Tag Archives: Football

Recalling Cow Void

“Grandpa, what are those for? Can I have one, for pling practice? It’s just the right size. I’ll hang it up by its straps, this way round, like a little basket, over my bed. I won’t damage it, grandpa, I promise. Can I have one, or two, just in case, please?” 

Blief is doing her best to look and sound the nine year old angel she isn’t. She’s holding up a stack of blue, white and red face masks she must have found at the back of some drawer in the guest room cupboard. Incredibly inquisitive, kids, always turning any place they visit upside down. And disruptive. Bye, bye afternoon snooze, hello story time. 

Kyl hadn’t even been aware he still had the innocuous looking bits of fabric, but he does recall that particular season all too well. His memory might not be as sharp as in his youth, but the face mask phase of his first career, that’s not something he’ll ever forget.

Raising his armchair to a more upright position, Kyl clears his voice and goes:

“Well, Blief, you can have them all, and no worry about damage. They don’t serve any purpose these days. These were for covering our faces, to avoid breathing and sneezing at people, not to infect them with any bugs we might carry.”

The kid rolls her eyes opened extra large to signal disbelief.

Of course she does. She got her filter implants alongside her first vaccines at the tender age of four weeks. The devices have been growing with her ever since, neutralizing any infectious particles she might be excreting. A world without implants sounds impossible, to kids.

Blief’s parents, they recall anxiety and preemptive guilt instead of implants from their childhood years. But even they are too young to have worn face masks.

Barely anyone around, from the pre-Marvid years, and not because that disease is so particularily deadly. Even the fittest rarely make it past seventy under the best of circumstances, and Kyl is going to hit seventy eight next month, his slightly wobbly heart permitting.

“Yes, Blief, very low tech, they don’t look the life saving part, and you wouldn’t want to try to stop a serious bug like MARV4 with that kind of flimsy protection. But the face mask years, that wasn’t about MARV4. The face masks happened much earlier, when I was young.”

Seeing Blief once again roll her eyes, Kyl points at the shelf with his trophies and puts as much strength into his voice as he can muster to go:

“Don’t look at me like this, Blief, all doubting. There was a time when I was young. Very, very long ago, OK, but there was and I was. How the hug else could I have been a sports star?

And what we were playing in those days, football it was called, that was to pling what a storm is to a breeze. A leather football to your head can knock you flat out, Blief, believe it or not. With pling balls, they were called ping pong balls in my youth, you don’t even feel an impact.”

Blief nods her agreement so fast her head looks like ready to fly off.

Kyl knows where that enthusiam comes from. She’s scared he might deviate into one more endless rant, about his youthful striker heroics. He’d never subject his favourite grandchild to this torture, only his useless son-in-law gets bored out on purpose, but how would Blief know?

Kyl let’s himself sag a little lower to signal end of rant risk and pursues his tale:

“Don’t even recall the name of the mask bug, or the disease. Something like crow vet, or cow void. Yes, cow void, that sounds right, whysoever they called it that. Bovines or any lack thereof were not involed, to the best of my knowledge. 

Cow void came with what we considered a big bang, in those happy days. It made a mess, all over the world, not unlike Marvid. You could also get and transmit cow void without falling sick, not unlike Marvid again. But the mask bug was far less deadly than MARV4. It was just a matter of slowing its spread, not to have too many people fall severely ill at the same time.

Whenever and wherever we met people, we had to don face masks and keep our distances. 

Didn’t work well in my first sport. Fine enough for the masks. With everybody forced to wear them, everybody’s breathing was impeded in the same way. Cost me a full second of maximum speed, but I was still top game. Whereas the keeping our distances bit, that was far too leniently enforced.  The referees, they always looked the other way, instead of punishing close play hard and fast. Especially in the lower leagues, players kept rushing into each other as if no cow void.

Wasn’t meant to last. At the height of wave five, like two years in, some study showed bad numbers for football players, and out went my first sport. No problem for me, of course, discovered I like tennis better anyway, less harm to the legs. But it was a sad moment…”

Seeing Blief signal question mark in videospeak, Kyl pauses his story to give her to chance to raise whatever issue is on her mind. She doesn’t hesitate to ask:

“You say you were all doing physical distancing all over. But grannie, you must have met her close up, at some point? Otherwise, mom, she wouldn’t be, right?”.

Kyl likes his granddaughter, and her inquisitiveness, but certain topics are off limits.

Pretending to have been overcome by a sudden bout of senile fatigue, he quickly closed his eyes to savor the memory of that particular infraction in private.

They had kept their face masks on. Never will he forget the Nike logo on hers approaching, and how he had thought ‘funny, wasn’t even aware we’ve got the same sponsor, hopefully a good omen’. He of course never revealed that thought, preferring to talk about beautiful eyes and long lashes. Commercial can’t be allowed to intrude upon romance.

Match over?

“You’re anyway supposed to have started at age six. To make it into the top, imperative to start early. Real early. Which you didn’t, Lano. To the best of my knowledge, and loads of knowledge there is, with all the jerseys I get to wash these days, over and over and over again, you started at eight. Eight, Lano. Two more than six. You’ll never…”

He should be well on his way to practice. Instead, he gets an earful of this ignorance. She’s got no clue. He’s destined to become the best player the world ever witnessed. That’s a fact. Coach said so. That same Coach who will be mad at him for arriving late. If he misses practice, he might not play on Sunday. A catastrophe, to be prevented at all costs.

Lano considers killing the obstacle. Unfortunately, she’s huge, a mountain of purple velvet home dress blocking the door. Too big to handle, even for the most gifted of athletes. He’s tall, for an eleven year old. But not tall enough, yet.

Killing her would also be considered an overreaction. “You need to learn not to lose your temper, Lano,” Coach said. “You can’t keep blowing up like that all over the place, for nothing. Save that temper for the pitch and your attacking, Lano, and you’ll go far.”

Coach always speaks true. Sometimes, you don’t like what he says, but true it still is. Like with how to kick the ball to make it go not straight. You think “Now that’s bullshit!”, because how Coach tells it can’t work. You still do as told, because that’s how you behave, at practice. And boom, you score. From the corner right into the goal. Coach was shockingly right, like adults never are. Coach is so special. Coach proves you can grow up into something worth being.

“… you can’t just play every day. There’s more to life than balls. Match over, young man. And now, you will sit down at that table and do your homework. And when you’re done, the dishes need washing. Oh yes, the dishes. I saw you, Lano, skipping your turn at the broom. Don’t know how you made your poor little brother do your chore, but you’ll sure as hell do his in return. And when you’re done with the dishes, you go find your dad and check if he needs help…”

Despicable. Trying to keep him from practice, and getting everything else wrong, too.

Fari offered to do the dishes, in return for Lano keeping Haro in check. By age, Haro should be in Lano’s class. His parents kept him at home for three more years, considering him too fragile for school. Now, he’s no longer fragile and does attend. Being one head taller and double the weight of his classmates, he makes them hand over anything he fancies.

Lano told him to stop that, at least with Fari, and preferably with the other kiddies, too. At first, Haro screamed, because he didn’t like his head pushed into the toilet bowl. Lano kept the pressure steady and explained, patiently, how they would repeat this exercise every day, unless first the screaming and next the bullying of the kiddies stopped. He also explained how informing an adult would be a bad idea. Haro is not exactly bright, might have ratted by mistake. Lano’s forceful technique and patient approach worked, just like Coach foretold.

“… so this would be the moment where you drop that sports bag, sit down and get the bloody hell going on that homework. Lano, one more look like that, and I’ll have to tell your dad you rebelled again. You know how your dad won’t like that, and all the good he thinks of that stupid law supposed to prevent one from teaching one’s own kids manners…”

He should have opened the window. Three jumps – desk, window frame, sidewalk. With a little luck, he wouldn’t even damage her bloody vitaweeds. Easy exercise, but only with an open window. Coach is so right, when he insists you also need to think. Mental note always to open that window first thing after coming home from school.

With the window currently closed, there’s only one alternative, a barely feasible option. Pretend to go for the tight right side, making her move there even more, switch directions at the last moment to squeeze through on the left. With the sports bag as battering ram, this might just work. If she catches him, he’s in for serious trouble, but with a match at stake… “No risk, no fun” says Coach. Keeping that motto well in mind, Lano takes the plunge.

He hurt his elbow on the door frame and had to shake of her grip a bit too vigorously, judging by the pitch of her screaming, but he made it out of his room and into the corridor. Piece of cake to outrace her to the front door, open it, close it before she gets there, and run.

He’s really late, because of this stupid maternal interference.

Racing through the heavy traffic on main road, Lano relies on the safety features of the autonomous electric vehicles to clear his path. They have to brake, when confronted with a pedestrian, saving him time. They’ll also record his locator chip information and denounce him as traffic vandal. As a repeat offender, he’s in for some more civic duty. No problem. The artificial intelligence handling minor offenses will look at his profile, identify his football playing as the one bright spot to build a future on and assign sports facility maintenance work. On his last conviction, he had to clean the locker room of the professionals and met Dayé. Dayé! In person! And he posed with him!

If only his stupid skimpy dad made enough to buy him proper bump sole sneakers instead of this second hand shit. It’s just four kilometers, but he can’t keep up his top speed for more than eighth hundred meters before feeling the strain. By the time he reaches the practice pitch, the oomph will be gone from his legs, meaning he might not play on Sunday. All because of that stupid fat bitch.

His team is already on the pitch, all dressed up. Legalistically speaking, they’re not really his team. “Thirteen year olds won’t take an eleven year old as their captain, Lano, you’ve got to understand that.” Coach explained. “They’ll do your bidding on the pitch, because of your temper and skill, but I can’t formally declare you captain. That’s the price to pay, for playing ahead of your age. Tough luck, but I trust you to take it like a man.” Which Lano does, of course. 

Turns out this is Lano’s lucky day after all.

First he gets to rest his strained legs. Coach arrives even later than him because a group of stoned pedestrians blocked the only access road to the posh gated community where he lives. They’re demanding access to drinking quality tap water for everyone everywhere, not just the the upper million. Very extreme radicals, even though it’s a nice idea, when you think about it.

Next, Lano finally performs on his free kicks. He has been practicing on his own, in the dark of very early morning. On the empty plot next to the roaring desalination plant, the only spot where no one minds the noise. And the practice pays off. His impeccable performance confirms he will not only be playing on Sunday, he’ll also be in charge of any free kicks. 

Finally, when they’re nearly done with practice, Lano’s dad comes rushing, daring to interrupt Coach’s closing pep talk. Such a shame, to be blighted by a badly behaved parental.

But the misfortune soon gives way to the brightest of developments:

Coach shouts back at Lano’s dad, not mincing his words at all. About how it’s a crime, a serious crime, to try to interfere with what is obviously a “one-in-a-billion vocation”. And Lano’s dad to go: “One-in-a-billion vocation? Well, if that’s what you think, he’s all yours. Just come get him, better right here, right tonight than tomorrow. Good riddance, and good luck with him.”

And so it happened. The adults did some kind of paperwork, and Lano got to sleep one night at Coach’s home. A really posh place, with thick carpets and all. And the bit about the good tap water got confirmed, but they still drink bottled. The next day, a driver came for him. He was transferred to the Academy, and his career took off.

“One-in-a-billion vocation.” Lano always recalls this moment, to focus. How his first coach said it. So passionate, so one thousand percent sure to be right.

A lot has happened, in the twenty years since.

Lano no longer considers any of the many coaches he has more endured than enjoyed a deity. He’s on excellent terms with his parentals. They had a point, insisting on a life beyond football. He had a point, insisting on this career. Match nil, friends.

“One-in-a-billion vocation.” Lano takes a deep breath, and scores the penalty. Two more goals to go, to get them to the next round. Two weeks from now, he might be a happy man and a World Champion. Or just a happy man. Both options fine with him. Match over?