I enjoy blogging because I enjoy writing. And while inspiration is nice, oftentimes I find myself casting about for something to write. It usually isn’t hard coming up with ideas because I have a lot of interests but it is nice on occasion to write something from the depths of your soul. So it is good that I am late because it gave me the chance to experience something wonderful.
Soccer is one of my all time loves… and one of my vices. I have two of them: motorcycles and soccer. I picked up motorcycles late in life and am ready to get rid of all my cars. Soccer has been with me since 1974 and I have played continuously since that time. Through broken arms, broken ankles, knee surgeries, foot surgeries, and more sprains than one body can hold, it has been a central part of my life. I just love the game. I have coached, and refereed, and watched it on television but none of that compares to joining a dozen-minus-one mates on a pitch and creating art. As of next year I’ll have been playing for 40 years.
I’ve been on a lot of soccer teams and played a lot of soccer games. Because I grew up during a time when soccer wasn’t well known or very well understood, many of the teams were quite forgettable. The fields were even worse. Imagine trying to play basketball on a court covered with rocks. Few times and far between have I had the opportunity to play soccer on a really nice field – we call it a pitch – surrounded by skilled players with no weak positions. In fact, I really don’t think that I’ve ever done that. Despite my decades of practice I’ve never played soccer like the blokes in the Premier League on a pitch like a pool table with mates who can trap and pass and don’t feel it is their job to mindlessly dribble to pad their own egos.
My oldest son has had a much different experience than I had. He never had to endure ridicule from his peers (and occasionally from adults) for the simple fact that he played soccer – though I’ll never understand why they called it a “commie sport.” He also got to play with much, much better players on far better fields. I watched from the stands, or coached from the sidelines, occasionally wishing I’d had the opportunity to play on his teams, or just on his fields. Yet I, and many others, were proud to carry the torch and see soccer grow into what it has become; the most watched and played sport of people between the ages of 12 and 25.
My son’s former club team, they are all in their very early 20’s now, has reformed for the summer and they are returning to a sports festival in Birmingham, Alabama that they won last year. Knowing my love for the game and my skill level, which remains high, my son asked if I’d like to scrimmage with them. Naturally I said I’d be happy to join them as I keep myself quite fit.
The practice game we played tonight was nothing particularly special. The competition was not up to the standards of our team, but competitive all the same. In the end we won handily. But that isn’t what distinguished it as one of the all time best soccer games I’ve ever had the thrill to play in. The weather was… perfect. Seventy-five degrees and fifty percent humidity. Bright sunshine through scattered clouds. It rained last night so the moisture of the grass was, well, perfect, neither wet nor slick, soft and springy but firm beneath. Also, it happened to be the best field in the city, smooth as a golf green so that the ball rolled like a ball is supposed to roll, and settled in the turf perfectly. I was surrounded by skilled, young players – some of the best players I’ve ever had the privilege to play with – who understood the game far better than I at that age. I made a reasonable showing of myself and very nearly scored a goal on a low curling shot from the top of the box that found the woodwork, bounced off the keeper’s chest, and rolled out of bounds.
I’m 47 years old. I must now wear a fancy, high-tech, carbon-fiber brace to keep my knee from exploding. I can still hang with the young kids and my control and touch is perhaps as good as it’s ever been, even if my game speed is down from lack of game time. But how many more chances will I get to play with players like that, on a pitch like that, with weather like that, with my son? I honestly can’t think of that situation returning to me in my lifetime.
We take things for granted. “Oh, there’ll be a next time,” we say. “It’ll get better.” “I’ll have another chance.” But you know, maybe you won’t. How are those conditions going to come my way again? Perfect pitch. Perfect weather. Perfect team. Perfect opponent. And my body, with my trusty Donjoy knee brace, was working if not perfectly, at least properly. I don’t begrudge the young players, and the thought of my own waning career isn’t depressing in the least. I’ve had a wonderful run of form for four decades and have extracted more than my share of joy and misery from the beautiful game. In fact, I’m thinking of never playing again. I just don’t know, at this point in my life, if it can get better than that and I’d rather end on a high.
One last, best game, when everything is perfect, thanks to some great kids who, without knowing it, fulfilled an old man’s wish. One last, best game.
Writing Prompt: Write about a time in your life when, looking back on it, it was the last and best of that event. Maybe your last family reunion when everyone was still together or a great vacation or sporting event. And remember, just because it was the last doesn’t mean is has to be sad. The fact that it was the best means it can be happy!
John C. Brewer is a lifelong soccer player, the author of Multiplayer, an adventure for young adults, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. Find out more about what he is doing at johncbrewer.com.
– John C. Brewer