What playing football taught me

Last Tuesday, Nic, Hugo, Alex and myself made the mistake of playing a 5-a-side football match in Wembley. Entered into a cup competition, we were drawn in a first-round knockout match against a group of what can only be described as the most professional group of 17-year-old kids I’ve ever seen. To give you some idea of the immediately obvious difference in class, they turned up in personalised kit, goalkeeper’s strip included. We didn’t even have goalkeeper gloves. You’ve all heard the saying ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’; never before has that been so apt. The only thing I’ve successfully prepared for in the last year is a sedentary lifestyle building teddy bears – not all that conducive to chasing teenagers’ tails for 40 minutes.

Rather than provide details about the match (we lost), I’ve decided to take a much more self-involved approach and mull over what my first football match in more than a year taught me:

1. I got fatter. Apparently an inevitable side-effect of doing no exercise for a year is not shedding those McDonald’s. Which is fine, really. On a day-to-day basis I’m not required to run around, or even move anywhere particularly quickly. Put me on a football pitch, however, and all of a sudden it becomes a huge issue.

2. My heart isn’t well equipped for any sort of endurance. Our faces when we were told this match was 20 minutes each half must have told their own story. Abject misery. The thought of doing any continuous exercise for 20 minutes fills me with dread, let alone when the people I’m expected to keep up with haven’t yet discovered beer and it’s brilliantly apathetic qualities. Until they make the gym as fun as beer is, I am never going to be fit.

3. I don’t like being kicked. It hurts.

4.  I no longer understand teenage colloquialisms. As a journalist, am I required to know that ‘dirty’ now means good? Is it correct to describe my next successful presentation as talking dirty? It’s funny feeling lost in translation in my own country. I’m sure it’ll get me in trouble sooner rather than later. Probably after my next ‘dirty’ phone call. You know, a successful job interview or a chat with a tutor. It means good now, right?

5. Being the biggest person on the pitch still matters. The opposition complained to the referee approximately 0 zero times. We complained about 17 times in the first two minutes. Proof that all the fancy footwork in the world isn’t going to get you very far when it’s far more effective to go through other players, rather than round them.

6. I still love football! This post has a happy ending after all! Yes, I’m not fit enough, I’m a wimp, and I’m horrendously out of touch with the lingo. But it’s still the best game you can play. Pulling together as a team retains that unbeatable camaraderie, even in the face of hopeless defeat, and the feeling upon scoring a goal is still one of life’s simplest pleasures. 

The best thing of all, though? Moral victory. We may have lost the game, revealing ourselves to be the ageing, unfit gang of trainee hacks that we are, but we were handed victory at the last possible second. Speaking to the teenager who had run rings around me for the best part of the last hour, conversation got round to what he wanted to do when he finished school.

His answer? Journalism. 1-0 the Westminster PGs (that’s the real game).

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