The Field of Broken Dreams
We yawn our way to the field as dawn breaks and stretch by a park bench in a haze of horse liniment and last night’s red wine.
There are knee braces to be clamped on, hamstrings, quads and tendons to be begged into submission, the previous day’s EPL games to be dissected.
It doesn’t really matter who we are the rest of the week, this morning we are all footballers.
The pitch itself is lumpy and uneven with probably one quarter of the playing surface on a sand baseball diamond. Cones are placed along the sideline depending on the number of people who show up.
This is our home turf/sand. We call it the Field of Broken Dreams.
For most of us, our best days are behind us. We can’t run like we could, the control is sometimes a little shaky and the ball doesn’t always behave like it should. But just occasionally a glimmer of your youth shines through with that perfectly weighted pass, the well-timed tackle or, even better, the shot in the top corner of the net.
What better sight on a Sunday morning than to see a guy just recovered from hip surgery run the length of the field from full back and score a goal?
The beautiful game indeed.
There’s a very good reason why we gather at 7am on a Southern California Sunday morning – most of us are old enough and wise enough to be scared of our wives. We can be home in time for breakfast and woe betide us if we ruin the day with the family by going and getting injured.
There’s no whistle to get started It’s kind of a cooperative effort. When enough people shout that we should stop messing about and get started someone kicks the ball a couple of feet forward and we all lumber into life.
It’s as serious as any game should be when two sides get together. Losing is never fun however old you are - and we are pretty old, often ranging in age from mid-60s to 13 and 14 with an average on the down side of 40.
We have the occasional handbags at five paces. It’s only natural. We’re not playing Monopoly. But we shake hands afterwards and try to be grown up about it. We all have work the next day and nobody wants to get hurt.
We rely on honesty and civility rather than a referee. The neighbors don’t want to hear cursing with their cornflakes. If you commit a foul or a handball you’re expected to admit it and stop the game. Penalties became too contentious so we don’t have them either - a non-direct free kick suffices.
In a fit of pique I once wrongly claimed a throw-in only to wake up in the week worrying that my Sunday morning colleagues would consider me a cheat.
And that brings me, finally, to the reason for my little Sunday morning soccer soliloquy. People the world over are getting together in very similar pick-up games every day of the week.
Just in our game, we have players from England, Scotland, France, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Turkey, Columbia, Croatia, Chile, Costa Rica, Hungary, Holland, South Africa, Nigeria, Sweden and, of course, the United States.
The reason we do it is because we love the game of football. It is a joy to cling onto the sport of our youth and hold back the ravages of time. But I worry for the kids growing up with the game and the kind of role models they watch every week on TV.
It is disappointing to me that I can watch a cracking game like the Manchester United V Arsenal FA Cup tie last week and the pictures stuck in my head were not the terrific goals but the sight of two grown men going down like they’d been poleaxed without hardly being touched.
For wonderfully gifted players like Angel Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj that’s just inexcusable.
Is it really necessary for players to claim every corner and free throw when it is patently clear to everybody that they kicked it last? Does a professional foul – once considered to be the last resort to stopping a certain goal – now include every break from the halfway line? Should players – any player – really be allowed to curse at the referee?
These are questions never asked at the Field of Broken Dreams.