About 10 of years ago I played in a team of mates, in a local league. We weren’t a bad side actually. When we were in the mood we could be a match for absolutely anyone, although inconsistencies, blunders and a squad rotation policy resembling one large game of musical chairs usually ended up meaning we coasted in as mid-table also-rans by the end of each season.
A season would run for roughly 12 weeks and we’d play three 12-minute games each week against three different opponents. Thinking about it, we were targets for everyone because of our inconsistency. The better teams went hard on us because we often played well against them, and the rubbish teams also targetted us because they thought they’d be able to beat us if we had one of our all-too-common off-days.
Anyway, amid the drudgery of another mid-table campaign, something magical was about to happen. Something that none of us were prepared for.
A mid-table nail-biter
We were locked in a tense game against fellow mid-table battlers. They were a group of hardened 30-somethings and we were just a load of lads in our early 20s, but both teams had been struggling for form and both us were desperate for a win.
In a game that’s already tense, all it takes is for a couple of clumsy tackles or a few careless words and suddenly everyone is primed and ready to explode. We’d already had a few incidents, just a bit of ‘handbags’, but enough to have everyone on edge. As the clocked ticked on and the game remained a draw it was poised to be an absolute nail-biter of a finish.
I honestly can’t remember anything about the goal that broke the deadlock, but I’m relieved to say that it was our team who managed to bag it with only a couple of minutes to spare. Given that we’d all been a bit twitchy, trying to keep a lid on it for the previous 10 minutes, we erupted in celebration. Our celebrations weren’t anything choreographed, just the basic revelry of a bunch of middle-class white guys. Picture the way tennis players celebrate with fist-pumps and deep-voiced “COME ONs” and you’re not too far off. Embarrassing really.
One Giant Leap
The other team were just the opposite, heads down, swearing at everything: each other, the ref, us, their unborn children (no, not quite) – utterly devastated to have conceded what was probably a jammy goal to a team they were really starting to despise. One of their defenders, a bit of an old-hand, bent down to do up his laces, cursing angrily.
As we continued to draw-out our celebration a bit longer than we should have, our heroic goalscorer wheeled round in an arch, as if riding the crest of a euphoric wave. Still to this day, I don’t know why he did what he did next.
Seeing the shoelace-tier crouched on the floor, he exuberantly ran up behind him at some pace and leapt over him, seemingly propelled high into the air by the sheer thrill of having bagged the decider.
It felt like he got about 30 seconds of hang-time on that jump, as the rest of us looked on in horror, silently praying that the guy wouldn’t stand up midway through being hurdled leaving them both pole-axed on the floor.
Luckily, he didn’t get up and my teammate cleared him in what was really quite a magnificent display of hurdling ability that even Colin Jackson would be proud of. He beamed from ear to ear as he vaulted the opponent, oblivious to the total bemusement on the faces of the rest of us.
As it turns out, it seems that there is nothing that will wind-up an opposition player like the feeling that they’ve been involuntarily hurdled. And after about a second of finishing tying his laces and computing what had just occurred, as a pair of legs whistled just inches past his ears, the defender’s coiled spring had well and truly gone off. One giant leap and it’s all gone absolutely mental.
The shoelace-tier (“the human-hurdle” as he shall always be known) flew into a quite incredible rage. The cheek of somebody actually deciding to hurdle him had driven him totally nuts and I’m pretty sure he fully intended to break my mate’s legs in retribution. The referee, as well as 4 or 5 players, had to step in to diffuse the situation whilst the hurdler finished his celebrations, only now realising how daft he’d been.
Somehow, we eventually managed to get the game restarted, and we hung on for a win. Most importantly though, we made it out of there with our legs unbroken (something I wasn’t sure was going to happen at one stage).
There are lots of things I can’t remember about that night – when exactly it was; what our exact team line-up was; how we scored our goal. But what will live with me forever, clear as day, is the image of my friend with a smile on his face, in full stride, leaping over what turned out to be the angriest man ever. It was a feat which was both genius and crazy in equal measure and, sadly, I’ll probably never see anything like it ever again.