It was on Tuesday night, out upon the flood-lit pitches of the Mystery, with winter closing in, that I learned the truth of the old adage, “No pain, no gain”.
The match unfolded in thrilling fashion, running end-to-end, full of action and high drama. We started badly, falling behind 4-nil, before clawing our way back into it. Then we managed to edge ourselves ahead, only to be pegged back before we could get too comfortable. Yet it wasn’t until the match entered its final few minutes, with the scores level, that things got really interesting. My team was in the ascendancy, dominating possession and looking the most likely to score…
…until the ball broke down the left-hand side and Pedro set off in pursuit. As his name suggests, the Portuguese maestro is a man of silky skills. He can thread a pass through the eye of a needle and possesses the deadliest of finishes. Not only that, but he’s fast. Faster than me at least, and I was the only man in a position to stop him. Fortunately the ball was closer to me, so I had a chance. The chase was on.
Thoughts of failing the boys were all the motivation I needed, so I pumped my little legs as fast as they would pump. Alas, it wasn’t fast enough.
Pedro reached the ball ahead of me – just! – and I could see him shaping up to shoot first time. All I could do was stick out my left foot and attempt a block…
To my relief, Pedro’s effort struck my foot and sailed harmlessly wide of the goal. It would have been a good tackle, a majestic tackle, if only I’d been able to run on and take the ball to safety. Unfortunately, with my leg still reverberating from the power of Pedro’s shot, my left foot came down at an angle that proved incapable of supporting all of the weight I had decided to pile on it. The foot twisted beneath me, and instead of running on gracefully I was transformed into a quivering mess, first trying to catch my balance, then limp-jogging on a few paces while wincing and sucking air through my teeth.
I tried to walk it off, only to find I couldn’t walk. Then I thought about going in goal, but even the prospect of merely standing seemed farfetched. You’re done, son, my leg was saying. Just go and have a seat.
So I inched myself off the pitch and slumped to the ground beside the goal, shamed to be leaving my team mates a man down.
Still, I had prevented the opposition from scoring and my team were still in with a chance of winning. The injury almost seemed worth it. My sacrifice wasn’t completely in vain. No pain, no gain.
Moments later, however, being a man down had an effect, and the opposition found the back of the net. Almost immediately the next group of players walked onto the pitch calling “Time lads!”, and the game was over. We had lost.
I was left to limp home in the rain, with nothing but a feeling of emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I’ve since spent most of this week propping myself up against anything I can, struggling to climb stairs, and marvelling at the gigantism that seems to have inflicted my foot.
Next time, I think I’ll just let them score.