More than a game

This is me, after my latest soccer game.  There’s a reason you’re only seeing my legs, and it’s not for anonymity, it’s because my legs tell the story of the game.  You see, I’m the goalie, and my socks wouldn’t still be this white if my defense hadn’t played a helluva game.  Well, my whole team played really well, actually, the ball hardly came to me at all.  I think I might have had two actual saves in the whole stinkin game.  After a while, I was seriously hoping someone would fall over or fuck up so the opposition could come dashing through and make a play on me.  And then I could make a heroic save, of course.  But I’d never utter that wish outloud during a game, not with my team trying so hard to keep my socks clean.

This season I stopped two shots with my face, one coming through my gloved hands, both knocked me to the ground and out for a second or two.  We’ve had better seasons, this year we finished in the middle of the league.  And even though it gets harder to recover from games, and sometimes we only play with 9 on our side, I love this game.  When I step onto the pitch, I feel like a kid.  There’s mud to play in, puddles to stomp and people to knock over… what’s not to love?

I’ve been playing soccer for about 20 years.  I started as an adult, when I was 24, and was introduced to the local women’s recreational league by some co-workers.  Over the years I’ve made lots of friends and played countless hours of soccer.  I started out in goal (on my first team, that’s where I could do the least damage while learning the game), moved to defense and played center fullback for years.  I’m back in goal again and will probably be there until I can’t play anymore.  I’ve traveled out of town and out of state and even out of the country to play in tournaments.  The farthest I’ve ever traveled in my life was to Sydney, Australia, to play soccer in the 2002 Gay Games.  I’ve got a partially reconstructed knee courtesy of soccer.  And when we start our spring soccer season next year, I’ll be 45.

Does that seem old to you?  When I look at the number, it seems kinda old.  I certainly would have believed so when I started playing, way back then.  I can remember being a young buck, enthusiastic, inexperienced, aggressive.  After a few seasons, I really thought I was the shit.  There were some members of my first team with more experience, older players, players I was certain to out run, out last and out play.  What I didn’t realize in my youthful arrogance was that if you can outwit, you don’t need to run as much or expend as much energy.  I clearly remember being schooled by an older player (she was probably over 40).  We were playing a practice game and I was defending her.  I came rushing up, probably laughing, having a good time playing in the sun with my friends.  With a few deft moves, she was past me and working her way toward the goal.  I was left in her wake, shaking my head and chuckling at my hubris.  It was a lesson I would learn over and over until I was an older fart doing the same thing to younger players.  At some point, it became obvious that, although it was fun to play balls-out hard, I wasn’t going to be able to keep up that level of energy for a whole game anymore.  I needed to be crafty, play smarter, not harder.  In just a few seasons of working my craft, I figured out how to evade my opponents instead of just running through them.

At the peak of my soccer playing craft, when I felt the most confidence in my ball handling skills, the ACL in my right knee gave way.  It was at a tournament, during the first game.  I spent most of the year after surgery rehabbing and rebuilding so I could play in the Gay Games.  My knee is fine now, but my game was never the same again.  I can still move the ball pretty well on the field, but the magic I used to feel isn’t quite there anymore. Plus I got older and though I’m probably in the best shape of my life, and can still sprint well, I can’t keep up with the youngins for long on the field.  So I’m in the goal again, using my experience and craftiness to keep my team in the game.  I’m the oldest player on my team, but I’m certainly not the oldest player in our league, and I know there’s an over 50s coed league in the area.  I am constantly inspired by the example of the older women I played against when I was younger, players who held serious, important, mature jobs in their real lives and became years younger when they stepped onto the field and played like goofy kids.  I’m a big believer in athletic pursuits as a way to stay young at heart.

I play with a great group of women, all younger than me by several years, very enthusiastic and hard working, a lot of fun to spend fall and spring Saturday mornings with.  There are women on other teams I’ve known this whole time, as well.  We greet each other as friends and respected adversaries and I think we try a little harder against each other.  Next spring, in late March or early April, I’ll have my 45 year old body with its 30-something attitude, out on a chilly field, standing in front of the net, waiting for the opposition to take its shot at me.  And at some point during that season, there will be an opportunity to get a picture of my legs covered with mud, blood and grass stains… evidence that even an old fart like me has still got game.

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11 Responses to More than a game

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