Thursday, 22 March 2018

Aaah! I cannae feel ma legs...

It's as well humans type with fingers because I can assure you that, had we evolved such that our feet were the more dextrous, and we'd developed computers accordingly, I would not be writing this entry.

Last night I made the all-too-foolish decision to accept the kind invitation of some local lads to play a bit of five-a-side on the village's splendid artificially surfaced and floodlit football pitch. Now I'm always wary of accepting invitations to play football - it can be a bit of a minefield. People can take it too seriously, expecting everybody to play to the same standard, and woe betide the clumsy grey-beard who turns up 'just for fun'. Oh I look the part alright - I've got the necessary footwear, various bits of sports clothing and, of course, several club and national shirts. I look the part right up until the moment I actually have to kick a football, when any impression of competence that may have been adopted based on that appearance will instantly be disavowed.

To use the game's technical terminology, I'm crap. The great levels of enjoyment I get out of playing have never even vaguely been tinged with anything resembling any talent. At secondary school, the games teachers would select a captain of each of the opposing sides, who would then alternate to select their team from the remaining pupils. I was never in the very last group, the lads who couldn't actually kick a ball at all and would rather have been anywhere else, but I was certainly in the group picked shortly before those kids.

I gave the chap who'd been kind enough to invite me to play plenty of warning about this lack of quality. And I mean plenty. But he seemed inexplicably keen that I join in, and I've done basically no exercise for at least a year, so against my better judgement, along I went. Now it's not like in Britain, where courts/pitches etc have to be booked in advance, paid for etc. We turned up, went into the council building to ask for the key to the pitch, switched on the floodlights ourselves and agreed to leave the key in a bar after the football. That's pretty much how things work here - you can always leave something in a bar for somebody to collect in the certain knowledge that a) that person will pass through the bar in due course and b) the bar will know exactly who you mean when you describe who's coming for said item.

So, as I said, we switched on the floodlights and it was then that I realised my mistake in agreeing to play had been two-fold. Despite the kind assurances that the standard would be fine, I could see at least one and possibly more of the lads who play for the village team getting their boots on. Way, way too good for me. And if any one of them was fewer than 15 years younger than me, I'd be surprised.

I was, dear reader, run ragged. I've long got used to watching players breeze past me with contemptible ease, and scoring off my mistakes, but this may well have reached new levels last night. It was five-a-side in name only. I'd say it was effectively five against four, but that would be to understate the enormous drag factor my own 'efforts' had on my side's quality. More like five against net-three-and-a-half.

Through the game I could hear my team-mates ragging each other for missed chances, misplaced passes, failure to save a 100mph shot which burned through the net as it went in, and let's say I've learned enough Gallego to know that they were using the full force of their vocabulary. I, by contrast, was given a very, very easy ride in that respect, and strongly suspect that some of the opponents went easy on me on the rare occasions I had the ball. They probably saw my 'qualities' as we warmed up and pitied me.

For the last half-hour or so I was even more of a spectator than I had been, before mercifully a halt was called, we locked up and then went for a beer. This post-footy ritual at least seems like a universal constant, as one of the greatest things about football after work in London was the opportunity to have a pint and a pub dinner with my brother and mates afterwards. The Spaniards are clearly no different. In any case we had to go to the bar to drop the key off, didn't we? So we pretty much had to go to the bar.

I must report that today my legs feel like they died overnight and rigor mortis has set in. They clearly got something out of my presence, though - perhaps helpless mirth - because I've been invited back. It turns out they play at least three times a week. So that's youth, ability and regular practise - just those three tiny things that separate me from them. Notwithstanding that this is a really good way for me to get to know a few lads that I know by face only, and pick up a bit more Gallego, I must be a glutton for punishment because, to my own slight disbelief, I've agreed to go and play again tonight. I really hope there's beer again after.

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