Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We go back a while

My first soccer was played in the form of One-Bounce. Standing outside the back door of the Hankey Golf Club with ten of the caddies. I had a ball and they had skills. We couldn’t have been more than nine.
There are a lot of thorns in that area. It’s near Thornhill after all. So my ball was soon punctured. A handsome one with red-and-white panels that we’d brought back from Germany, at least we got a good afternoon’s play out of it.
There was a time at primary school when soccer enjoyed a brief flowering of popularity too. Probably the summer of standard three. John Nel was the best at dodging during touch rugby, and indeed he was the best at dribbling too. He would score the goals, and Jonathan Barlett executed the first slide tackles I ever saw.
The next summer holiday I was sent to a football training clinic at the Westbourne Oval. I’d broken my collarbone in an under-nines rugby match against Altona, and my mom might have been hoping I’d change codes.
Sadly, my few weeks of soccer experience were no match for the other boys there. They’d all been playing for the Callies club in Sunridge Park. I didn’t actually understand open-field football. I’d never seen it played. I ended up doing dribbling drills around some cones while the other boys played a match.
The next year. I went back to rugby and stayed there.
By the time I got to university, the skills deficit was massive. I played one res football game for a lark and scored a goal from the edge of the box. But I knew it was a fluke, so I left it. It was all about surfing those days.
It continued to be about surfing until the inevitable, dreaded day of the move to Joburg. There would not be much surfing after that…
Not much rugby either. You can get hurt doing that.
I’d been going to the old Health & Racquet Club for a few years, so gym it was. At the Cresta Virgin Active. A bit of cardio, a circuit and some treadmill.
The year after I arrived, 2003 or so, my company joined Johannesburg’s Corporate Soccer League. The FHM Pumas.
In Joburg the boys all play soccer at primary school, so I again found myself with a skills gap. I was sent to play defender, left back, with the following orders: “Just kick it out. As hard as you can.”
I’m still playing there, at left back. Same strategy. Kick it out.
I’ve gradually come to accept that despite the rugby, the surfing, the gym and all the other sports I’ve played and supported, football has also been there.
So as I settle in to watch the World Cup final, I’m doing it because I’m a footballer myself. I only realized that the other day.
That’s the thing with football. You reconnect. You cross paths again after several years and carry on where you left off, like old friends.


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