The Big Issue : Edition 462
12 THE BIG ISSUE 4 – 17 JULY 2014 Conceding GoalsCoos rang from the cheap seats: “They need discipline!” “They need encouragement!” Most of all, they need to know where the game is. Having coached the parents on where to turn up on Sunday morning, I set about laying out cones, tying shoelaces and corralling players into a circle to pass the ball around. In a breathtakingly astute piece of pre-game analysis I identified our team’s weakness: conceding goals. I then chose the most foolhardy kid to be goalkeeper. His job would be to rush strikers, and swing a studded hoof at the ball/ankles. For goal kicks he would be instructed to biff the ball for the sideline, preferably into the car park so as to run down the clock. We would score with speed (and luck) on the counter-attack. “When you get the ball with space in front of you,” I told our young striker, “you run the way you do when you’re racing your little brother to the car, okay?” Coaching my own boy was more problematic, and not just because he doesn’t have a little brother for helpful analogies. I consulted my cousin, an actual professional soccer player who was coached by his dad for many years. He told me, “If it goes the same way as me and my dad, you’ll swear at him, he’ll give you the finger and you’ll make him walk home.” My boy wasn’t the counter-attacking hero, but he handled his dad’s embarrassing curses and wild exclamations with stoicism. A 4–2 loss was definitely respectable for this young team. Being a young team is a justifiable excuse for losing, as we always hear. I’ll welcome the real coach back next week, and happily retreat to my spot behind the fence, watching the footwork, the balance, the control. Nothing special, just the usual dad standing in the rain. “Somewhere out there, beneath the floodlit skies, there’s a sports team to be yelled at. ” RICKY PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND(RAZER)ANDALANATTWOOD(RICKY) THE COUNTER-ATTACK was swift. A flash of red broke away, one player, arms flapping, skinny legs a whirl, toeing an obedient ball towards goal. Unexpected, joyous, brilliant; it stunned the blue team, already 4-0 up and cocky. The spilled ball just sat there, a piece of gold waiting for whoever had the speed, the pluck and the showmanship to herd it into the net. The rest of world watched from the sidelines, screaming at him not to stop, not to lose control, not to let evil Blue steal it back. A classic underdogs’ goal was scored. Three cheers, and many more. Blue’s routine dismantling of red’s defences got boring after the third goal. The coach allowed himself a smile. For those who came in late, my son’s Under-7 soccer team’s coach went overseas for a few weeks. One of the whingeing, know-all parents was needed to step forward, and before I knew it everyone else had taken a step back. “You should probably take them,” said Mountain Buggy Mum, elaborating: “You have a good raincoat.” It’s true. While other parents shelter in the clubrooms you’ll find me hugging the fence, studying the footwork of the troops, track-pants moulded to my legs like wet tissue paper as the winter rain lashes. My old soccer coach told me a story once. He said there was only one time he was glad to be substituted out of a game: during a freezing blizzard in the deep south of New Zealand. He ran straight to the showers and turned on the only tap: cold. But the cold water felt too hot on his frozen body, and it was only in increments that he could edge himself into the apparently cold water without it scalding him. Yes, I think I can handle an inclement Aussie evening. Floodlights cast a damming glow on rain, the grass was overexposed: radioactive-green and glistening with exquisite wetness. White lines and nets mark out the stark arena: a blank page awaiting filling. Somewhere out there, beneath the floodlit skies, there’s a sports team to be yelled at. » Ricky French is a writer, soccer dad and author of self-help bestseller How to Get Ahead by Grabbing Life Like It’s the Last Tim Tam.