After the big match

January 28, 2008

So we lost. We’re out of the cup. But as the converse of hollow, boring wins, what we did yesterday was fantastic. Taking on a better-prepared, (better-)paid team, we showed up, and gave them one hell of a scare.

Without resorting too much to the world of sour grapes, if a couple of dubious referee’s decisions had gone the other way, I honestly think we could have taken it. We played pretty much according to plan. We were nasty, uncompromising, disruptive, and played in all facets as if we wanted the win more. In the forwards, we dominated everything. In the backs, every man left everything they had on the pitch. I even got to unleash my rapier wit.

As we limped and hobbled our way back to the coach, we did it with the warm glow that not one of us could have done anything more than we had done. We shared a few pints on the way home, in a coach unrecognisable from the one in which we arrived. Everyone was sat together, all having a laugh, all members of a team beaten but unbroken.

I received a text message this morning from a friend asking if I was walking proud or defeated. I replied “Both.”

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It’s the biggest match of the year. We’re a diverse team; some older and some younger. Some short and some tall. Some fat and some thin. Some black and some white. What brings us together is the black and white hooped shirt we wear on a saturday afternoon. In just over two hours we kick off against a team from just up the road, where players are paid formidable amounts of money to play the game we play for free.

Slowly trickling to our home club, we mill around, swapping jokes about last week’s match report, swigging Lucozade, and throwing a ball around. We’re all wearing the team mufti; a black hooded top with the club name and a few logos on. We look good. Like a team.

Some of us are starting to think ahead to the game. On paper, they’re the better players. But we know we’re the better team. Our best hope lies with rattling them a bit. Getting under their skin. If we can put them off their game enough, we’ve got the skill to take them. It’ll be close, but we can do it. We’ve been told we can do it, and we’re starting to believe.

The coach is here. There’s no turning back. Once we’re on, the mood starts to change. Some players quieten down, some become more boisterous. Some lean over the back of chairs to join the banter. Others retreat into the world of their iPods. The King is keeping me mellow as the countryside drifts by the window. I say nothing.

I know my job; it’s a simple one. All I have to do is to be better than my opposite number. I know that he’s out there somewhere thinking the same thing. But I can’t let him. I refuse to let him. My friends on the coach expect this of me, as I expect it from them.

Closer to the match, the coach goes quiet. We want this win, and to get it, we have to concentrate. I look around, into the eyes of my friends. As I look, I see the unification of desire, and of purpose. We all want the same thing, and in just under an hour, will be giving everything we have to get it.

As we pull into the opponents’ club, we stand as one, resolute in our purpose. I know that there’s nowhere else in the world I’d like to be more than where I am right now. I love this game. I bloody love this game.