Thursday, May 08, 2008

soccer stories

6:30 p.m. last night. Dithering time.
I had indicated that I would show up for a pickup soccer game over in Riverdale friends had organized, as long as it wasn't pouring rain out. I listened to the number of drops hitting the air conditioner. After contemplation, What would it hurt to drive down to the game site in Riverdale and see if anyone was there? At worst, what would be a week's delay for the first time I would kick a soccer ball in a decade?

***

After discovering I was hopeless at baseball, my parents signed me up for soccer when I was 9. The teams I played for varied in ability - the only incident I remember was a game where I was on defence and wound up being the only one to chase after an opponent on a breakaway, while my fellow defenders carried on a conversation.

The game lost its appeal when Dad forgot that he was supposed to sit on the sidelines, not attempt to coach me in the middle of the action. It may have come unconsciously, since he coached basketball and football. He didn't bark out orders as much in those sports as he did towards me on the soccer field, though he was quieter when my coaches were competent. Three years proved my fill and marked the end of my participation in community sports.

Rarely played soccer in high school, apart from a week of phys. ed. every year. I was odd in that after the mandatory gym class in grade 9 I kept signing up for courses even though I was lousy at most sports (volleyball was the closest I came to mediocrity). I had always liked gym, preferring to play sports over watching them and work in exercise that my couch potato-self rarely undertook outside of that setting. As time wore on paperwork crept into the courses and by grade 12 my marks were higher than several jocks.

I would have continued into OAC but timetables didn't leave space for gym. My weight ballooned that year. Coincidence? Count me in among those who think slashing phys. ed. classes during educational budget cuts is a lousy idea.

***

Arriving around 7:15, I saw a few souls mulling about downhill from my parking spot on Broadview. Seven showed up, with levels of playing experience all over the map. Side-kicking the ball in a circle came back quickly. We played 4-on-3 or 3-on-3 (depending on how one counted the youngest player, who shifted between play and "officiating") and I managed to score the first goal.

I also quickly discovered my stamina level had not improved over the years, due to running too hard off the bat. Slowly my body began to adjust but I suspect I won't be so worn when more players show up and can stay at one end of the field. It was painful at first but ultimately felt refreshing.

***

Along came university and Team Bob. One of the many reasons Guelph proved a wise choice was its extensive intramural sports program. Offering a wide variety of games at varying skill levels, it allowed

Arts House dove in, fielding volleyball, innertube water polo, basketball, broomball and soccer squads at the "fun" level. We'd never win in the athletic sweepstakes, so we aimed to be the silliest team on the field. In soccer, this meant taking the field with black stripes under our eyes and indulging in antics that would have made the Harlem Globetrotters proud.

Team Bob - Soccer Edition
Team Bob in full finery, Fall 1996

Much of the time this was fine with other teams, but there were a few squads who did not belong at our level. Taking the game too seriously when faced with competition like us, these teams ran up the scoreboard. Trying to find pleasure in such situations, we used tactics like huddling around the ball en masse while kicking it up the field or scoring on ourselves. The more humourless the opposition, the goofier our tactics. This led one team to declare "YOU DO NOT RESPECT THE SOCCER! YOU DO NOT RESPECT THE SOCCER!"

Isn't that the reaction a satirist loves?

Later I switched affiliations to the Ontarion's team, who were more competitive but equally as fun. It also helped that our season was before staff relations broke down, which would have made for ugly scenes (teammates spiking each other wouldn't have been farfetched). The staff pics in the frosh issue were shot in soccer gear, though you won't see me as I was hired after the shoot.

***

The rain faded and a misty sunset emerged over the Don Valley Parkway. The Bloor Viaduct had an eerie beauty, from an angle that some of us rarely view. Play continued until dusk, 2-on-2 with a rotating sub, which helped those of us with diminishing energy levels. After packing away the ball, we refueled at a nearby diner.

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