24 May 2012

A Football Player with Magic He Did Not Want

In one of the high school teams that I used to coach, we used to have in the late nineties this player who possessed magical powers that he neither asked for nor particularly wanted. We shall call him by the name Merlin – wink – obviously after the legendary sorcerer and obviously not his real name.

In those days, the school used to own a rickety old bus that once belonged to the fleet of the BLTBCo; but the proud warrior’s finest days were long since gone. It was in this bus that we frequently travelled to matches.

It was not airconditioned; its seats were padded but were a long way from what one would call luxurious; and one could never tell when it would stall in the middle of the road. Still, it was a great improvement on the jeepney that we used to rent in previous years; and there was so much more space in comparison.

Because there was so much space, whenever the senior team had matches and the junior team was unengaged, I would invite the youngsters to travel with us so that they could just soak in the match atmosphere.

Merlin was still with the junior team then; and like a few of his teammates, would take me up on my invitations and travel with the senior team to watch the games. There was, ostensibly, nothing wrong with the arrangement – except that we started to notice that we seemed to be losing an awful lot of games whenever the lad travelled with us.

“Magic!” somebody finally verbalized that which we dared not say before. Indeed, every one of us would have much preferred that if there was, indeed, some sorcery involved, that it be used on the opponents instead. The way our season was going, however, the spell seemed to have been very much cast upon us.

Because we were in such poor form, the senior team was relegated to play in the Second Division of the league that we participated in. There, we did so much better and actually reached the final, where we were due to play against Claret School.

The afternoon before we were due to travel to play in the final, I met my teams to give instructions. As had become customary, I also issued a general invitation for the younger players to join us and be what we used to laughingly call the ‘travelling support.’

Although the accusations of ‘magic’ were probably baseless and basically just part of the mindless ribbing that adolescents are capable of just for fun, I was nevertheless bugged that we did indeed seem to be losing whenever Merlin travelled with us. And like many sportsmen, I could be frightfully superstitious with my football…

I did not mind Merlin travelling with us before; but this was the final. “Uhrm… Merlin…” I began; even slightly embarrassed by what I had to say. “Huwag ka na lang sasama ha?”

There was immediate laughter; and I probably should have known better. But the lad did not say anything; so I thought that that was the end of the matter.

The match was to be played on the last day of the school fair. Many of the junior players had asked their parents for permission and were to travel with us. Everyone had boarded and I had begun counting heads as I habitually did before departure. Just then, a late arrival got on board. Turning around, my heart sank.

Merlin.

I couldn’t damn well send the lad away; so I resignedly waved him inside to find a seat. Que sera sera

To make a long story short, we lost 1-nil. I had noticed that my rightback was starting to struggle a bit and had a replacement warming up already when they scored. Bad luck! Or probably magic…

There were occasions, though, when we could use the magic to our own advantage. The following season, still in Division II and with Merlin and his teammates already promoted to the senior team, we needed to defeat San Beda in the last match of the regular season to guarantee ourselves a place in the final.

But we didn’t. We lost 2-nil.

We could still make it to the final if Lourdes School of Mandaluyong could defeat Claret School in another game being played just a few yards away. Our game finished early; so I left my boys so they could get dressed and made the short trip to the next field just to see how the game was going.

I asked the linesman what the score was. When he said that Claret was leading 3-1 with only 20 minutes remaining, my heart immediately sank. I found a shade to watch the rest of the game; and seeing as I did how totally dominant Claret was, every passing minute made me all the more pessimistic about reaching the final.

Then, I had a brainstorm!

“Somebody call Merlin quick!” I shouted to the boys. Merlin was unhappy about being called and initially didn’t want to come. But I made it plain that there would be hell to pay if he didn’t; so he grudgingly walked over to join me and the other boys who had also come to see how things were going.

In just few a moments, Lourdes scored totally against the run of play! Claret was so dominant that I just plain could not see Lourdes scoring. But they did…

And they did again… And again… And in the end won the game 4-3 to send us through to the final…

To this day, I have not quite convinced myself that there is a logical explanation to what happened in those totally mystifying last quarter of an hour between Lourdes and Claret. The former was so poor and the latter was so dominant that I had before the brainstorm resigned myself to the prospect of missing out on the final.

They do say that reality can be stranger than fiction. Indeed, especially if there is – wink – a little magic involved…








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