but who see it as something like a War. For the better part of a decade, that’s who I was.
Every week I saw my fellow douchebags, and their behaviour had an ugly familiarity about it. Be it the guy in the hot-pants who kicked the ball with the intention to maim, or the Rubenesque chap who would crack a wobbly and leave his supportive, but apathetic girlfriend stranded at the venue on a bi-weekly basis, or the indoor cricketer who sledged opponents to enter their psyche (Or as he succinctly put it – I’m in yer head now, mate). It wasn’t the Ashes, Lords no, but there was a case of beer on offer for those who hit the pizza dish suspended from the roof. It was serious, so I took it seriously.
A close friend mentioned she was forming a mixed indoor soccer team, You know, If I was interested. I said I was. I’m always keen to help my friends out in situations, particularly if there’s no chance of that situation happening. Besides, I didn’t need the game. I was happily retired, living a quiet life of nonchalance.
If it didn’t go completely to plan, I would punch the ground, or at the very least, viciously impact the inside of my cheek with a clicked tongue before registering my outward disgust to my fellow teammates for their inability to prevent the pickle we now found ourselves in.
It was a shameful part of my life. But I grew out of that.
Flash forward to 2020. A close friend mentioned she was forming a mixed Indoor Soccer team, You know, If I was interested. I said I was. I’m always keen to help my friends out in situations, particularly if there’s no chance of that situation happening. Besides, I didn’t need the game. I was happily retired, living a quiet life of nonchalance.
A week later, the call came through. I was needed the following night. I’ll be ok, surely. It was years ago. I’m a big boy now.
Gameday. I had counted the minutes. I was restless, I gnawed at my fingernails and my skin itched. I blithely passed it off as nerves, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was the warning signs of something more sinister.
The venue/indoor pool/gym/cafe was a sweaty purple washing machine that made those who furiously whirled around in the centre of it smell worse. The odd orphaned pairs were middle managers, the middle-aged, single parents, the unfit and the hopeless.
The hair on the back of my neck stood to attention, my nose elevated above the perpendicular, my lips pursed as I rated the talents of those inside, based on the three-second morsel they revealed. I could have him, I audibly whispered. What was I doing? This was just a bit of fun. This game didn’t even count. We wanted to lose, so we’d be placed in the basement division.
As I crossed the gaffer tape threshold into the dimensions of the coliseum, my pulse raced. When I sighted that white orb, it took me. As I stretched, I was transformed into that snarling hairy beast of naked competitiveness. Hopefully, they don’t take it seriously was the last logical rope I clung to, but alas, the man in the Hawaiian shorts wore the same blank face as I did.
Our team, ‘Murder on Zidane’s Floor’ (a pun that was the brainchild of our team captain, and one that required repeated explanation) were vastly overmatched. We were one player short.
Mixed Indoor Soccer etiquette dictates that if the opposing team is one player down, one must be cool.
As the fourth goal eluded my grasp, it was clear they had not got the memo. Bloody amateurs. Worst of all, my old foe, the floor, was again the innocent victim of my ineptitude. I was losing all control. Each smug pouring effort upon the plastic frame I was tasked to protect pushed me further into the abyss. When I was finally unleashed, I was a man possessed. Pushing beyond fatigue, beyond societal rules, beyond hope.
When I scored (bottom left corner) I slid like a penguin on an ice floe.
Riding back in the car, my friend pointed out that a 9-3 loss wasn’t too bad to start.
I couldn’t remember. All that was left was a vague feeling of guilt. What had I done? And why do my limbs hurt?