Sunday, April 15, 2007

More Grassroots Football

What a weekend. Bloody great, bloody sore.

Saturday was one of the best days I can remember. I've put a lot of work into Jacob's team. I don't have any official status but the Coach has got me assisting him, which seems to work very well. I've known most of the kids for a long time and I'm very happy to say they respect me, so my main role there seems to be getting them to listen to the coach, who is I think quite brilliant, but (Japanese) doesn't speak English expertly and is very quiet. Meanwhile I also assist the Manager, Jim, who hasn't been around much for various insurmountable reasons so yesterday I was the acting Game Manager anyway. Yesterday, being the first game, there was a lot to do, and it was sort of my baby. That's enough introduction to my unique role with these kids.

They are the El Salvador U12s. They won 5:2. That would have made my week as is, but Jacob scored the first goal and it was a cracker. He had to race the goalie of the opposition (Hawks) for a long ball which was heading for the right corner of the box (Jacob was playing right-mid). The goalie hesitated in his run which was a fatal error, but still nearly made it. Jacob slid in for the ball and touched it once. It rolled past the goalie, and kept rolling - it was not a heavy kick - I swear it took about five minutes for the ball to roll to the goal mouth. It hit a bump and looked like it would miss. It hit another bump and found its way back on course... just. Hit the far post, and crossed the magic line.

In indoor soccer over the summer Jacob has managed to score (I think) four goals, one of which was his first ever (he has played two seasons before this one). Two of these were in one game which was pretty cool. Then in three friendlies (against U13 teams) leading up to this season he scored twice, once each in two of the games. But this one was his first outdoor goal in official competition. And it was the first goal of the season. And it was a cracker. Can you tell? I was a proud puppy.

In the second half Jacob scored another goal, off a beautiful ball from his mate Stavros, who was also on the Indoor team, The West End Terrorists. Does being a soccer Dad get better than this? Does football get better than this? I can't think so.

Before I move on, an important note is that the team seemed much more skilled and tight than last season, and quite clearly this was coming largely from the six players that played Indoor over the summer. A lot of the kids on the field hadn't played much soccer for six months. That showed. Summer Indoor is recomended I reckon.

Today I played my second real competition game, on the left wing of the 4-5-1 formation I described in my last post. The game time had been changed at the last minute and we ended up lucky to have 11 players, so we had no subs. Especially as the game was played at 12.00 midday, it was torture every time the other team shouted, "If you're tired, sub off." We held a nil all draw 'till half time, then, largely through exhaustion (our average age is about 38) we proceeded to lose 4:nil.

For myself, I didn't embarass myself too much, and got some nice balls away. For the team, despite the comprehensive loss, we felt our strategy was as good as we could get, so we're going to stick with it. The brief from our captain at the beginning of the game was to hold the ball up and concentrate on short passes in our triangles, even if that (apparently) meant scoring less. For the season our medium term strategy is to get good at this style of play, and we actually feel it had started to gell very well in the first half, before we virtually stopped running. So we're sticking with the game plan.

It was the first time I have played for 90 minutes, and I relate to what Wayne said in a comment about lungs trying to work their way out of your mouth. And yes, it was exhilerating anyway. Once again I loved every bloody minute.

After this a few of us had some beers and in a moment of madness decided to go to the afternoon kick-about as well. Now I'm really stuffed, but I kicked the winning goal ("It's getting dark; last goal wins") so I'm happy enough.

Great weekend. I love football.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

West End United

Well now there is a new dimension to this blogging business. This is to be the first instalment into the adventures of a thirty-nine year old novice playing the game of football. Humiliation, let me begin by saying, is good for the soul, though generally in spiritual circles they like to refer to the more graceful idea of 'humility'. I guess humiliation is the state of enforced humility.

Anyway, look, I'm pretty bad. I mean, I'm not really the false modesty type, in that if I was ok I'd be raving about how wonderful I was. But really, I'm about what you'd expect from a 39 year old who has entirely avoided sport for 20 years and even 20 years ago preferred individual pursuits and almost never kicked a ball.

So let me say at the outset that West End United are a truly wonderful bunch of gentlemen who have had the grace to take on a complete beginner. They rarely yell at me, and are generally encouraging and helpful. Without meaning to follow the digression they are probably fulfilling a need that I've felt growing for a few years to kind of hang out with some blokes. I've always been a bit afraid of blokes in some strange way, afraid of their competitiveness, or quite likely afraid of the competitiveness that they bring out in myself. Whatever. The point is that these guys are physical, life-loving and sexy but not overly macho or needful to assert their sexual prowess. They're good guys. At risk of leaving this paragraph a nonsense, I'll move on now.

We had our first game the Friday night before last and lost 4 nil. The thing is that this team I've joined was an over 35s team, but has now moved to a new competition where we are simply second division (of two divisions). Now this team we played (the Warriors) are boys, and are second division for the opposite reason that we are. That is, they are blokes working towards being in their 1st division team, whereas we are blokes past the possibility. They were twice as fast as us. After the game I heard one of our gun-defenders, Mark, lamenting, "there is no such thing as time, there is no such thing as an easy ball." Long balls were hopeless as if they weren't absolutely perfect the other team just got there first. Frankly, we felt we fought well, but it certainly effected the way we are thinking about our game.

Myself? I subbed on for 10 or 15 minutes in each half (the subs are more-or-less unlimited as far as I can see, which is good for us ancients). The first half I got thrown on as a right-back, which happened to be the spot that was being constantly hammered by this young team. No goals actually were conceded in that time, but my inexperience was showing desperately so I was moved to right-mid. In the second half I went on as right-mid and I did ok. No major embarassments.

Loved every bloody minute of it.

We have training on Tuesday nights and the kick-abouts on Sunday afternoons act as a less formal second training session. As an aside and a note to self, I played more atrociously than usual yesterday afternoon. I must never get on the piss the night before playing soccer. Saturday night was very fun, and another story entirely, but not beneficial to my game. Humiliation is good for the soul because it motivates one to get fit, eat well and not drink too much. So as I pour myself another whiskey, moving along again...

Life is full of irony, as I've pointed out before (in fact, when scientists finally figure out the formulaic theory of everything it will with no doubt have an I for Irony in it; something like, Everything=MC squared multiplied by the Irony of it all). The benefits of going for a bevvy with some of the less responsible boys after training is - well, was last night anyway - that you get to sit in on the strategy discussions. Mark, the hitherto-mentioned defender was there, and Sean, who is our manager, and Peter, who plays a leadership role on the field and is I guess the closest thing to a coach that we have.

The coins were on the table. I've never seen this before, and it was completely fascinating. We were debating the merits of formations, given the players we have, and who would be first and second options for the various positions. Basically, the plan is to try a 4-5-1 formation. I'm not going to attempt to detail all the possibilities we went through - where we would be for corner kicks etcetera - but it was just fascinating. Here is the basic model:

The beauty of it - well, I think - is that it is outrageously defensive, yet if circumstances permit can quite quickly become 4-3-3, or, because we are playing one of our few fast players as sweeper, who in fact will often be playing in front of the true back line, even 3-4-3. Anyway, I put it here in the sincere hope that it will attract some comment from people who have played with coins, and with real people, a lot more than I have.

I liked Cecilia's metaphor of a 'spine' of the best players down the centre and this is also what we are doing. The fastest and most skilled players will be the striker, the attacking midfielder and the sweeper, followed closely (the gap isn't that great) by the other midfielders and the centre-back. The centre-back is also to be the sort of 'captain' of the defence. (In Jacob's U12 team I placed someone in this latter role in a friendly I was acting-coach for - it was just before the first United game actually - and thought it was very helpful.)

At this stage I'll be playing one of the wingers. The rationale is not very flattering. Basically, it's not a spot that will lose the game if I stuff up.

Cheers everyone. Hope we are all suitably gorged on chocolate, if not whiskey (the holy spirit), and have had a jolly enjoyable Easter weekend.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just Want to Watch the Football

Well how fucking frustrating 'watching', on the internet, the Qantas Matildas flog Hong Kong 15 nil today. They're our girls, clearly an outstanding bunch of athletes, kicking arse on the world stage, and I've never even seen them play. It's not through want of wanting.

Congratulations girls. Number 14 in the world is a great achievement, and it would appear that you haven't peaked yet. But someone is failing you somewhere.

I was so excited when I read that SBS was going to play Matildas games. I mean, how obvious. This is a way not just to promote Australia's most successful football team, but to renew SBS's pioneering relevance in promoting football in this country. But why do I have to wait 'till June? What's this crap about, "(reaching) agreement with Football Federation Australia for the broadcast rights" to Matilda games? Surely they would go out on a limb to have a major TV network broadcast ALL Matildas games.

In short, my question to the universe is, WHY couldn't I watch the game this afternoon?

If SBS, or the Football Federation, or for that matter the Matilda's own management, can't market this team, then they're useless. These women are Australian, they are on a world stage, they are winning games, they are more successful than any other Australian soccer team. Marketing them to Soccer fans should be pretty simple, especially as it's the off-season for Australian professional soccer. Marketing them to women can't be too hard. And marketing them to men? These girls are hot. What's the problem?

Give an average marketing firm half a budget, get SBS to commit themselves properly and not just tokenistically, get the FFA to give them proper space on their website, and these girls are THE national sports news. Am I assuming too much, as I have no way of actually knowing, that they are bloody entertaining to watch to boot? I don't think so.

Btw, sorry I haven't blogged for so long. I know, there are some loose ends. I'll be blogging more soon.

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