15 April 2014

Things Footballers Suffer (for Love of the Game)

No football player, it is said, is ever one hundred per cent fit once the season gets underway. Barring the really serious injuries like fractures and ACL tears, there is always a knock here or a knock there that football players often just choose to ignore or are forced to by circumstances.

Football players essentially just learn to play through the pain even without the benefit of the magic spray. What happens is that an active player’s pain tolerance increases. This then allows him to basically ignore what may ultimately be unbearable to ordinary people.

This article is a collection of itty-bitty little things that football players just learn to live through as part and parcel of the game.

Those Watery Bubbles (Blisters)
In the old days, any sense of anticipation that I felt whenever I was purchasing a new pair of football boots was always tempered by an equivalent sense of foreboding. The new pair of boots always gave one bragging rights inside the changing room; but the hard leather of the old boots almost always guaranteed blisters for the first few days of use.


Pain from a wound is localised; but the pain from the nutcracker permeates the entire body and probably even the soul. One just gets this searing pain going through one’s brain which, at times, even makes it seem as though the head is about to explode.
Particularly vulnerable were the parts of the soles close to the big toes or the skin above the heels which inevitably rubbed hard against the backs of the boots. Modern football boots are made of softer material and are kinder to the feet, if probably nowhere as tough as the leather boots of old.

That was why, in the old days, whenever I had a new pair of boots, I always made it a point to bring either masking tape or adhesive plaster because the blisters were almost a certainty to come.

These were quite painful particularly when the skin broke. The tape or plaster helped to protect the affected area by acting as an artificial skin when one had to play on. This somewhat relieved the pain but only just. It was still painful. Period!

Skin Scrapes
Skin scrapes or gashes come part and parcel of playing on fields that have become so hard from lack of rain or have bald patches in parts where the gravel is exposed and grass does not grow anymore.

That is why, on such fields, sliding tackles are done only by the insanely brave. I have vivid memories of having made one such tackle on the old Ugarte Field at the heart of Makati City in a youth tournament back in the late seventies. A sharp stone carved a shallow wound from the bottom of my thigh all the way to my lower butt which later became infected and had pus for a few days.

Alcohol and Merthiolate were staples of first-aid kits that teams carried along. Frankly, I always thought these brought more pain than the wounds themselves!

Fangs of Dracula (Stud Wounds)
These are a phenomenon caused by the dreaded six-studded boots. I am not sure if these are still available locally because I have not seen a pair worn by anybody for the longest time.

The boots are designed for well-manicured pitches; and on grassy pitches, the grip is always a godsend. Why these were worn even on rock-hard local pitches, go figure! But wear them, players did!

In one NCAA match at the Rizal Memorial when I was in college, I took a full swing from an opposing player just below the right knee. Two of the moron’s six studs left angry wounds that looked as though the Count himself knelt in front of me to take a bite.

This was nothing compared to a gaping round hole one stud left on the flesh above the knee of one of my players in a high school league match in the late eighties. The blood was percolating from out of the wound and in that moment, I had nothing but admiration for my player’s bravery.

That was because, just looking at the open wound, I was close to passing out. We sent him to the hospital to be sewn up; but he was back training the following week, seemingly none the worse for wear.

Zombie Toenails
Unlike zombies, they do resurrect by some miracle of nature, these dead toenails that football players periodically get. Sometimes, these can come from being stepped on by opposing players’ studs. Other times, hardened boots can cause these as well. You know, the type players use in the mud but then feel too lazy to clean up afterwards.

My worst experience with dead toenails was when I had to play club football against a visiting US Navy team back in the early eighties with my two big toenails having come off earlier. I must have had a run of bad luck because first one big toenail then the opposite one got stepped on.

It was a wonder at all that I was able to play; but what I remember vividly to this day was the excruciating pain whenever I had to shoot. Anybody who has never had to play with missing toenails will simply never understand how insanely painful it can be.

The Facial
People who have never played football often ask if it is painful to head the ball; or if doing so is at all safe. It is. The skull is among the strongest bones of the entire body.

The face, however, is another story altogether. Among the things that football players periodically have to suffer are those hard footballs straight into the face, or what I call the facial in this article.

These are rare, to be perfectly honest. The neck has efficient muscles which can swivel the face away quickly from imminent threat – except those times when the ball travels faster than the neck can move the face away.

The worst facial I ever took was during a Division I match in the early eighties when I was playing at leftback and the idiot winger slammed the ball into my face with a full-blooded kick at point-blank range.

My nose, thankfully, was not broken; but my face felt as though somebody wiped it with wintergreen. Worse, I was dizzy from the blow for a few minutes afterwards. Do not ever accuse me of NOT knowing how Manny felt like when Marquez threw THAT killer punch!

By the way, that mother-father of a winger did not even apologise. I would have done so had roles been reversed. Then again, there are boors everywhere.

The Nutcracker
I will take several facials rather than one nutcracker. Methinks most football players will agree that, major injuries aside, this has got to be the most painful thing that a football player ever has to endure.

To the clueless, this is when the player’s crown jewels get hit hard by the ball. Suffice it to say that this is something female football players will never ever experience.

Pain from a wound is localised; but the pain from the nutcracker permeates the entire body and probably even the soul. One just gets this searing pain going through one’s brain which, at times, even makes it seem as though the head is about to explode.

The universal remedy for this is to ask the player to make small jumps; but who is anyone really kidding? This is, like, simply the mother of all pains – and that is just the physical side of it. There is also the ignominy of having to contort yourself in the middle of the pitch while others make fun of you.

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