Earlier this week, Wife, Son and I sat on warm concrete on the sidelines of a soccer field in Gothenburg and ate lunch as we waited for our favorite player’s, Daughter’s game to begin. Her team was on a West Coast tour, with five games in four days.
I loved it.
Not because I’m one of those crazy soccer (hockey) Dads because I don’t think I am but because going to the sports field or hockey rink is my idea of having fun.
I don’t know why I’m wired that way but it fascinates me.
One of my favorite early photos of myself is one – a black and white one, naturally – in which I kick a soccer ball on Grandma’s yard. She’s standing next to me, watching over me, with a look that is partly concerned and partly sceptical. I kick the ball with my left foot, wearing clothes that Mom surely made herself, holding a gun in my right hand.
I dropped the gun, but never the ball.
The ball, and it’s close cousin, the flat disc made of vulcanized rubber, have been my friend as long as I can remember. And I don’t mean just soccer and hockey that I’ve played competitively.
Dad and I used to drive down to the rink whenever we had nothing else to do. I’d ride my bike around town, watch people play tennis, and if a ball is approaching me, it pulls me over like a magnet. I can’t not give it a kick or a spin. I can’t turn my back on it.
It’s my friend. Sometimes a ball has been my only friend.
As a kid, I spent hours upon hours kicking a soccer ball against the wall of our apartment building. Mom told me not to kick it too high up on the wall so that I wouldn’t disturb the neighbors on the other side of the wall, so I tried to aim my shots at the gray foundation of the building. Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.
On other days, I’d smack my tennis racket on the rack in the back, stuff a tennis ball in my pocket and ride 500m up the hill to the skating rink that was turned into dozens of tennis courts in the summer. I would tie a scarf around my head and hit the ball against the training wall for a while. And when I got tired of that, and if none of my buddies had showed up, I’d leave my tennis racket at the manager’s office as a security deposit for a basketball.
Zing-boom, zing-boom, swoosh, ba-boom.
My friend Jari and I always came up with new kinds of ball games, using whatever equipment we had. One particularly popular game was one in which we hit a soft sponge ball with plastic paddles, across their apartment.
In the winter, I came home from school and either walked back up to the same skating rink and went looking for a game, or later on, when I didn’t keep my skates at home, just grabbed a stick and went to shoot some pucks. At twelve, one of the coolest and most fun things I Knew, was to play shinny against old men – surely at least 30 – , some of them wearing old hockey sweaters and thinking they were something to see, and then beat them.
Not that winning mattered. Not even the score mattered. Not even other players mattered, I was perfectly happy to play tennis by myself, shoot some hoops on my own, or just lie on my back in our apartment and throw a tennis ball straight up, trying to get it as close to the ceiling as possible, without the ball even nudging it, and then get it to land right on my hand.
Sometimes, I still get on the floor in my little office, grab a baseball off the shelf, and throw it straight up a few times.
It doesn’t always have to be a ball, either – when I throw Dog’s poop bag into the garbage can, I always try to make it a three-pointer – and I don’t always even have to a participant. I like to watch ball games and the level of play doesn’t really matter to me.
I’ve stopped to watch guys playing five-a-side soccer in parks and friends playing basketball in New York with as much interest as if they were playing for a gold medal in the Olympics.
I don’t know why the ball has such a hold on me. It’s not that I particularly like to work out. If anything, I’m lazy at heart, and any exercise I do, I always do for the simple reason that i know it’s good for me, not because I like it. I absolutely hate jogging, I’ve read books at the gym, and even if I like to ride my bike around town, you’ll never hear me sign up for a cyclingrace, in any sport, no siree.
But throw in a ball, and I’m game.
I had just finished my noodle salad when the second half of daughter’s game started. I put my plastic bowl aside and turned my focus on soccer. The game flowed from one side to the other, the teams taking turns in attacking and defending.
Then, suddenly, the goalie kicked the ball out of bounds, and it came rolling towards me. I stood up and jumped down from the concrete stands. I stopped the ball, and then, as casually as I could, kicked it back.
It felt good.