After a ten-month hiatus for numerous reasons I won’t get into at the moment, I finally got back out onto the field to kick around the soccer ball. Or should I say the football. I’ll stick to soccer, because some of my readers over on the other side of the ocean might confuse it, and everyone knows what soccer is. I started playing football at a summer camp when I was eleven years old, and when I returned home I announced to my family that I would be signing up for that sport in the fall. This news was greeted with skepticism by some siblings and outright stupor by others. Murdock boys simply did not play soccer. They wore helmets, a fleet of hard-plastic protection that a stegosaurus would envy, an impenetrable jock-strap and they squatted down and lined up over an imaginary line and crashed into other people who were equipped to do the same in the hopes of pushing each other down a field of perennial ryegrass. But I stuck it out and made a pretty good player of myself by American standards. American standards back in the 1980s, that is. As the Europeans sometimes say: we played soccer, not football.
Nowadays, the national soccer program has done a lot of commendable work to raise the level up to respectable levels, and it hasn’t done to badly. We ran a lot and we kicked the ball a lot but we didn’t really have what it took. And the reason was simple: we barely played the game. Not in our free time at least. We didn’t have the most of the skills it took to understand the inner workings of the sport. For the most part at least. I should know because I see what eight-year-old kids do today and it outclasses anything I ever learned when I was a child. I know what you’re thinking. Old Brian (and I am getting on, that’s true) is ragging on America again, belittling it, and that is simply not true. I mean, you should see the way your average Spaniard throws a football. You practically have to stop them and say, “What are you doing with that thing? It’s not a loaf of bread. Look at it. It went backwards.” That’s because by the time we are eighteen we have tossed a ball to our friends back and forth about 8 million times. They haven’t. They do the same by kicking around a soccer ball about a zillion times. We haven’t. The difference makes all the difference. Practice makes perfect, that’s for sure.
Anyway, I got to the mini 5-on-5 pitch whose surface is notable for its hardness and ability to make falling about as pleasurable as a run-in with a kick boxer. Basically it’s like an outdoor basketball court. I told myself to be careful because it was my first day, and I heeded the warning admirably for about five minutes. Then I started loosening up and was feeling better than I expected, so I thought I could sneak up on an opponent and snatch the ball from him. While he was not looking. I did. But decided to step on the ball instead of push it away. When you put your foot on the surface of the ball it becomes a wheel and it performs this new function very well. Before I knew it, I was on my way to a good tumble. Things went through my mind as I returned to earth. Things that concerned preventing the inevitable. But as I hadn’t planned on sailing irreversibly towards the ground, I had trouble managing the crisis and could only implement my most basic instincts to avert disaster.
I was able to absorb the first shock with the base of my palms but used my chin to do the rest of the work. This technique succeeds in bringing an adult body to a full stop, but it does have its drawbacks, like having to look like a rumble king for the next week.
It was good to be back.