Commentary

Saturday morning soccer with the Sons of Anak and a smattering of onlookers

More re-reading during these days of quarantined tedium. In “The Unexpected ProfessorJohn Carey  recalls his high school soccer days, the regular shock, every Saturday, of seeing their opponents for the first time, so intimidating, so huge. Just like “that bit in the Book of Numbers,” says Carey, “where the Israelites send out spies to size up the opposition, in this case the Sons of Anak, and the spies come back aghast to report that they are giants, and ‘we were in our own sight as grasshoppers.’”

Thinking about that, I realized that my early soccer days had involved me in a bunch of Sons of Anak incidents. I was not intimidated, though. For I -- and my teammates -- we were, though we didn't know it, the powerful Sons of Anak. A group of robust, middle class grammar schoolboys playing soccer.

Our opponents were always teams of working class boys, rather scrawny-looking lads, not as comfortably bred, or as well-fed, as us. The only problem being that they -- these unimpressive-looking grasshoppers -- were always much better soccer players.

On wet and windy Saturday mornings we played various teams of these boys and were regularly trounced.

We were terrible -- just plain absolutely bloody awful. I have no recollection of us ever winning a game -- (did it matter?) -- but I know we did score at least one goal. I know because I scored it. My moment of glory. Not exactly a goal-of-the-year award winner.

It went like this. I don’t recall the buildup -- not surprising, because there probably wasn’t any, we didn’t do that sort of thing, a hefty wallop of the ball downfield, Route 1 as it was later dubbed, was our M.O. The Sons of Anak would have approved. We saw it as the healthy, lusty, masculine approach, only a half-wit would object to that.

Nevertheless, on this memorable occasion, there must have been some trickery or subtlety involved -- otherwise how did I, a right half (No. 4 in the old numbering system) find myself all alone in the enemy penalty area, right in front of an empty goal?

As a right half, my duties -- spelled out by captain Nat -- were to “get in their way, be a nuisance.”

“You mean foul them?” I asked, with obvious distaste.

“Good heavens no, nothing like that, but make sure they know you’re around.”

Clearly, I was not expected to make any creative contribution.

Getting into the opponent’s half of the field was quite an adventure ... but in their penalty area? What can I have been thinking?

The notion that I had temporarily blanked on which way we were playing, and thought I was defending my own goal has crossed my mind, to be immediately dismissed as unthinkable.

Anyway, my responses were the correct ones for a goalscoring striker (a word that didn’t even exist at that time). The ball came toward me from the right wing -- it came along the ground, almost along the goal line as I recall. I seemed to be utterly alone -- not only was the goalkeeper nowhere to be seen, there was also a complete absence of defenders.

Feeling no pressure, I simply stood there, calmly waiting. The ball was rolling speedily and invitingly closer as I prepared for the easiest tap-in in the history of soccer. That was unacceptably demeaning, so I decided to unleash my deadly right foot for a ferocious 1-yard finishing shot. That didn’t happen. Things got complicated. As I stood ready, the ball suddenly leaped gleefully upward.

I didn’t mention that the field we played on was nothing but dents and bumps. The lines, where visible, were never straight, the goalposts were lopsided, and there were no nets. There were no locker rooms either. We refused to notice any of that, it rather suited our view of ourselves as hardened sports warriors.

But this particular moment of impudence from the ball, I had to notice. It was about to wreck my triumph. So I sort of half-turned away, trying to make sure I didn’t get hit in the crotch, and raising my arms to get them out of the way. There was no decisive, sharp shot from me after all. The ball hit me and dropped over the goal line. I felt like whacking it as hard and as far as I could.

I didn’t because I was now aware of a commotion out near the corner flag (that is, where the flag would have been had there been one). Someone was cheering my goal. Yet that seemed unlikely. We didn’t have supporters, and neither it seemed did the teams we played. There was never a crowd, just a “smattering” of onlookers.

One of the smattering was behaving like a lunatic out near the corner -- he wasn’t cheering, he was laughing, spinning round and round as he did so. Laughing at my goal? Well, I’d soon sort that out. I trotted toward him having already made sure that he was smaller than me.

I adopted a menacing manner. “What’s so effing funny?” I demanded. The boy continued his insane laughter, doubling up from time to time. He spluttered “You effing are! You call that an effing goal? You scored with your effing arse!” And his whirling dervish dance began again. I moved in for the kill, grabbing his arm, “Now listen here, you little twerp ...” And there the incident finished. Captain Nat had arrived, cool and commanding as ever, and I was dragged away, mouthing fearsome oaths and curses.

And since you ask, no I don’t remember anything else about that damn game. Nothing. But I wouldn’t mind betting that we were already losing by about six or eight goals when I rear-ended my goal. We didn’t know we were the Sons of Anak, supposedly superior to the enemy spiders. Had we bothered with Biblical thoughts (we did not, I assure you) we would perhaps have taken some comfort from Ecclesiastes telling us that “the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.” That summed up our Saturday morning encounters rather nicely.

6 comments about "Saturday morning soccer with the Sons of Anak and a smattering of onlookers".
  1. George Vecsey, December 9, 2020 at 3:52 p.m.

    Paul: . You scored a goal, dude!
    Branch Rickey:  Luck is the residue of design.
    The English being great record-keepers (we are deep into genealogy research), there is surely a
    record book somewhere in your home town that includes the notation:  Goal:  Gardner, 1.
    Congratulations. Your entry in the Hall of Fame should include that detail
    George Vecsey

  2. RAY HUDSON, December 9, 2020 at 3:56 p.m.

    Those were indeed the days my friend and I travelled down the same happy lanes as you sketch here Paul. Thank you for another lovely read. Merry Xmas & good luck & good health in the new year Paul. 

  3. Wooden Ships, December 9, 2020 at 4:36 p.m.

    How do you follow George and Ray, wow! I was thinking you must have had a bony arse for the ball to bounce off. For, if it was a fluffy arse you would probably have had to finish it with a foot. Days of old, wonderful tale. 

  4. Tony Quinn, December 9, 2020 at 5:53 p.m.

    Sounds so familiar. One of my painful memories was the effect that the nails from the studs had on the bottom of my feet as they pierced the thin soles of my old leather boots. It was so cold out there I didn't notice till I thawed out hours later.

  5. R2 Dad, December 9, 2020 at 8:49 p.m.

    My most memorable repressed memory from 6th grade soccer involved one of the few (only?) matches where my mother attended. I was attacking, their centerhalf was the only thing between me and the keeper. I went to block his long ball, careful to shield the tenders. Though apparently, not careful enough. I was down. Then up! "I'm good, it's all good!" 8 steps later, i was not-so-good, in that fish-out-of-water gasping that happens when the huevos get obliterated by a ball square in the 'nads. Nards? I don't know which is more/less PC these days. Anyway, Mom was kind enough to pretend she didn't see the abject humiliation around the center circle that day. Were I older, I could have crowed about the enormity of said package and the inevitabiliy of such a thing, because duh! But it was 6th grade, I had no game, and no stomach for much of anything that afternoon. Ah, youth.

  6. R2 Dad replied, December 11, 2020 at 1:38 p.m.

    TMI?

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