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Soup of This Day #292: Where I Belong

February 22, 2013

The Enchanter Merlin
Most are aware of Merlin’s Arthurian exploits. Less well-known are his spell-binding turns on the wing for Camelot United FC. Clever and incisive, the crafty beggar could cut through the opposition like a magical sword through a stone – Image: Howard Pile, 1903. Howard Pile is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Back in the mid-to-late 90’s a band of us decided to give indoor soccer a shot. We were all fairly accomplished outdoor players so we figured how hard could it be?

That should have been a warning sign. When you’re asking how hard could it be you’re really just saying that you have no idea – You’re staggering out onto the field of battle without knowing who or what you’re fighting. This is not a good thing, as George Armstrong Custer could tell us…

If he hadn’t been killed along with a goodly proportion of his men at the Battle of Little Bighorn after he: a. Grossly underestimated the number of Native American opponents; and b. Wrongly assumed that they were sleeping in.

Awkward.

As footballers, the consequences weren’t quite as steep for us, but we did go in with the same surplus of hubris as Custer and Co. Not even a couple of middling results to begin with could dissuade us – We were destined for in-door greatness and just needed a good solid win to get us on that road. Fortunately our 3rd match in had just the right sort of look for a shellacking.

We rocked up for the match to be confronted by opponents who were old. We’re talking late 50’s to 60’s with at least 1 self-admitted septuagenarian. 1 of their ranks even bore a flowing white beard, a sort of football Gandalf. This will be easy, we thought, for we are young, fit and talented. We never once thought: That guy looks like Gandalf and Gandalf was a powerful magician.

If we had made that mental connection it might have given us some warning. For these guys were indeed magicians and from the opening whistle they made us look like bumbling orcs. They were particularly adept at making the ball appear where we were not, either via ridiculously quick triangles, in which the ball was pinged around in such a way as to make defenders pass out with dizziness, or via a fake and a shimmy that left defenders tackling vortices of thin air.

At 1 point I swear I tackled 1 of my team-mates by mistake while Gandalf strolled into an open goal.

Yep, they slaughtered us like Gandalf and the Rohirrim descending upon the Uruk-hai at Helm’s Deep. We conceded 6 goals and never once looked like notching up 1 of our own.

In hindsight it’s easy to see how this could be – As a young footballer I felt almost constantly under pressure on the pitch, driven to get rid of the ball as quickly as I could, often to a less than optimal outlet. This is because the pitch looked small to me when I was on it – Too small for 22 players, and so the nearest bad guy was almost always too close for my liking. Ergo I had to move the ball on quickly.

Except I probably didn’t have to.

The older you get the more you realise that you have more time than you think. And you learn ways of increasing that time as well – A subtle half-turn here, a shimmy there and maybe even a step-over. All of these moves can buy you a crucial moment of time and space. Each year you gain more of this heightened sense of awareness – I’m speculating that for Gandalf and his wizardly crew they’re probably seeing stuff in super slow mo – A lot like Keanu Reeves in a fight scene from The Matrix. The result is that, contrary to popular belief, as you get aged you don’t so much creak as get smoooooooth.

The band Weezer is a great non-sporting validation of this. They originally rose to prominence off the back of their Blue Album in 1994. I loved that album and still do, for it’s raw rock delivered with a pop sensibility and some jamming melodies. Recently I got the chance to relive that album played live by the lads – They rocked into Western Australia for the 1st time since 1996 and played a ‘Blue Album Memories’ gig at Perth Arena. This was a complete cover-to-cover rendition of the original Blue Album, plus some assorted other goodies that made up a time-machine sampler of Weezer back through the ages.

We were in early and caught a couple of warm-up acts – Relative youngsters making their way in the music world, hopefully into the stratosphere of Weezer. And either of the 2 could make it – Both Ball Park Music and Cloud Control sounded good, about what I expected Weezer to come out like. Raw but powerful.

Yeah, no.

Weezer were better. Much, much better. Weezer you see had spent the past nigh on 19 years working out that they had time and space and consequently they were smoooooooth. Rivers, Brian, Scott and Patrick knew their chops and for them it seemed like breathing is to me. It was an hour and a half of awesome rock – A real cultural cameo that hopefully does not take another 17 years to swing by again.

I’m going to finish this up with another cameo, but this time back in the world of football. Gary McAllister was a 35 year old veteran by the time he made a surprise free transfer to Liverpool FC in 2000. I remember being surprised by the acquisition and figured nothing much would come of it. Fortunately then-Reds guvnor Gérard Houllier thought different and he began to use the midfield veteran in pivotal roles.

At 35 Gary was still a dead-ball magician, able to sweep free-kicks into the net from most angles and some distance – A highlight was a 44-yard pile-driver of a free-kick in the 4th minute of injury time to give Liverpool a 2-3 away win over local rivals Everton at Goodison Park in April of 2001. Just a month later he co-starred alongside Michael Owen as Liverpool won the FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Shortly after that and he turned in his greatest ever performance for the Mersey giants.

That was in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final against Spainish outfit Deportivo Alavés in Dortmund. In that extraordinary game Super Mac scored the 1st for Liverpool from the penalty spot and then had a hand in 3 more goals as Liverpool won 5-4. The winning goal came in extra time – It was a golden goal thst ended the contest and it came from a 117th minute free kick that McAllister had swerved into the hot-zone, only for Alavés’ Delfi Geli to direct it into his own net.

In all, across 2 years Gary McAllister played in 87 games for Liverpool, scoring 9 goals. Such was his impact that when the club held a survey in 2007 to find the 100 players who had shook the Kop, Super Mac came in at 32. Houllier added to that plaudit by saying that McAllister had been his:

‘…most inspired signing.’

All of this is good news for the likes of me. I fully expect that by the time I’m in to my 90’s that I may get a guernsey playing for Australia or Weezer. Rock on old age.

Have a nice weekend and thanks for the memories Weezer.

Where I Belong

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