It’s that time of year again. The days are shorter and cooler. Nottingham Forest are flirting increasingly outrageously with relegation. And New Zealand’s grassroots winter football season has kicked off again. And so, taking its cue from the resurrection of Jesus at the end of this Easter weekend, comes the resurrection of in-the-back-of-the.net’s Diary of a Social Footballer, an occasionally irreverent look at what it’s like to admire the beautiful game by playing it.
One of the many things that bemused me about Wayne Rooney’s second autobiography*, apart from the fact someone thought a twenty-one-year-old footballer had anything of substance to say at all, never mind in book-length form, was his reflecting on his need to take ice baths after games after developing various aches and pains post-match:
But now that I’m in my mid-twenties, played my first game of the season last week and consequently spent the last few days walking with the grace and guile of a new-born giraffe freeing itself from the remnants of its amniotic sac, I sort of know how he feels.
“I’ve started doing something that I’d never done before … About a month ago I began getting into an ice-cold bath straight after a game … It’s usually been the senior players who take these baths, old pros like Gary, Olly, Giggsy, Scholesy, not the younger, dead fit players like me and Ronny [Cristiano Ronaldo] … At the age of 21, it’s clear what’s happening. I’ve become a veteran.”
When your preseason consisted mostly of sitting at a computer frantically finishing a thesis, interspersed with the occasional five aside game, you aren’t going to be in the best physical form for your first game. Mentally, you’re also selling yourself short: it’s hard to get revved up to play your first games when you know you aren’t as sharp as perhaps you should be – or, at least, as you expect yourself to be. The disconnect between what you want to do (and therefore what you think you can do), and what you can actually do on the pitch is starker than usual.
In my mind’s eye I’m rifling shots into the top corners, splitting defences with clever passes and generally making a nuisance of myself for opposition defenders. In practice, however, I’m holding onto the ball a touch too long and getting hustled off it, over-hitting the through balls, and rushing my shots. But it takes time to settle into a new season with a new team and slightly new position. Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on myself. I’ve scored a few goals, we’ve had some good wins and we’re top of the table.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at here is the gap that opens up between doing your job for the team, and feeling in your gut when you come off the pitch that you’ve played well. The full-time score might suggest one game, but reflecting on your own performance later often reveals a different one. Football, of course, is a team game, and you’re only as good as what you can achieve as a collective. But as an individual player, you’re acutely aware of when you feel you aren’t contributing your best to this collective. And it rankles. It might be minor, it mightn’t actually matter with respect to the final result, but it’s there.
So the social footballer has some work to do. Fitness work and more time on the training pitch won’t go amiss – and, hopefully, no longer will my shots. Rooney can keep his ice baths though.
*In my defence, I only bought the book because I’d missed my ferry home and was desperate for something, anything to read.
Categories: Diary of a Social Footballer
Waiheke Islander currently in exile in Wellington. Supporter of Nottingham Forest and England, through thick and thin (there's been plenty of that). As a player is somewhat averse to the offside rule.