Monday 6 September 2010

Me? I care too much

In the last couple of months, I have played a lot of football. Not very well, of course. Were we to split teams the way we did as kids, by having two unofficial captains take their pick one after the other, I’d definitely be among the last players chosen. Probably the last.
I’m spared this ignominy, but not the constant reminders of my lowly stature once we kick off. An opponent nutmegs me derisively, a teammate shakes his head with a mixture of disbelief and pity after I mis-control a ball played to my feet, and refuses to pass to me for the rest of the game.
I have little inborn sporting ability - ball sense, hand-eye co-ordination, anticipation, athleticism. Having played a lot of it as a kid, I became a decent enough cricketer to open the batting in unorganised tennis-ball games (and the odd inter-department match in college). This may not sound like much, but had my batting technique remained at the level of my footballing technique, I’d have been one of the kids who batted in the tail and didn’t bowl at all.
With football, which I played little of growing up, it’s different. I often feel I don’t belong, even among portly, chain-smoking chaps a decade older than me.
A lot of bad footballers are in it for a laugh. Me? I care too much. I can’t even countenance the idea of playing in goal, where I won’t be expected to be any good anyway, and where I’d be looked at gratefully for relieving someone else of the need to perform this unwanted task. No, I want to be in the thick of the action. I want to exert my influence on the game. I cannot shut up.
I point at people, point at where I’d like them to be. I holler on about fanciful ideas like playing a high back-line or using the width of the pitch. I yell at teammates to track back, even when I know that I, possessing the turning radius of a beached whale and the first touch of a combine harvester, have no business telling them what to do.
I am ignored. And, I guess, endured. Laughed at when I’m not around, if people talk about me at all.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be good at football. To make the ball bend to your will. To have gotten rid of the fear of having the ball at your feet. To be able to look up and look around the field with the ball at your feet, and make instinctive decisions about what to do with it, unmindful of all the players closing you down, narrowing your field of vision, getting in your face.
I haven’t achieved this state even in my dreams. The only football dreams I have had involve the game bypassing me entirely as I stand frozen in the middle of the pitch, feet flailing about helplessly, failing even once to connect with the ball. I make out indistinct, angry shouts, which I suppose issue from my teammates, and then nothing, as panic shuts down my hearing.
 Motorvoetbal /  Soccer on motorbikes
That's how I feel with the ball at my feet (Soccer on motorbikes on the football pitch of Crystal Palace in London, England 1923. Photo: Nationaal Archief, Flickr)
And because I’m so bad, I remember each of my unexpected successes vividly.
First goal? I am about 11 or 12; I’m playing with my classmates. The ball stops next to me, for some reason, and I have my back to the goal, which is about ten yards away. I turn around, and smack the ball blindly, as hard as I can, and it sort of sneaks between the unsuspecting keeper (who only had to stretch out his left arm a bit to palm it wide) and the near post.
I can explain to you, with aid of a badly drawn diagram, how I once made the most delicate chipped pass over the last defender (in a game of beach football with no goalkeeper) that a teammate ran on to and stroked home gleefully. It was so unexpected that no one believed I intended it. You only have my word - delivered in a whiny, earnestly schoolboyish tone - against the scornful rebuttals of those who witnessed it, if they remember at all.
Why would they? They probably don’t remember their own transcendental moments the way I do. I can remind T of that ludicrous lob he scored with on the school ground in seventh standard, or A of the through-ball he played to B a couple of years ago, with me looking on from outside, unable to play thanks to a twisted ankle. If I ever see him again - I’ve only met this friend of a friend twice, seven years ago - I’ll ask S to demonstrate the kicking technique he used when he smacked in one of those long-range goals that sends Andy Gray tumbling off his chair.
They’ll look at me pityingly and wonder what I’m going on about. For them, it’s a game they happen to be good at. Me? I care too much. I want to be player-manager and implement in our weekly kickabouts the 3-3-1-3 formation Louis van Gaal used at Ajax. 

6 comments:

Jala Bula Jux said...

Awesome one da Karthik! Am I the A you are talking about here? Perhaps not, I can't recollect who B was.

Ghanshyam Nair said...

You are, machan. You are. B is Balaji. You remember? At Soma?

J B Jux said...

Ah yes, Balaji!

oof ya! said...

can i just say that your post applies to me and paired with every single sport on this planet :P thank you for the words :-)

tandeep said...

//I can remind T of that ludicrous lob he scored with on the school ground in seventh standard//

you talking about me man? loved the post.. it does show how much u care about the game.. your love for football exudes in the post.. gosh i do miss those games..

Ghanshyam Nair said...

@Tandeep,
Good to see you here, mate! Yes, it's you I refer to. Do you remember the goal?