The Weekend Warrior
This post has very little to do with soccer except for the fact that two of my teammates were with me for it.
However, as The Offside is a footballing website, I will endeavor to tangentially tie the awesomeness of last weekend back to our basic topic.
The Beautiful Game has given me no small number of joys, memories and experiences. As a fan, as a coach and as a player, a lifetime measured in 90 minute intervals has been one of ecstatic highs, despairing lows, and more bottles of ibuprofen than I can count. And at the very least, soccer has helped to keep me reasonably fit, something that I frequently take for granted. The ability to run, jump, slide and not die as a result of those actions is something my middle-aged self is appreciating more and more with the passing of time. Once, at a party with some toddlers frolicking happily about the room, one of the parents in the group remarked casually, “When was the last time you just ran as fast you could?” There were some quiet nods of appreciation and a lengthy silence until I piped up, “Uh, every Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. At least until some sweeper scythes me down in the box.”
No one knew had a clue as to what I was talking about. Whatever.
And so in the lifelong quest to maintain midfielder levels of fitness, I find myself pounding the same familiar stretches of sidewalk, the same running trail at the Nike World Campus and the same bleacher grandstand at Liberty High School. Several months of these well-trod paths left me itching for something different to try, something that might test my abilities and be fun in a non-soccer kind of way.
That something was Warrior Dash.
Warrior Dash, as you may know, is an adult obstacle course event put on by Red Frog Events. With events staged around the United States, it is part Wipeout and part Lollapalooza. A three-four mile trail run/obstacle course capped with beer, food, live music, and often outrageous costumes, the events draw thousands of people for mad scrambling up walls, through cargo nets, across bodies of water and over fire. And, of course, mud. Every Facebook profile picture of someone who has done it (me included) features a wide, exhausted grin of the participant covered in mud, usually sporting the signature furry Viking helmet of the Dash. A few perusals of their website left me giddy at the prospect of bolting through the woods of nearby North Plains, Oregon and who better to join me on this epic adventure than my 0-30 soccer team Rangers teammates? We’ll call them “Jim” and “Dan” for the purposes of this post (if those are their real names…but they probably are!)
The day of the Dash dawned unnaturally hot for Oregon and smoke from far away forest files gave the sun a murky orange color. Our start time of 5:00 p.m. taunted us with mid-ninety degree Fahrenheit temperatures in Portland and the three of us followed a dirty cloud of vehicles over gravel and unpaved roads to the parking fields of Horning’s Hideout, the site for the Oregon Warrior Dash. We tromped our way over the grounds to a wooden bridge that led to the Dash “village”, the site of the registration tents, gear check, beer pavilions and amphitheater. It wasn’t unlike a music festival, with a large video monitor playing scenes from heats in progress, a master of ceremonies inciting us to “give it up!” for the participants, and thousands of people milling about to the pre-recorded musical stylings of Katy Perry’s “Firework”.
Thousands of dirty, dirty people. Young guys…covered in mud. Middle-aged women…covered in mud. Guys in tutus…covered in mud. Groups of ROTC cadets…covered in mud. Women dressed as superheroes…covered in mud. A dude in a pair of Punisher underwear…covered in mud. Little kids…covered in mud…because their parents had given them a big, sloppy hug when they finished the course! The vast diversity in attire was universally characterized by the milk chocolate slathering of mud and grime from the course’s last obstacle. As we passed a parked ambulance near the packet pick-up, I noted the dozens of muddy hand prints that covered the vehicle like a rash and a new thought occurred to me: I suppose I could get hurt doing this thing. That would totally ruin my fall soccer season. That would suck. I got a little anxious, kind of like first match of the season jitters, wondering if I was really up to this.
Then I saw a bunch of half-naked, mud coated twenty-somethings chest bumping nearby, obviously still on the post race rush. They were laughing, swearing happily like you do when you’re completely in the moment and the filters that generally keep you from bellowing things like “F**k yeah!” around older people and toddlers have completely switched off. That could be me, plus twenty-ish years and no hair, in just 3.18 hellish miles.
It’s Go Time, baby!
Dan, Jim and I got our packets, affixed the microchip that recorded your time to our shoes, and pinned on our bib numbers. Would 29603 be my lucky number this afternoon? I stowed my gear away and we ambled toward the end of the course where the smell of Duraflame logs wafting from the other side of the construction fencing beckoned us on. A small crowd of spectators and supportive family members were cheering and shouting encouragement as a ragged throng of runners streamed out of the trees and over the burning piles. Each runner to a person appeared to tense up as they recognized the Warrior Flames ahead and then, also to a person, grin broadly as they successfully launched themselves over the first hurdle and realized they did not spontaneously combust. Beyond this, to our left, the route completed in a barbed wire covered pit of thick, oozing mud, followed by a slippery decline to the finish pylon. The sight of three or four people flailing wildly in the waist deep mire wasn’t exactly the mud wrestling scene from “Stripes”, but it was quite a spectacle to behold as the runners hurled themselves over the mound and careened down the hilly slip-and-slide to the finish line.
Jim, Dan and I looked at each other. The verdict: “Awesome!”
We took our places in the starting chute and I took stock of our competitors/comrades for the day’s final heat. A group to my right were dressed in plastic gladiator outfits, a kind of Spartacus meets Under Armour. A bunch of shirtless men, obviously runners or athletes of some stock, crowded the front of the chute. A couple in their early twenties nervously held hands behind me and stared at the large propane cannons flanking the start pylon. Another group of runners donned heavy metal attire, complete with studded wrist bands and leather jackets. And then there was Dan, Jim and I. Just three soccer guys out for a trail run with four hundred of our (soon-to-be) closest friends for the next forty minutes. I did most of the same nervous leg stretches I usually do before an indoor soccer match, not entirely sure with what I should do with myself. Eventually the race announcer shouted out the expected countdown and with a roar of “3! 2! 1!” and a dual blast from the propane cannons, our merry band of wannabe Warrior pilgrims surged forward into the forest.
I took off at a modest clip, unused to running with more than 21 other people around me. It seemed crowded, almost claustrophobic, as the trail dipped and swerved in front of us. Fifty yards in–seriously, FIFTY YARDS FROM THE START–the big-boned guy running slightly ahead of me broke stride, dropped his head forward with an exhausted gasp and started to walk. Fifty yards. You could still see the big “Start” banner behind us! As I weaved to the right to avoid running into him, any nervousness I had disappeared. Seanny, you’re going to be all right. We three Rangers continued around other runners as the trail set upon a series of sharply sloping switchback inclines. The tedious hours at Liberty High were paying off in spades as I continued forward, flanked ably by my holding midfielder and stopper/sweeper. The trail turned and churned, always continuing up it seemed, until after what felt like three-quarters of a mile a sign off to the side warned us of the first obstacle: Deadweight Drifter.
A small pond had been stocked with large, floating logs secured by cables at their ends. The horde splashed madly into the drink and slip-stumbled their way over the rolling slabs of tree. Without breaking stride I plunged into the water and–HOLY CRAP! EVEN TODAY THIS IS COLD!–and pulled myself over the slippery barrier. Momentum and the simultaneous thrust of several others on the log made it spin and I splashed awkwardly onto the other side, barely keeping my mouth above the surface. Several more logs were similarly conquered in less than graceful fashion until I trudged sodden and surprisingly weary onto the far bank. Dan was there already: “I’m pretty sure I swallowed some of that water!” I think we joked about giardia until Jim emerged and continued on.
More trail gave way to a sea of tires and junked out automobiles. The pack had significantly thinned out since the start and we were able to motor efficiently through the sea of rubber and over the dead vehicles. The next obstacle was a field of suspended tires that, again, would have been challenging had there been more runners bumping into them at the same time, but we neatly picked our way around the gaps in the obstructions. Jim joked that our teammate “Nabyl” would have totally parkoured through them. We laughed–which seems weird given that we were running, but I distinctly remember chortling at that comment–and pressed on.
I won’t bore you with an obstacle by obstacle record of how we successfully conquered each one. Many of the challenges involved climbing a plywood wall with a rope or a cargo net or horizontal boards or all three. Spotters at each station continued to shout encouragement and give pointers to other Warriors who were struggling. Calkins and Snyder tended to take the lead and I brought up the rear of our trio–or “anchor”, as I choose to think of it–but through every station we generally finished within seconds of each other. With each mile and each new feat I felt myself getting progressively more tired but then I would spy another competitor similarly slowing ahead and will myself to pass them. At the horizontal cargo nets, Dan figured out that it was not the best way to “bear walk” on all fours and instead pulled off this Spiderman balance-run that was pretty damn impressive. We went over low walls and under lower barbed cords. We bounded like Altair from the video game “Assassin’s Creed” over these wobbly platforms and down a fireman’s pole. I felt my lungs getting smaller and smaller as the trail (damn you, trail!) continued up and over, up and over. Jim, to his credit, never stopped running. I found myself slowed to a hike for about a hundred feet until I could get the lactic acid in my legs to burn off enough and start running.
And then I could smell it. The alkaline stench of hot, burning chemical soaked wood-based products. The Warrior Flames. I remembered the tense looks on the runners as they recognized the peril ahead and I am certain my face did the exact same thing. There was a good-sized crowd to the left yelling positive affirmations and I forced a smile. I really was having fun. I just needed to look like it, too. With a carefully timed bound even my 5′-6 7/8″ tall frame danced over the fires once, then twice. I looked up, wiped the sweat from my face and watched Dan and Jim disappear into a tract of mud.
One last obstacle. How long had I been running? The rhythms of soccer are familiar to me and easy to gauge from years of experience, but this Warrior Dash was a completely new experience. Had I been running thirty minutes? Sixty? I couldn’t tell. I plunged clumsily into the mud to the cheers of the assembled watching from the side. The strands of barbed wire passed me by in a slow, but surprisingly refreshing, crawl that left grime in my teeth. Jim was going over the mound at the end and sliding to the finish. I pulled myself out of the muck, expertly timed my movements and leaped forward to clear the top of the mound and get the momentum necessary to slide safely home.
I did not time my movements as expertly as I had thought.
My crotch smacked against the top of the hill, followed soon thereafter by my chest. And face. D’oh! I flailed around like a gutted trout to keep from sliding backwards into the mud and managed to get enough inertia and momentum to start me forward, always forward, face first toward the finish line. But then gravity conspired against me–damn you, gravity!–and my aforementioned inertia and momentum sent me sliding uncontrollably to the left…towards the hay bundle/erosion control bales that marked the course…until with a mighty thump I ran into the wall like a stock car driver and bounced around onto my backside. Above me, just a dozen or so yards away, the ending pylon taunted me: “FINISH”. I scrambled to my feet and stumbled the last remaining footsteps to glorious victory. Dan and Jim were there, looking hardly bothered but equally smeared in the mud of the earth. We high-fived and some attractive young volunteers offered us water, bananas and our coveted Viking helmet medal. It took us 36 minutes and 30-ish seconds to earn our little horned trinket which proudly proclaimed: I SURVIVED WARRIOR DASH 2011.
It would then take another three hours before I changed my Facebook profile picture to a shot of three muddy over-thirty soccer dudes wearing three big, exhausted grins.
Sometimes, everything just comes together.
About a year and a half ago, I fell in love with a little documentary called “Pelada“. It follows two recent college graduates, Luke and Gwendolyn, as they travel around the world playing pick-up soccer. Unable to play professionally but unwilling to give up the game they love so much, they chase the game in its purest form to almost every corner of the globe…from South American prisons and Japanese rooftops…from African slums and Iranian parks…from deserts and beaches and construction sites…anywhere there is space and a ball. The film speaks to the universal appeal of the game and its ability to bring together people from all walks of life. I’m not a professional film critic so I lack the expansive cinematic vocabulary to speak about pacing and transitions and the like, but I do know what speaks to this middle-aged guy who has been kicking a ball around since he stopped watching Saturday morning cartoons in the third grade…and the message of “Pelada” most definitely resonates with him. Literally. I made the theme song from the documentary the ringtone for my cell phone.
The word itself, pelada, means “naked” in Brazil and refers to the basic, stripped down form of the game played where there is a ball and open space. You may know it as pick-up soccer or a kick around. It is the game sans fancy uniforms, scoreboards or often a referee. It is a field without crisp chalk lines or even grass. It is goal posts implied by empty bottles, or rocks, or a makeshift crate. It is a result that will never be recorded or remembered except by the four or seven or eighteen players who were there. It is football for football’s sake and it is often the most beautiful type of footy of all.
I’m quite certain that if you are reading this–all four of you, ahem. (Hi Mom!)–you are familiar with the dynamics of pick-up soccer. There is a certain ritual to it that, for me at least, kind of defines the experience. It starts with two or three people passing idly around. Others will take note and casually drift closer, waiting for an invitation or an errant pass to return and thus, become included in the action. New players will join in and the passing triangle becomes a square, then a pentagon, and then a lopsided circle that grows until some sort of critical mass is reached. Invariably someone will assert him or herself and establish the field of play. Another individual will assist with the construction of goals, and nine times out of ten the goals will be mis-proportioned for the field size and require adjustment. Ultimately, the field will be too small and require modification after a few minutes of play. Teams will be determined and player sides will be negotiated until the unspoken group consensus is reached that the two sides look reasonably evenly matched, and with a rush and a push the game gets underway. Players will gravitate towards those parts of the field that they usually play. One or two players from each side will usually establish themselves as a de facto team captain or, at the very least, a field leader and the course of play will begin to ebb and flow through them, hoping to find that wonderful balance between dribbling, passing, and smart shooting. At some point one of the strikers will be rebuked for not getting back on defense and an errant shot will be postmarked with “BUT I WAS OPEN!!” from a frustrated unmarked attacker in the middle. If the soccer gods are amicable, that is all the grief that is to be had on the pitch that day, but a reckless tackle or too much ball hogging can turn the kick-around afoul. These are but some of the little rituals that make pick-up soccer both familiar and maddening, but sometimes…
Sometimes, everything just comes together.
A Labor Day holiday weekend in Portland, Oregon with temperatures in the high 80s means one thing: Go to the beach. (Actually, in Oregon, we say “go to the coast”, but whatever.) With the sun dawning bright and glorious last Saturday–and feeling a little guilty that our chock full summer schedule of youth soccer tournaments for Kiki precluded any real vacation–my wife, daughter, her friend Mikki and I opted to pack into the Escape and make the 70 minute drive from our house in suburban Portland to Seaside, a popular coastal community with a boardwalk, attractions, shops, and enough candy stores to satisfy any ten year old girl with a sweet tooth. However, approximately 20,000 of my fellow Oregonians also had a similar plan for the last days before school started and 30 minutes of road time got us only a few miles away from our house. The endless line of idling vehicles was too much to bear, so with a curse and a sigh I wheeled our vehicle back around and opted for a less crowded destination: Oceanside, an often overlooked coastal village without a boardwalk, no attractions, maybe a half dozen shops, and only two places that sold candy. Understandably, Kiki was not fully on-board with this new change of venue. “There’s nothing to do in Oceanside!” I expertly parried this criticism as only a father can: “Too bad! That’s where we’re going.”
Fortunately, ten year old girls are remarkably resilient and the much improved travel speed did much to allay fears that we would, in fact, “never get to the coast.” In due time we did arrive to the glorious sight of azure skies and waters as well as the characteristic site of the Three Arch Rocks some half mile offshore. It was one of those rare Oregon coast days where you could lounge about on the beach without a wet suit or a parka and truly sunburn your skin, as opposed to just wind burning it. The girls played in the crashing surf and “swam” in a slightly warmer, much shallower channel for a good thirty minutes before I heard the sweet music I longed to hear:
“Hey, Dad, do you want to kick the soccer ball around?”
Yes I do.
We rolled out the old adidas Starlancer from the beach bag–because it is better to have a soccer ball and not need it than need a soccer ball and not have it–and plodded our way over sand and sand dollars to a relatively flat expanse of beach between a smattering of beach towels. A barefooted pass from Kiki sent the Starlancer to me and a gentle one-touch put it at Mikki’s feet. Just three people passing idly around. I noticed the double-take from another group walking by, followed by a smirk. The girls grew weary of the passing after a few minutes and it was decided we should play 1 v 2. Kiki and Mikki scampered off to find some rocks to establish the goals for a field of play. Driftwood was used to carve out a makeshift center circle and a few sharp stones were evicted from the pitch. A family camped out just beyond the edge of our area smiled and nodded to their own kids. With a rush and a push (Kiki totally fouled me!) the game got underway and the two former teammates were flying down the beach, moving into their familiar positions of Kiki up front and Mikki sprinting down the wing. “Back pass! Back pass!” Mikki yelled. “Show for me!” Kiki responded. (Why didn’t they talk like this when I was their coach!?) Almost instantly there was a delicate balance of dribbling, passing and smart shooting, just the three of us. Some guy by the water with a huge camera turned and clicked off a series of pictures. When one of our errant passes went long, it was trapped by a young African kid who smiled broadly. “Can we play soccer, too?”
This is how it starts. “Totally.”
My friggin’ awesome wife had also been taking some pictures from nearby and the African youth, named Hadid, ran over to his host family adjacent to where she was sitting. She heard him beam, “Isaac! Come! You wanna play soccer?!” Two more players joined out pelada. The game ebbed and flowed not unlike the tides just yards from our goal, all smiles, sweat and sand. A dad came up to me and asked, “Can my boys play in your game, too?”
The teams were reworked for the new players and the field size between the rock goals was adjusted accordingly. 1 v 2 had become 2 v 3 and now grew, quite naturally, into 3 v 4. The game continued without any incidents or pretense. Both sides had a good laugh when Mikki, by far the shortest person on the pitch, made an expert challenge on Hadid and sent the athletic youth sprawling into the sand. Every shot was rewarded with a “Nice try!” or “Oh! Unlucky!” Another father and his son walked up. “Could we play, too?”
The game continued to grow, this happy collection of ten year olds and high schoolers and middle-aged guys passing around seaweed and driftwood and, occasionally, the adjacent group’s beach towels. But even when the ball went bounding through another family’s unofficial area, there were nothing but grins and smiles from them as Kyle played a long ball or Carlos charged after his brother. Another kid in a green shirt approached: “Can I play, too?”
Everybody just seemed to get the gentlemen’s offsides. Everybody just seemed to know where to stand, where to go. Some of the players could have easily dribbled through a lot of the other side…but they didn’t. Somebody could have complained about it being out when it was clearly still playable…but they didn’t. Unintentional handballs were blissfully ignored. The match went on without a clock and added extra time was determined by the redness of the sunburn on your shoulders. 60 minutes? 90 minutes? Impossible to tell. Even the final score escaped me…although Kiki assures me her team “crushed” my team. With a final round of handshakes and a group picture (above), I bid thanks and happy Labor Day to the fine players at the Oceanside [pelada], knowing full well I will likely never, ever see any of them again. The girls collected the ball, the incoming tides would eventually wipe the center circle away, and the best time I have ever had at the coast soon came to an end…
What a difference a year makes.
A year ago almost to the day, we were juggling on glaciers. We were scoring in a stadium of rock and snow and the whole of Oregon heard our goal celebrations from on high. The resulting video of our Two Mile High Club became a viral internet sensation—at least in my own house, where I was chiefly responsible for at least 80 of the 220 registered YouTube views. Ha!—and, pleased with our exploits, we returned back to the world we knew…because for every mountaintop experience, you still have to come down off the mountain. That world we knew included work (for this Weekend Warrior and his motley crew) and school (for our children) and of course, soccer. It included playing soccer on our O-30 weekend adult recreational league. It included watching our favorite teams on television, often at 4:30 a.m. in order to see it live. It included meeting at our local indoor soccer arena every Wednesday night for a match, occasionally not finishing until after midnight.
And it meant many rainy, muddy afternoons at our daughter’s club team’s field, teaching them The Beautiful Game.
Until, at least for me, it didn’t.
As my daughter Kiki continued to grow as both a young lady and a soccer player (she’s ten now, going on sixteen, and only a head shorter than me), I was always there as her team’s assistant coach to shout directions or help with drills. From her first day of microsoccer when I volunteered to help with her team the Daffy Ducks, I got to be right at her side for her first shot on a cone goal to her first throw-in to the her first time playing goalkeeper. And on match days, I got to be on the coach’s sideline, the one here in America where the parents are discouraged from standing so as not to interfere with the team machinations. I got to yell “Attack the ball!” and “Mark your player!” and “Oh! Unlucky!” when things on the field went awry. Sure, the parents on the other sideline were all yelling those things, too, but in theory my and the head coach’s directions were the only shouts that were supposed to matter. It was a privilege and an honor to be entrusted with the safety and instruction of the game to increasingly older kids and eventually, just girls, as Kiki made the transition from rec soccer to Classic. She seemed to make that transition a lot better as a player than I did as an assistant coach.
What a glorious ride it was. There was an undefeated season that was rewarded with the girls shaving the head coach’s head into a magenta criss-crossed Mohawk. [Note: As I’m already totally bald and work in a professional office, I was mercifully spared.] There were routs and blow-outs both ways…avenging a tournament loss to a competitive rival…a heart-breaking defeat in penalty kicks, which is tough at any age but almost cruel for nine and ten year olds…promotion and struggle…and ultimately, the near total dissolution of our club’s competitive side. With the spring came time for Kiki to play elsewhere and as we researched different local club options, it soon became obvious: Daddy wasn’t going to be her coach anymore.
Which was the best thing for her. You can’t always be coached by your father, unless you’re Michael Bradley. What? He was? Really? Well then, never mind. This is not a critical comment directed at those lucky 0.01% of coaches who do get to work with their children for a very long time. But for the overwhelming majority of us, at some point we need to let go and let our children learn their craft from another. Kiki was fortunate to have made the first team at a reputable youth academy. One of her coaches has been doing this for almost as long as I’ve been alive and her other coach played in England. Her touch, movement, and understanding of the game is growing. When instructed to do a certain skill, I don’t ever hear, “Dad, why are we doing this again?” or “Can we do shooting instead?” I just see an obedient nod and then she goes to work on the new skill. New voices and new expectations are pushing her to be a better player in ways that, as her father, I would have been hard-pressed to do. Getting her out of her comfort zone—having to prove herself to a new group of coaches and teammates—has pushed her forward more in the last two months than probably the last year of instruction I gave her.
But never more so was this realization brought home to me than in her first tournament with her new team. On a glorious Friday morning at Delta Park, I took a long lunch from work and went to watch her play…from The Other Sideline. The parent’s sideline: That long, chalky stretch of real estate that was always fifty yards and a world away from where I had watched her play since microsoccer. Amidst the ramshackle collection of camp chairs, blankets, high-powered telephoto lenses and Starbucks mugs was a veritable throng of people I recognized from practice, sort of recognized from try-outs, and flat out didn’t recognize at all…because they were the other team’s parents. I hadn’t thought about that. What if they make a catty comment about Kiki during the match? Do I just ignore it or do I get in their face and tell them to shut the hell up before I go medieval on their a–? Oh my, would I be That Parent? I’ve never had to care what the parents thought during a game. Where do I stand? While most of the other team’s parents tended to conglomerate on one side of the pitch, opposite their team, some were distinctly mixed in with our girl’s supporters. This bothered me in some nagging way that I couldn’t fully describe. Would they think my loud cheering was a passive-aggressive insult on their daughters? I wasn’t even sure if I was a loud cheering type of guy, since all of my other match experiences involved direct instruction and reminding our strikers about offsides.
I found a section of sideline near midfield, among some other parents whose names I remembered from a previous friendly, but I still felt confined. Compared to the open freedom of the coach’s sideline, this felt positively claustrophobic. There were people three feet away! And a dog behind me! What if I threw my arms out in a celebratory gesture and smacked somebody? Or spooked the dog and he bit me? Obviously, I had too much time on my hands to over think the act of standing and watching, but such is my nature. I was reasonably sure I wouldn’t be guilty of coaching Kiki from this sideline—I had signed a parent conduct agreement when she made the team—but does yelling things like “What you see?!” or “Check your run!” constitute coaching? I actually had a minor case of butterflies for both Kiki and me.
But then the whistle blew to start the match and every random thought/worry I had disappeared. It was U11 Classic soccer, only reversed from the way I last remembered it. Cheers went up from both sides, gasps of astonishment were heard at apparent no-calls from both sides, and my intermittent shouts of “Good hustle, girls!” and “Nice job, Kiki!” seemed match appropriate and distinctly un-passive aggressive. The burden of ushering the back line forward on attack and checking Kiki’s run for offsides were not mine to bear…and I was pleasantly surprised at how OK that felt. Amazingly, Kiki was called for offsides once or twice and the world did not end. On the third run I saw her glance back at her mark, step forward to beat the trap, and then wheel around for a run. How about that? Kids learn on their own. She didn’t need me to bark at her after all. How novel. When she scored in the second match later that day, I did not accidentally punch my neighbor in the face during a fit of paternal joy. I didn’t once feel the need to go Marcellus Wallace on opposing soccer moms. And when Kiki’s apparent game winner was called back a full sixty seconds after the play for a phantom offsides violation that no one to this day can fully explain, I found the supportive energy of our team’s parental outrage to be strangely comforting. “She was on,” one mom muttered in my ear. “Totally on. That was a horrible call.” The closeness that was confining earlier that same morning was now supportive and welcomed.
So over the weekend tournaments that followed, I got progressively more used to being on The Other Sideline. My friggin’ awesome wife and I would drop her off at the field and watch her join her teammates by the team bench, getting instruction I could probably guess but never hearing all of it. I could tell from her expressions and to whom she was talking when she was up for a match or nervous, but I wasn’t there to give her the ol’ last minute advice. And she seemed taller than usual, but whatever. That sense of maturity and independence proved that she was in good hands and it had been the right time to “cut the cord”. My place in the crowd was getting familiar until a brief episode last weekend that made me just a little nostalgic.
I volunteered to help set up the team tent to keep the girls shaded during their final group stage match. Two other dads and I hauled the collapsible bench, tent cover, and team equipment over to the coaching side of the pitch. We quietly waited until the earlier high school game was done and then deployed the shelter and bench closer to the touch line while our team began to arrive. Fifteen girls and their matching backpacks soon were aligned with the bench in an orderly row and as I turned to go back to the other sideline, I heard a small voice behind me. It was Kiki.
“Daddy? Can you stay here with me this time?” Her eyes were wide and hopeful.
I smiled and my heart just melted. I have maybe three more years before she likely won’t want to have anything to do with me, so I will embrace these moments when they happen. I told her I had to go across the field to watch, but that she would be just fine. I got a nod, a peck on the cheek, and a little hug before she hurried off and started passing with her teammates. She was just fine. When I’m old and gray—er, still bald, probably—I probably won’t remember the 4-0 win that afternoon. I might remember the glorious run Kiki made to score, which included a pullback and two stutter steps around the back before blasting the ball off the keeper.
But I will always remember a not-so-little little girl who wanted her Dad to hang out just a little longer before going back to the Other Sideline.
It’s not what you think.
It started as a random idea. There is an absolutely wonderful soccer documentary making the rounds this spring and summer called Pelada. If you have an opportunity to see it, I would highly recommend it. The movie chronicles the travels of Luke and Gwendolyn, two college soccer stars who aren’t ready to give up the game…so they travel around the world playing pick-up soccer. The movie tells the story (quite poignantly, I believe) of “the other side of soccer”, the game that is played in different locales and faraway places by people most of us will never hear about. One of the iconic photographic stills of the movie shows Gwendolyn juggling a soccer ball in the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia. It’s a great shot and it got me thinking, Wouldn’t it be kind of cool to get a photograph of me juggling a soccer ball in some extreme landscape that wasn’t my suburban pitch in Beaverton, Oregon? I mean, my Facebook profile picture is going on eight months old! (Ha!) But where should I try and get a photo? The beach? Naw, too typical. The desert? I didn’t want to copy Gwendolyn verbatim. How about on top of a mountain? Good…but even better: How about a soccer match on top of a mountain? That appealed to the former mountaineer in me even though I hadn’t peak bagged since 2004. Fortunately, Oregon is blessed with several reputable mountains and I quickly ran through the three tallest, Mt. Hood (11,239′), Mt. Jefferson (10,497′) and South Sister (10,358′). The summits of Hood and Jefferson didn’t support the space to play and were too technical for most of my footy buddies. South Sister, however, offered a very attractive option. The climb is non-technical, requiring only a good pair of boots and a lot of stamina. The summit is a vast snow-covered crater that is relatively flat, with rocky ridges ringing it on the sides, almost like a stadium. The approach climb is five and a half miles to the top with an elevation gain of 4900′+–difficult but not impossible. Hmm…
This was an email I sent to my boss earlier this week:
[Name Removed for Privacy],
If you don’t object, I’d like to come in a little late tomorrow morning (9:15-ish) to hysterically scream my brains out during the USA-Algeria World Cup match in the relative quiet of my own home. I’m staying later tonight and tomorrow to offset the hours, so no time will actually be lost. Depending upon the result, I will either be wildly ecstatic or inconsolable, but by watching at home you will be spared random roars of joy and/or anguish and the office furniture will be spared a decent thrashing, too.
Let me know if it is a problem. I’m DVR-ing it regardless, but the cosmic soccer quantum physics karmic balance tells us that by watching the match in real time we can affect the outcome and I will do anything to help the boys out.
Because my boss understands just how important the Beautiful Game in general and the World Cup in particular is to me–and perhaps because he didn’t want me to break my laptop in a fit of emotion…or because he wisely knew I was not going to get anything vaguely work-related done from 6:30-9:00 a.m. on the 23rd of June–he agreed.
“I totally get the importance of watching sports live for the whole karma thing,” he smiled.
“I understand baseball has a similar concept,” I answered, referencing his sport of choice.
“Indeed it does.” And just like that, my time off request was approved.
So it was that I found myself alone in my living room on a Wednesday morning when I was usually parked in front of my computer, laying out an MRI exam room for a new hospital or ensuring exhaust ducts fit around structural beams. To see me from the waist down, I was your typical white collar design professional: Slacks, dress socks, and leather shoes that smartly matched my belt. From the waist up, however, it was a very different look: Navy blue US National Men’s Team away jersey and draped around my neck, my red and blue US soccer scarf that smartly matched the shirt.
In retrospect, it seems a bit odd to dress up in my team shirt and scarf all alone in my living room. I wasn’t with buddies cheering the rival side, so it wasn’t a case of one-upsmanship. That had been the case when the US played England. I watched with several guys on my indoor squad, including two Englishmen we’ll call “Deano” and “Scouser”. (Not their real names…or maybe they are their real names!) They were fully kitted out in the complete England whites–jersey, shorts, wristbands, and I’m pretty sure they had the socks, too. A slightly larger collection of Yanks were adorned in various US t-shirts as well as old and new World Cup kits. Nobody sent out an email saying “dress up” but it is just what you do, one of the official unofficial rules of watching big matches in groups. As I’m sure you well know, each of our sides both had their opportunities to rejoice and grouse. Gerrard’s strike in the fourth minute reduced the entire room to cursing. The English: “[Bleep!] yeah! Get in there! YES!” The Americans: “[Bleep!] off! You’ve got to be kidding me! NO!” As I’m sure you also know, fortunes changed near the end of the half with Dempsey’s (in)famous drive at Green. The English: “[Bleep!] off! NOO!!!” The Americans: “OH [Bleep!] YES!! YES!!” And then we all spent the second half mutually agonizing every time the ball got near our respective goal mouths, or the referee called a foul, or somebody failed to connect with a pass. My viewing posture left me hunched forward and involved draping my scarf over my head, not unlike a habit or hood, with my right foot nervously tapping out an unheard rhythm of easily 200 beats per minute. I suspect I burned at least 350 calories during the match. But then with the final whistle it was all over, both sides claimed a point, and our rival clans reunited and were a single indoor soccer team once again.
To watch USA-Algeria, however, I wasn’t with anybody. My Friggin’ Awesome Wife was at work and my daughter Kiki was attending a summer studies camp. It was just me, Max the Kitty, and the commentary of Ian Darke and John Harkes. There was nobody to “one up” and still, without a second thought, I put on the kit and draped the scarf over my head. It was automatic, like turning the television on. We often hear about the superstitious rituals players subscribe to for success or to ensure a favorable result. Just as powerful and just as real are the superstitions the fans also obey. When I emailed my boss and mentioned the “…the cosmic soccer quantum physics karmic balance…” that tells us “…by watching the match in real time we can affect the outcome…” I wasn’t just adding a humorous quip to win over a late start to the day. I totally believe it. I could buy myself a LOT of hours of sleep during the BPL season by setting the DVR and watching three hours after the match has been played, but there is something not quite right about knowing the result exists out there and seeing after the fact. So I dutifully clamor out of bed at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. on the weekend to watch my team and hope my trans-Atlantic energy and good vibes somehow span the planet and help my squad win.
And so it was that I found myself alone in my living room on a Wednesday morning when I was usually parked in front of my computer, laying out an MRI exam room for a new hospital or ensuring exhaust ducts fit around structural beams. As I’m sure you well know, my side had their opportunities to rejoice and grouse. An early Algerian strike rattled the crossbar. A twentieth minute goal ruled offsides. Promising build-up play ending in their keeper’s hands. Over and over again. Enthusiasm turned to optimism, which turned to patient hope and then anxiety. My scarf dropped into my mouth and I chewed uncertainly as my right foot blasted out the staccato techno beat only I could hear. I could feel my heart in my chest almost as if I was playing in the 85th minute, not just watching. “C’mon boys…c’mon boys…[Bleep!] Pass the [bleep!]ing ball!” It should be noted that Max the Kitty had abandoned me somewhere around the seventieth minute, his mostly nocturnal lifestyle greatly distraught by my rowdy protestations and exclamations of frustration at unsuccessful free kicks. Darke announced that there would be four extra minutes and that that should give the US some hope. Indeed it did, but my trans-Atlantic karma was failing, it seemed. The right foot started to slow to 150 BPM…100 BPM. A stray thought about a reflected ceiling plan I needed to redraw at work flickered in my mind.
And then it happened. The Goal. It was for me the emotional equivalent of the adrenaline-shot-straight-to-the-heart scene from “Pulp Fiction” and I was Uma Thurman. I don’t believe the Wordsmith blogging program allows me to make a font big enough to capture the magnitude of the word “YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!” that I screamed in utter hysteria as Donovan slid toward the corner flag. I screamed until I couldn’t hold the word any longer and then, involuntarily, I screamed it again. And again. I screamed until I saw little floaty sparkles around my eyes. Somehow, the remote control smashed onto the floor, disgorging the batteries wildly into the fireplace. I’m pretty sure it still works, but in all fairness, any channel requiring me to push “0″ may be a little tricky to access. The black Ottoman that serves as the coffee table ended up on its side. I started gasping as tears started to form in my eyes but I simply could not stop screaming. There have been two times in my life when I couldn’t control my body: Once after an avalanche in British Columbia while trying to climb Mt. Garabaldi when my legs simply refused to stop walking ahead and June 23rd at approximately 8:50 a.m. when the US netted in added time.
It took about a minute to regain some semblance of composure–and find my shirt, which somehow had come off in the previous goal celebration enthusiams. (Don’t ask. I don’t know either.) With crossed fingers and toes I watched the time run out and with the final whistle, I slumped happily back onto the overturned Ottoman. I turned the television off, threw my black turtleneck over my USMNT kit–black turtlenecks being the official unofficial uniform of architectural design professionals–and drove happily to the office. My co-workers greeted me with smiling eyes over the cubicle partitions as I made my way to my desk; I, in turn, greeted them with a resounding chorus of “USA! USA!” and got laughs from halfway across the building. We talked about the game for ten minutes, all morning, I can’t remember and as I clicked on my computer to get to work on that pesky reflected ceiling plan, I smirked to myself and ripped off the black turtleneck to reveal the US kit…and although it was still two days out from Casual Friday, nobody said a word.
How about you, Weekend Warriors? Is watching your favorite football club as dramatic an experience for you as it is for me? What little superstitions or rituals do you observe to guarantee your team’s success? What random acts of fandom characterize your time at the stadium or in front of the television? I’d love to hear your stories and anecdotes…
[Note: The guy in the picture? Totally not me. I don't have an awesome soccer ball hat...]
Most of the year–actually, most of every three years and eleven months–I don’t have much to add the good old water cooler chitty-chat at the office. I never got into watching “Lost”, so I didn’t have any new insights or conspiracy theories to throw into the series finale work discussion. Same with “Survivor” or “American Idol” or anything vaguely classified as “reality television”…just never watched ‘em. My indifference to baseball and basketball pretty much rules me out of World Series talk or March Madness brackets. Golf? No thanks. So with the exception of the Super Bowl and the once-a-year snowstorm that brings the Rose City to a standstill, I usually miss out on all of the usual office talk while people are filling their coffee cups or raiding the doughnut box.
Well, with one notable exception: The World Cup.
Once every four years, I get to be “one of the guys”. I get to hang around the proverbial water cooler–which, in my architecture office, is actually the sink next to the coffee maker in the break room–and for a magical thirty days I get to be The King. People working on other design projects and not directly involved with my team may linger a little longer at my cubicle. Co-workers will ask me if I saw this match or that goal. Hey, Sean, who is that player that they keep talking about on the television? And for four weeks, they’ll actually care when I tell them!
My love of the Beautiful Game within my office is well known. My cubicle practically screams footy everywhere you look: Portland Timber bobbleheads. FC77 Rangers Calendar of Awesomeness. A micro-foosball table next to my construction hard hat. A bunch of “Get Fuzzy” comic strips that reference Hartlepool United FC and City. An old soccer calendar photo of a guy taking a free kick with the caption: WE ALL HAVE DREAMS. MINE IS TO DESTROY YOURS. A Magic-8 ball that is painted like a soccer ball that predicts footballing fortunes when I shake it and look at the bottom. My men’s recreational soccer team crest is my screen-saver when I’m not working in AutoCAD. It’s all crammed in my 8′-6″ x 6′-6″ work space. If I come to work with a limp, people have a 99.4% chance of correctly guessing how I got it. However, most everybody else in my firm doesn’t share my
enthusiasm irrational rabid passion for the sport. Given the dearth of media coverage soccer generally gets (and yes, this is improving), the game–and thus, me–are generally easy to ignore for most of the year. And the next two years after that…and the ten-eleven months thereafter.
But in my office, World Cup is Seanny Time! I mean, I always get along with everybody but over the next few weeks I anticipate being the belle at the ball. Hey, Seanny, are you going to watch the USA and England match? Seanny, are you going to wear your soccer shirt when the US plays? If the US gets into the quarterfinals, are you going to go crazy? Answers: Yes…yes…and most definitely yes. My co-worker from Berlin, let’s call her Gabriele for this post, already asked me to join an online World Cup contest sponsored by a German architecture website. I can’t understand 90% of it! But who cares? It’s awesome! I look forward to emails and voice mails from engineering consultants and product vendors wanting to talk soccer shop before trying to sneak in work shop plugs. So I will. I may not get the golf tournament invitations anymore…because I suck at golf and if I’m going to be playing a game with a ball on grass, I want someone sliding in…but for a few weeks in June and July I’ll get the mention.
It really isn’t that I’m so desperate for attention, honest. It’s just nice to feel included in the general group conversation every once in a while. And it will last pretty much every day through the group stages and on until the US finishes our run or until Brazil plays their last match or the final. There will be water cooler questions about hooliganism and those funny horns and which team does that Clint guy play for and penalty shoot-outs and head-butts and bicycle kicks and so much more. People will linger by my desk when I have deadlines approaching and ask me things when I’m trying to get out the door to a meeting. Consultants will call with questions when I’m secretly trying to match track during lunch. Fellow fans will heckle poor results with #$&&*@!!! ALL CAP EMAILS!!! and snarky posts on my Facebook wall. It will be equal parts madness and thrills but it will never be dull. It’s an American soccer fanatic’s lot in life: Years of famine followed by one glorious feast. Our fifteen minutes of fame spread over thirty days. Our calling and my sickness.
Two days after the final whistle, I can almost guarantee the water cooler talk will be about no-hitters and handicaps and “Weather hot enough for you?”
So enjoy it while it lasts.
…I did remember to bring my player card, didn’t I?…I hope they mowed the pitch and the grass isn’t too long…The game is at 4:00 P.M., right? Yes, the schedule clearly says 4:00 P.M….Man, that would totally suck if the league changed the start time and I didn’t notice it…Got jerseys? Check…Even though we are the away side, I should have brought the corner flags and nets just in case the other team forgot…I wonder if that new guy is going to be at the match today…I did tell everybody to show up at 3:30, didn’t I? Yeah, I remember sending the email…Let’s see, it is 2:30 now, so even if traffic is really slow through the tunnel and getting onto I-84 is bad I should still get to the field with, um, fifty minutes to spare…I hope that isn’t cutting it too close…My wallet did have my player card, didn’t it?…Oh, I like this song!…”He scores, oh, what a finish!”…Did I stuff the roster into my bag? Or did I put it with the jerseys? Bag–definitely bag…Maybe it is with the jerseys…I should pull over and double check…Duh, it is right here in my bag…Do I need to fill up with gas? No, I should be fine to get to the game and back…Is that a game ball I hear rolling around in the back?…I really should wash the inside of the Escape out…Is that my phone?…Oh, wait, I can’t legally answer my cell phone when I drive in Oregon anymore…I wonder if I can look at the phone and get pulled over for a ticket or if I actually need to be using the phone?…Is that my phone ringing? I thought it was set to vibrate…What if one of my guys needs a ride and I don’t answer the phone until I get to the field and then I’m too far away to come back and pick them up?…I should ignore the phone-like sound coming from my gym bag…I should pull over and check to see if that is my phone…Can I pull over here?…OK, so that was not my phone ringing…Will this guy let me merge back onto the freeway?…KISS MY ASS, BUDDY!…Wouldn’t that be ironic if that guy was on the other team?…Was it my indoor soccer player card I have in my wallet or was it my outdoor league card?…I’m sure it was the right card…Those mud stains didn’t come out of the yellow kits from the scrimmage last weekend…We should totally get dark jerseys some day…Black jerseys would look killer…Now THAT is definitely my cell ringing…Oh, it is just “Viva la Vida” on the radio and not my ringtone…Man, I hope we win today…What time is it now, 2:45?…Did I take ibuprofen before I left?…OH MY GOD I FORGOT MY BOOTS!…Oh, there they are on the seat…Crisis averted…I hope [Player Name Removed to Maintain Privacy] shows up today as it has been a while since I’ve seen him…I can’t believe United didn’t win this morning…Please don’t let us get killed today…”I get knocked down, but I get up again! You’re never gonna’ keep me down!”…I did put the pitch keys in my pocket, right?…Crisis averted…I think grape flavored Powerade is pretty tasty…If every single guy on the team showed up, I’m pretty sure I’d have enough shirts to go around…I should have quadruple-checked the start time before I left the house because that would be friggin’ awful to get there and find out the match was at 2:00 and not 4:00…I hope Kiki plays well in her game today…You know what would be totally awesome? If they would play recreational soccer divisional championship matches at PGE Park before a Timbers match. I know it is not practical in any way, shape, or form, but it would still be really cool…I’d really like to score today…I hope the Port-O-Potty got delivered this week…If I start [Player Name Removed to Maintain Privacy] as a holding middie, should I then use [Player Name Removed to Maintain Privacy] as a reserve or as a striker?…My left ankle is still a bit sore…Is it weird that at age 39-1/2 years I still get pre-match jitters like I did in the third grade?…”We’ve got the world in motion and I can’t believe it’s true”…I wish my dad could still see me play…Did I email [Player Name Removed to Maintain Privacy] and tell him what time the match was going to start?…Is that rain? In Oregon? That’s crazy!…Seanny, you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and dog gone it, people like you!…I did get all of the kits out of the dryer, didn’t I?…Black jerseys would definitely be bad ass…Almost there, I can see all of the cars parked along the street…”You’re going home/You’re going home/You’re going home in a f**king ambulance!”…Oh, man, I have to park like three blocks away!…Get your head in the game, Seanny!…Are you ready for some football?!…”Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht, neun, zehn! Augen-auf ich komme!”…GAME ON BABY!!!
…I better check and make sure that player card really is in my wallet, after all…
Firstly, let me clarify that the sign pictured at left is not actually in my house. Yet.
It starts simply enough. You go see a match and maybe you pick up a program. Perusing the pages as you amble toward your seat, maybe you decide to get a scarf or a big foam finger to wave at the opposition in fervid defiance. Other programs follow and perhaps at some point, your favorite midfielder signs one. A buddy at school or work hears you like soccer and brings in some “old stuff I got when I was a kid” that they don’t want anymore…and you recognize an autograph in the corner as a current Premiership player. Eventually your birthday comes along and you get a team shirt to celebrate another year older and wiser. A couple of cool footy posters eventually find their way into your possession and maybe, just maybe, you chance upon a player from your local club and get a picture snapped with him. Well, something like that needs a frame so you can
gloat proudly remember the occasion. The new away and alternate third jerseys join the wardrobe, as do ticket stubs and buttons and club stickers and a well worn copy of Hornby’s Fever Pitch. Your little pile of soccer stuff grows into quite the collection until one day, looking at the now overflowing mountain of memorabilia in the back of your closet, you realize that you really should have a dedicated space to keep all this stuff.
[Editor's Note: This post was originally going to be entitled "Poor Form", but that headline didn't really jump off the page, so I went with Plan B. The scatological references and humor will be kept to an absolute minimum, I assure you.]
“What goes around, comes around.” It’s a motto, it’s a cliche, it’s a mantra…it is also, apparently, a song by Justin Timberlake. I did not know that. It probably applies to a lot of aspects of life, but since this is a blog about recreational football, let’s focus our attentions on that. I’m not especially superstitious. I don’t generally go out of my way to poke Providence in the eye or unnecessarily tempt Fate but time and time again I seem to notice the…circular?…nature of life and, on a different scale, football to boot. I’ve seen it in the loud-mouth player on the opposite team who likes to trash talk for the entire first half and then mysteriously pulls up with a hamstring strain around the 60th minute. I’ve seen it in the quiet utility player who never, ever complains about playing the positions nobody else wants to all season long and then finds himself wide open on the far side of the box for a spectacular finish. I’ve seen it in the midfielder who desperately wants to keep playing but knows it is the fair thing to sub themselves off so another guy can play, so he does…and then comes back on to make a vital slide tackle late in the match. It’s the guy who kicks the ball out of play when the other team’s stopper rolls his ankle and then gets a hero run at their keeper. It’s the gal who dribbles half the length of the pitch and gets the assist instead of dragging her shot wide.
“You want to come to my game?”
It’s a simple enough question. Just seven monosyllabic words requiring a yes or no answer, usually asked on a weekend morning a few hours ahead of an adult recreational football match. I’m usually thinking about scheduling for the day–is my daughter going to come with me to the pitch or is she doing something with my wife instead? The domestic lives of middle-aged couples and their children are fraught with scheduling pitfalls and making sure everybody is where they need to be in a timely matter is often an art and a science. But sometimes, instead of emphasizing the first word “You” to make it a direct question, I find myself emphasizing the second word “want” in the form of a surprised rebuttal. Because when I look outside and see dark Oregon skies dumping cold Oregon rain onto a muddy Oregon field, I am often amazed that anyone would willingly want to come out and do anything for themselves much less watch somebody else do something.
But such is the lot of recreational football fans.
For as those of us who play know all too well, there aren’t many of them. As supporters of football, our tribe is five billion strong. We sing for club and chant for country and our voices–especially in World Cup years–fill stadia. American soccer fans, although not quite as numerous, are still very passionate about their teams and show up to cheer in throngs of up to 60,000+ depending upon the event. College and high school contests still can also draw hundreds, sometimes thousands for a match and even the local microsoccer jamboree will have hordes of parents, video cameras in tow and comfortably ensconced in their camp chairs, lining the sidelines to yell and encourage. But if you keep playing long enough, the touchlines grow more and more threadbare until you find yourself on a pitch with twenty-two other people…including the referee. The fans are gone. The sounds of enthusiastic claps and cheers you remembered from your U-10 days are replaced by the sounds of a backfiring muffler on the street and some punk-ass kid shouting “Soccer is for [homophobic expletive deleted]!”
You get used to empty sidelines and so it always surprises me a little bit when the question of whether my wife and daughter really want to watch my match is answered in the affirmative. “You do?” It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does. Families support each other and so it makes sense that if (a) we go to little Kiki’s game or gymnastics meet and, (b) if Kiki and I watch my wife sing with her band, then (c) it should follow they would come make the 35 minute drive across Portland to watch me kick it out for 90 minutes.
But it still surprises me. On a nice spring day, my club Rangers can get maybe ten or twelve out to watch. Sure, several of those fans are toddlers and there is a playground right next to the Powell Street End goal, but whatever. On a rainy day, maybe there are two or three…mostly kids who had to come with their dad for purposes of child care. The fall season will get us maybe ten fans all season but in all fairness, it does rain a lot. I think that is fairly typical for this age and this sport. There are a few squads who show up at our pitch in a motley caravan of minivans and SUVs, disgorge a fair number of “away supporters” and enjoy a good cheer. I’m torn between enjoying the match camaraderie and having somebody else’s wife yell that I just fouled her man. I’ve often wondered as I go sliding into said husband/midfielder for a tackle, Is this fun for those fans? Do you look forward to this or is it something you do because you have to, like taking out the garbage or flossing? [Editor's note: Technically, I'm not thinking that when I'm actually making the tackle, but more like after the match when we are doing the traditional "Good game...good game" handshake. Usually during the challenge, I'm thinking "AAAAIIIRRRGGHHH!!!"] Are these people on the sidelines really fans or bemused hostages to weekend scheduling conspiracies?
I asked my daughter Kiki if she liked coming to Daddy’s games. My daughter is sharp as a tack at the tender age of nine.
“Umm…why are you asking?”
“I’m blogging to my global audience of (ahem)
millions thousands maybe two dozen. I was wondering if you really like Daddy’s team. You know, do you think you are a fan.”
There was a pause. “Yes.” Another pause followed, then, in an almost robotic voice: “I like it a lot.” I think she was on to the fact that I was fishing for a quote. “Yes, I like it a lot.”
“Because you are a great player,” she continued with Robby the Robot-like inflection. “You are so awesome–”
My journalistic credibility was blown. “OK, that’s cool. Thanks.”
So then I asked my wife if she liked to come watch me play. I was pleasantly surprised by her answer. “Baby, I’d bleed yellow and black (my team colors) for you! There is nothing on earth that I live for than to watch you crush the opposition in those hot adidas shorts! When I hear other wives boo or jeer I want to go rip off their heads and bludgeon all of their substitutes to a mangled pulp with it! I WANNA BE AN FC RANGER! I WANNA WATCH THEM PLAY WITH DANGER! RAAANNNNGGGEEERRS!” Then she head-butted the cat and set fire to the neighbor’s car. [Editor's note: Well, she may not have said that exactly, but I'm sure she was thinking it...on some level. Ahem.]
Let me try that again. Ahem. So I asked my wife if she liked to come watch me play. I was pleasantly surprised by her answer. “Of course.” It isn’t boring for you? “No.” There was a bit of surprise in her voice, as in, why would you even ask me this question? I know that free time for both of us is a premium and the four hours I spend driving to and from the pitch and then to play is a precious commodity that could be spent exercising or napping or Super-poking friends on Facebook…but instead, most of the time, she chooses to spend it with me. That’s pretty cool. She is the team’s unofficial photographer/videographer. She unofficially keeps an eye on the other small children who occasionally come to watch and acts as the playground monitor when they migrate to the other side of the chain link fence to play. She doesn’t have to, but she does. And she done it on scorching hot June afternoons when the artificial turf radiates back at 100+ degrees…on miserable rainy autumn mornings…and (bless her heart) during the now infamous 15 degree (before wind chill!) division championship last December that gusted with 30 mile per hour winds. Really, unless Kiki has a match conflict or something at church requires her attention, she usually grabs the camp chair and hops along for the ride.
That is more than a fan. That is more than a team manager. That’s my friggin’ awesome wife.
So for all of you Weekend Warriors out there who are fortunate enough to have fans/a fan cheer you on at the local park pitch on even a semi-regular basis, tell them thanks. Ours is a global game we play but sometimes it can feel a little lonely out on the field. One lone voice shouting “Nice kick!” can make it feel a lot bigger.