It’s good to be back. It’s an exclusive club. The location is known but the line up changes from week to week and the final list is a mystery till the very end. There’s very limited capacity. But at the allotted time, we turn up. In our best gear. Or whatever is dry. All of us are ready. For shouting, panting, some grappling. The cage is opened. In we go. Not the MMA, no there’s no eight-hour podcast, protein supplement, have-I-told-you-about-my-whiskey vibe here. And it’s not One Of Those Clubs. I’m not gyrating in a cage suspended above the dance floor, an embodiment of the patrons’ unspeakable fever dreams.
It’s just five-aside football on astroturf. On footpaths people are running but in cages there are others. A drone flying across the dark winter sky would see hundreds of these small glowing patches of green. Filled with people in various stages of fitness, darting around, summoned by email list or WhatsApp group.
“Are you going to play football with your friends Daddy?” Ask the children as I’m excitedly trying to unknot the laces of the runners I painfully peeled off a week before. I say that I am but it’s hard to describe this. Friends? Some of these people I may never know their name. Football? I’m not sure if you’d call what I play football. I kick a ball and sometimes it goes where I intended it to. This cage is forgiving. Every pass looks intuitive if the rebound works out. Football snooker.
The main thing is the sheer mindfulness of it. Actually, I don’t know if it’s mindfulness. I am aware of my breathing but only in the sense that I’m breathing very heavily. Maybe mindlessness is a better description.
I have NEVER worried while playing five-aside. Well maybe I have but only about immediate concerns, playing shite, giving the ball away.
It’s punctuated by odd bouts of euphoria where I’ve scored. But I’ve never done the silly worrying we do about important things. The pointless stuff. I won’t be thinking about covid -unless some lad is hoiking the omicron out of himself onto the pitch- or NFTs or asteroids or climate change or flash-backs to the highlights reel of embarrassing moments.
It’s ephemeral. There’s no need to remember this. This game of absolutely no consequence that will not be recorded on any device and stored in the cloud for subsequent dissectio