May the Force be with you

“Prrrhkkkkhhhhh!”
– Son, making an explosion sound, Nov 9, 2010.

The one thing that always annoyed me with Buster, the excellent sports comic book that had its heyday in the 1970s, was that there was never any hockey. I remember only one series, and it was short-lived. They might have had a hockey player on the cover, and I’d only realize that there were no hockey stories inside after I had bought that and 20 other comic books at the second-hand store around the corner from Dad’s work.

But I loved Buster. Johnny Cougar (Puuma in Finnish), the wrestler, was cool, Hot-Shot Hamish (Super-Mac) funny, Billy Dane (Benny Goldfoot in Finland and Sweden, a boy who became a fantastic soccer player whenever he wore Jimmy “Dead Shot” Kean’s old boots) exciting, Buster himself silly, and the club pages full of interesting trivia.

And then there was Roy Race.

Inside, yes, a hockey story.

The fair-haired Roy Race of the Melchester Rovers. The ultimate soccer player, and a sports hero, to whom no challenge was too big, and no adversity too hard to handle.

I wanted to be just like Roy Race. (I also wanted to be Pelé, and my mother was kind enough to sew leather numbers – 10 – on the back of a T-shirt when I was 8). And if I was Roy Race, my best buddy, Pekka, would then be Blackie Grey.

Blackie joined Melchester Rovers at the same time as Roy way back in the early 1950s. He was already a fixture in the Reserves when Roy made his debut alongside him in January 1955 and they soon struck up a brilliant understanding.

And oh, boy, did we ever have a brilliant understanding. No team could stop us, no player tackle us when we played our imaginary World Cup and FA Cup finals on the small patch of grass on just outside Pekka’s house. Of course, with no real opponent, we – and our imagination – were our worst enemy. Often that was almost enough, but just like Roy and Blackie, we’d rise from the brink of elimination, and rally back to win.

One day, we decided to join the local team, appropriately named “Gnistan”, or “spark” in Swedish. Pekka had heard that they were looking for players, and he thought we should join. I agreed.

Late that afternoon, we rode our bikes up the hill to the soccer pitch, but once we got there, we were told that the team would be playing a match that day. That sounded just great to us, until the coach told us that we wouldn’t be playing. I couldn’t understand why. I also didn’t understand why we couldn’t get those cool training overalls that the others seemed to have. I was devastated, and still crying when Dad came to pick me up.

“But, they’ve never seen you play, they don’t know who you are, but next time they practice you’ll be there and maybe you can play in the next match,” he said as we walked home, downhill.

Son had his first bandy practice today. Bandy being like field hockey, played on ice, the field as big as a football field.

We’ve skated together in the past, but he’s never seemed interested enough to really try to learn to skate. So, he’s stood around, said his feet hurt, and we’ve gone for the hotdogs.

That’s why I’ve been carefully putting the message out there all fall, about the fact that we’ve put him in a bandy, or skating, school. He’s just nodded and said that it’s going to be fun. Which has told me simply that he’s a nice kid who’s got manners.

Last week, I took it up a notch, and made it an almost daily reminder.

“So, on Tuesday, first bandy lesson … we need to find your skates, and maybe buy you shin pads, and … it’s going to be fun!”

“Yeah. But, I don’t have a stick.”

“Well, yeah, I don’t think you’ll be needing one, until you have learned to skate,” I’ve said, trying to manage expectations. After all, this was a beginners’ class, not really bandy. I wasn’t doing a very good job, though.

“I’m really good, you know. I mean, really good,” Son has told me.

Pekka and I did go back another day. We did practice with the team, and we even got the blue-and-yellow track suits with the G on the chest. We bought new football boots, we got new blue-and-yellow socks.

And we kept on practicing on our own little field. The two maples were the goal posts, and either one of us would be the goalie, or we’d be Roy and Blackie, and we’d pass the ball and zig-zag through the opponent’s defense.

In our first game, I was on the field from the start, Pekka started the game on the bench. Early in the second half, our coach made a change and sent Pekka in, to create something on the right side of the pitch.

We were giddy, we were exalted about playing in a real game, together. We were no longer Risto and Pekka. Remember, we had this brilliant understanding. No, no, we were Roy and Blackie, as we ran around the pitch, mimicking the play-by-play of a television commentator. The ball was somewhere, the other players as well, they could have been – and in some sense, were – in another universe.

Afterwards, Dad was there to offer me some words of wisdom again.

“It was really nice that you guys were out there together, but … you can’t just stop playing, can you?” he said.

I didn’t even know the final score.

Son was right. He was really good at skating. Much better than I remembered. Maybe he’d gotten a little stronger or something. Braver. Anyway, he put on his skates, hopped on the ice – or, slid carefully – and then took off. For the next hour, he sprinted on ice, played tag, practiced turns, stops, and with his new stick, the cool, real bandy stick he got from the club, passing the ball.

He had good balance, I thought. And he didn’t give up. Maybe he’s a ball player, I thought. Maybe he really likes bandy, maybe this is his thing?

As I tucked him in, I told him how impressed and proud I had been.

Son looked at me with a mischievous look on his face.

“Dad, you know how you always say that all I think about is Star Wars?”

“Yeah.”

“Today, when we had to skate around those pylons, and I didn’t really know what to do, and where to go, I pretended that the leaders were Darth Vader, and that I was a rebel commander in an X wing fighter, chasing them.

“And when we played tag, in the beginning, whenever somebody caught me, I would make a sound, really quiet, just to myself, a sound of an explosion, like when a rocket ship explodes. Or, like the Death Star in Episode IV … the one you call the first Star Wars movie.”

“That’s funny.”

‘Prrrhkkkkhhhhh!’” he said.

Also, a new sweater.

5 thoughts on “May the Force be with you

  1. Thanks Risto, great story and I can witness that it’s true. :) My career as a becoming soccer legend came to an end after the first season. But good memories remain forever. Long live G-men!

How does that make you feel?