The Euphoric Return to Form

Well, it lasted ten games in the end, and it wasn’t looking good half way into the eleventh. I’ve already written about the frustration, the blame and the good old rag-losing, but it all changed just after half time.

Sheffield Powerleague division 3. The home of men with footballing brains, sadly coupled with lorry driver’s bodies. The feeling of dread when you catch a first glimpse of the opposition and they are all under 25 years old, and under 12 stone. They don’t belong here. Usually it’s their first season and they have been put in 5-a-side’s equivalent of the remedial class. They’ll be going up at the end of the season, to be replaced by an identical group of tireless athletes with an acceptable height to weight ratio.

I’m only describing the opposition because I want you to know just how special it was for me to hit the back of the net against them. Even if it was only a consolation.

It meant the world to me.

The first half had gone pretty much according to expectations. We were knackered, 4-0 down, and dejected. The opposition were top of the league, having only dropped two points all season (to us, ironically, in a hard fought 4-4 draw). We were third in the league, but the gap between us and the second place team (another set of young lads) was an absolute chasm.

As the whistle blew for the second half, hopes had faded into the distance, and respiratory failure was favourite to take it’s place. A couple of minutes of chasing the ball like weary dogs and using increasingly heavy legs to block an absolute barrage of shots destined for our goal passed. But then something happened.

It probably seemed completely innocuous to any bystander, but it was the start of something good.

Using my last milligram of strength, I intercepted an uncharacteristically lazy pass from one of the opposition.

After what seemed like an eternity of then trying to work out what to do with it, I caught a glimpse of one of the younger, fitter lads on our team making a run down the wing. I turned on it, rolled it into his path, and attempted to make a supporting run.

Unfortunately, due to being 32 years old and 15 stone, my supporting run wasn’t exactly lightening.

But in the end, it didn’t need to be.

Having taken the ball as far as he could, my team mate had to make a decision. Cut inside, or be stuck in the corner. Luckily, he did neither.

He must have sensed my leisurely run down the middle, because he smashed the ball at the boards behind the goal at the perfect angle to make sure the keeper didn’t get it, and to land it somewhere in my path.

What happened next will live forever in my dreams.

The ball was now travelling in slow-motion (it wasn’t, but that’s how I seem to remember it) and my marker was catching up on me fast. It was around two feet in front of me, dropping at around knee height. The goal was around ten feet away. There was only one thing to do.

Smash it on the volley.

Right. I’m sure you all play, or have played in the past, so you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about here. You know when you just catch it right? hit the sweet spot? put your foot through it?

Well that’s what happened.

A right foot volley that anyone would have been proud of (especially me, a left footer) left the instep of my stupidly purple boot, and probably broke the sound barrier before hitting the back of the net.

Bottom right. Keeper had no chance.

And as I wheeled away in celebration, I didn’t really know what to do, so I didn’t really do anything. I know that I had planned my celebrations to the tee, but in the heat of the moment, I think I may have subliminally realised that I’d look ridiculous, because to anybody else, it was just a decent goal in an amateur 5-a-side league. A consolation against the run of play.

But to me, it was a new spark of life.

I’d imagined somersaults and shirt removing, but the reality was a few utterances of “shot” and “nice one” from my team mates as we jogged back into our own half.

But it did raise the team, we played with more effort and conviction than we had at the starting whistle. We believed in ourselves again. We battled for every ball and run like our lives depended on it. We even scored again. This time Yours Truly was the provider. We conceded again on the stroke of full time, but we were leaving the pitch on a high.

We made a game of it.

And perhaps the most meaningful thing was a slap on the back from one of the younger lads on our team as we jogged off.

“Well played” he said “I thought you were getting too old for this!”

Ben Johnson



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