The players line up along the centre line of the grass before the music of the national anthem starts. They all begin to sing, side-by-side, and their patriotism bursts from their bodies. It cannot be contained. Their voices swell, fuelled by pride and gatorade. You can see them all, beaming with excitement on their faces and ready to play the most important soccer game of their lives.
After the national anthem the coin toss, which ends in favour of the home team. I nestle myself into my seat between two very different people. The woman on my right appears to be as riveted by this game as I am and therefore I establish a kinship with her in my own head.
However, the woman to my left is more preoccupied with something on her phone. I want to yell at her “Pay Attention!” Does she not understand that this is the final? This is the game that decides who goes home the winner, and who will take second place. You would think she paid enough money to be here today that she would pay attention to the game itself.
The home team kicks the ball to begin the game, and you can see the players excitement as they all race after it. Not one player is tired or slow and even the older players are able to keep speed with the rookies. Every team member, on both sides, are running their hardest to win.
Almost as soon as the game begins the referee blows his whistle. A yellow card, already. That is only a testament to how excited and committed these players are to winning for themselves, their team, and their country. Half of the audience groans at the referee’s dubious call. I have to admit the referee does seem a little young, perhaps still a teenager? You would have thought that they, whoever they may be, would have picked someone who knows the game a little better to manage such an important game.
After all, this is the most important game in these players lives. Perhaps some players are young enough that they will continue on and be ready to try again next year. However, most of the players, including my favourite player, are too old to continue playing at this level. Therefore, this could be their last chance at gold!
The game resumes with just as much fever and excitement as before. The audience is “oohing” and “ahing” at every turn of the match. The ball flies from one end zone to the other. The players kick it seemingly impossible distances and run after it with an unending speed. Even the woman on my left is paying attention now! That is how exciting this match has become. It is so riveting that I imagine even people who are not fans of soccer would still find the tension enjoyable.
After what seems like forever it happens! The very first goal is scored by a player from the home team! What a rush! Half the audience including myself, stands up and cheers. We cheer so loud I’m afraid I might lose my hearing.
I notice that the woman on my left, who was previously on her phone does not cheer. Of course she would be here on behalf of the other team. It seems like they are the type to have fans who would rather be on their phone than watching this game. However, she is still smiling as I sit back down. It seems obvious to me now, that even fans of the opposing team can appreciate a good goal.
The game resets and everyone begins again. It’s hard to believe that this much excitement has happened within the first half of the game. A yellow card and a goal for goodness sakes! It seems like the teams are almost equally matched. The game is back and forth like a swinging pendulum, but I know my team and we will pull ahead in the end. I’m sure of it!
Everyone is so caught up in the excitement of the game that they don’t notice a player go down. She doesn’t get back up. The referee blows his whistle and all the players, and the entire audience turn their attention to the injured player. Who is she?
At first I notice her jersey, the bright red contrasts against the fresh green of the field. She’s from the home team but she’s facing away from me so I cannot tell which player it is. I quickly scan the field and the bench looking at our players and trying to determine who is missing.
The only one missing is… my favourite player! Oh no! It took everything in me to not rush down to the field to aid her. I knew I would be reprimanded by the audience, the coaches, the players and the staff maintaining the field if I did. And then I heard her crying! I stood up trying to get a better look above the heads of the crowd.
As I stood nearly everyone in the audience turned to look at me with concern in their eyes. Even that dreadful phone woman seems concerned. I know soccer players are known for whining and giving in to injuries to penalize the other team, but not this player! She’s tough, she’s different and she would never fake an injury.
The coaches run to her and gingerly help her to stand up. As she stands she gives a loud yell in pain. I begin to push my way through the crowd. I cannot simply stand idly by and watch her be hurt! Despite all my instincts telling me not to I run down the steps of the bleachers towards the field.
The coaches give up trying to get her walking on her own feet and they pick her up. By this time I am standing at the edge of the field, separated from the team by only a short barrier. They carry her back over to the home side, close to me. They lay her down on the grass while another player runs to them with an ice pack.
She turns towards me, her face red and puffy before she says “Daddy!” and my heart soars. I can read the expression on her face. She is in the most pain she has experienced in her whole life. And the pain is not just from the twisted ankle, but also from missing out on the most important game in the U10 soccer season. Perhaps, on the way home I will reward her with ice cream.