13 August 2010

Friday the Thirteenth-ed

For somebody as hopelessly superstitious as I am, I went through the day generally unperturbed by the fact that today is – if you did not already know – Friday the thirteenth. So, alright! I did engage myself in a little debate just before leaving for work about whether or not I would be bringing my playing gear to join the lads after hours.

The whole week had been exams week for both the high school and college boys; and indeed, both sets of players were given time off last week to enable them to better prepare for the exams. That is, as if…

To make a long story short, a week and a half without football was a bit more than I could really take. So I decided to just simply ignore the superstition. It was not too difficult; I was conceptualizing some promos for the Jubilee Celebrations that I am helping to organize. Creative work, as it rather tends to do, just has this habit of making the time simply fly.

So, before I had even realized it, it was time to leave the confines of my office for the field. The college lads were still off; the Under-16 team was already doing their drills; and most of the Under-18 players were inside the mall watching movies or on dates. Tsk! There will be carnage to follow!

Still, there were enough of us to form a team to scrimmage against the Under-16s, who needed some time against the senior boys, anyway. It was always going to be – as the English love to put it – a stroll in the park. Many of the Under-16s are beginners; and it was already an occasion for them to try and pit their skills against the few skillful players present who will represent the school this season in varsity competition.

We were undermanned, and played at walking pace. My concern was really for the younger lads; and was watchful that any of the senior boys would get into a rather clumsy tackle against their smaller opponents. Under the greasy conditions – it rained just before I went out to the field – who knows what could happen?

Apart from the fact that JV, the senior striker, thought he was playing perde gana – i.e. shooting at the outside of the goal-frame, if that makes sense – the scrimmage was basically uneventful. Until I tried to dribble my way through to goal and, with my left foot, stepped awkwardly on a stone jutting out from the ground.

Lightning bolts immediately exploded inside my head and the searing pain in my ankle immediately told me I sprained myself stepping on that idiot of a stone! For a while, I just stood there bent down from the waistline, knees locked together as I tried to cope with the pain. Most coaches will tell a player to try to walk to test the extent of the sprain; and so I did. Thankfully, the pain started to die down; albeit, injuries always tend to be worse the day after.

As a matter of fact, I was able to play on – if at a lesser pace; and I tried to protect the left ankle by not shooting with my left foot. I guess – decades after college and Division I football – my pain threshold has become so much lowered.

Anyone in competitive football will tell you that, during the course of a season, nobody is really a hundred per cent fit. There is always and ache or a bruise somewhere. Those who are in active competition tend to develop higher pain thresholds, as though some mechanism inside the brain simply learns to ignore bodily pains.

I ought to know. I had had a few quite remarkable injuries myself during my competitive days.

There was this game during my first season in the NCAA when I tried to save an outbound ball by doing an acrobatic overhead kick. Except that I completely missed the ball! To add insult to injury, I also fell badly on my elbow. I thought something cracked; but I was in the middle of the game, dusted myself, and pretended it did not hurt. The next day, I wrapped the elbow with the magic elastic bandage and returned to daily training.

Then, there was this other game in my second season when a wayward kick from the Letran winger left two gaping stud wounds just below my right kneecap. The blood flowed freely and I asked to be substituted. Instead, the team doctor pulled my leg this way and that, cleaned up the wounds and then sprayed them with a couple of magical concoctions: liquid bandage and anesthetic. I went on to finish the game.

However, the next day, my knee was swollen and I dragged my leg all over school! It was not such a big to-do. I was back in training the following day as the swelling started to subside.

There was also this time when we were playing an exhibition game against the Air Force team at our college field. I used to have a superb sense of balance when I was young; but when an accident will happen, it will happen and there is not a lot you can do about it. During this game, I had already feinted my way past an opposing player and was starting to sprint away from him when a mound of grass changed to bounce of the ball. I regrettably stepped on the ball with my right foot just as my other foot was also off the ground. As the ball rolled and with nothing else to support my weight, something in the right ankle immediately cracked. Sprain!

I stopped and took off my playing boots as well as my sock. The ankle was already black and blue and was starting to swell. In no time at all, it was as if there was a billiard ball inside it. So, out went the magic elastic bandage and I was back playing before long.

Finally, there was this one time when I was with my Division I club and we played against a visiting team from the USS Tarawa. They drove all the way from Subic; and we beat them comfortably. However, what I remember that game for was the fact that I had no nails in both my large toes!

In those days, it was not uncommon for players to wear football boots with six studs. For those who have never seen those, they looked like oversized hard nipples under the boots. If you got stepped on, it would hurt! As it happened, I got stepped on both my big toes, which caused the toenails to eventually fall off so new nails could grow over them. It was unbelievably painful; but I just learned to bear it even if – naturally – I could not shoot with my usual power.

It has been three decades, of course, since those days. This afternoon’s sprain is not even half as bad as when I stepped on the ball in that scrimmage against the Air Force oh-so-long ago. I can even walk without limping. Still, as I type this, there is this niggling pain that I know will make sleeping tonight not as comfortable as it usually is.

Haaaayyyyy…. Should have known better than to ignore Friday the thirteenth…





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