Having just seen El Clasico, read all about the Raiders's impressive showing in Manila, and being presently stuck between a cancelled Sunday game and a cancelled training session thanks to the snowfall, this seems about as good a point as any to reflect on the way my own amateur football involvement has been going.
Rewind a little and Floyd's acupuncturist told me I should wait about a year before "returning to the bench" in December last year. He also mentioned during one of the 3 $50 sessions I attended that the healing process was based around 50% dietary, 20% exercise related, 20% pills intake and 10% down to his methods. There left me little doubt that I wasn't going to keep paying $50 twice weekly when I could stop eating sugar and boozing and improve my condition for free. Not that I was ever going to do either of those. Although I now take milk and just the one sugar in my tea instead of two.
Anyway, playing in goals for Raiders towards the end of my time in VN gave me a taste again and the confidence that I could get back involved in football without risking my leg for a third time. I had toyed with the idea of doing some refereeing, but I thought there was still some game time left in me yet.
I had a look on Gumtree for clubs needing a goalkeeper during pre season and emailed a couple. Links Utd, the first one to get back to me invited me along to a training session which was largely pre-season running. Having purposefully avoided pounding tarmac with my twice broken leg, this run up and around Arthur's seat was torture and only the last 5 minutes was in any way related to my skills or development. We had a game that midweek which I featured for the last 20 minutes after their existing keeper had ruined his clean sheet by trying to dribble round a striker, and managed to keep the score at 2-1.
However the intense pre season fitness schedule meant that I was burdened with pain at the site of my recovering double fracture and I skipped a couple of training sessions, only managing to make another 20 minute substitute appearance for them. It turned out there were 3 different keepers in the frame for the team and I wasn't feeling confident enough in my leg strength to battle it out for a starting slot.
Subsequently I was prepared to content myself with pick up games of 7's or whatever I could get with friends. However, after a 5's tournament with an ex-colleague, I was forwarded an email appealing for a half-decent 'keeper from another ex-colleague, and went along to one of their pre-season friendlies to see the existing 'keeper blunder his way through the second half to lose them the game 6-5.
This was my number 1 shirt. There was no able competition and an agreement that I train when I could. After a single training session, we had the opening game of the season and earned a 4-2 victory at or home ground. I played well, bookmarked www.justkeepers.com and loaded up my credit card.
Unfortunately, a couple of months later, we haven't won a game since and my performances have been somewhat less impressive, masked by the fact that we have only been scoring a goal a game, and not really threatening to beat anyone. We should really be a solid mid-table outfit, but have been left with 5 points out of 6 games due to ill-discipline, an inability to deal with the long ball and laziness.
My leg has turned a corner and I rarely feel leg pain anymore, only wincing occasionaly when performing twisting landings, so I have been training nearly every week. I have been picking up new injuries more frequently than I would like but that's something I'm having to accept as par for the course now.
There is a small Spanish contingent in our squad, and they introduced a goalkeeper who came along and impressed during the same training session that I nearly broke some fingers. He then got his chance in the weekend game where we had played for 87 minutes with 10 men after another debutant was dismissed for a headbutt, and despite taking a 2-0 lead, we drew 2-2 against an inferior side. He has since been unable to play or train due to his work commitments and I have not lost the jersey.
My expectations of this league were of aging squads, a lot of on field hostility and dirty challenges. What has been surprising is the youthfulness of most of these teams. The more senior players have been a lot calmer, less prone to go into savage challenges, which would prolong their playing careers.
Compared to Vietnam (which will inevitably evoke a wave of sentimentality for SRFC), we only have a referee, so offside calls are dubious and don't help my teams attitude to the validity of long ball tactic that opposing teams invariably adopt. I have played 6 games and spectated at one where I was injured, and there has not been a single photo taken. Team spirit is conspicuous by it's absence. And we are facing a winter shutdown because the snow has arrived. Our captain has walked out on us because he felt unappreciated for taking the team in the absence of the main two in charge.
So the focus is now on playing well personally, enjoying my football, avoiding injury and identifying an 11's team in San Jose.