The 4.20 alarm. Eating a bowl of porridge while driving. Long term Blue car park. Waiting for ages for the shuttle bus. Then the long, shuffling queue. This being the busiest time of the day in the airport will never cease to be weird. Then sitting squashed up in a blue and yellow McDonalds Big Mac box for three hours with knees up against the seat in front. The flight full, masks under chins. You can’t hold your breath for the whole flight. I’m thinking, yes, this is the freedom we’ve missed for the last year.
Listening to podcasts about songs and criminals and sports and reading a book about rowing and Nazis. The air hostess that walks with such confidence and makes me think of the air hostess that I watched on Netflix. There must be people who hook up with flight attendants.
What a pleasure and relief to land in Lisbon and sit in the sunshine in the centre, drinking coffee and watching different looking people shopping in the same shops. The different accents, way of walking, interacting. It’s a balm for the soul. Lisbon, with it’s open spaces and signature buildings, remants of a global empire. Compared to the packed bustle of its Spanish rival Madrid, it reminds me a bit of a expensive shopping centre that never quite filled all its units. Then a two hour train journey to the university town of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in Europe, around since 1290.
And so we’re back to playing Touch. It’s been two years since I played in a tournament. For a long time during the various lockdowns, I felt like I was waiting in the long grass, working away, training, still trying to get better.
I hate older sportspeople pretending not to care, not to take it seriously. I disliked it even when I was younger. As a spectator, mental strength and smartness doesn’t strike as impressively in visual sense as youthful athleticism. I look at it like this, not many people were ever looking anyway so that shouldn’t matter too much. What matters, to me, is what you’re trying to achieve yourself, how you’re trying to challenge yourself.
Then injury struck, then another injury, then a few of them together. It’s fascinating how a tiny part of your body can bring down the whole, and how your head begins wrecking itself. I’m stressing if I can give my best in the tournament.
I thought to myself a few days ago, I couldn’t feel the excitement. I didn’t feel anything much. I was wondering if I still cared as much I used to. Could I still care as much?
The injuries are the vestiges of injuries, memories and hang ups in your neural system. But still real, can still pull you up and inhibit you. Will I be moving freely? Who knows?
DAY 1 – Scotland, Wales, Switzerland
I walked around the pitches, looking around, taking it all in.
I always find it hard to be social during a tournament.
This time I took some to take it, the happiness in people to be back playing, back interacting. The faces you hadn’t seen in two years. The people who greet you and who you greet like old friends, with genuine enthusiasm, whose names you have no idea of but that hardly matters.
It wasn’t seamless. There were a lot of fist-pumps greeting handshakes.
Scotland – Lost 9-8
We could have, should have won this game. I was so nervous in the warm up, so tentative, the fear that the injuries would come biting, clawing at you. Physically I felt ok during the game, that was the first thing. Mentally, I was surprised how overstimulated I became so quickly. You have to relearn to handle the emotion.
I felt sharp at times and so sluggish at other times. Hopefully, we’ll meet this team again later in the tournament. We did score this one in the last play of the game.
Do I still care? Hmm.
Wales. Lost 4-1
This was a worse performance than the first game. I remember many years ago an ex-player, I can’t remember who, in commentary on Eric Cantona returning from his 9-month ban for kung-fu kicking a fan. His first match back was against Liverpool. Was this a risk in such a big game? ‘Nah, the first match back is not the difficult one,’ said the ex-player. ‘You get through that on pure adrenaline. It’s the four or five matches afterwards where you struggle.’ It was like that for me.
In this game, I felt like Willie Beamen in ‘Any Given Sunday’. Overloaded with input.
My close in work was so, so poor. I just couldn’t see the plays, the angles. Everything was off. Getting rushed in attack, getting hesitant in defence, not able to read things quickly enough. Like a computer with too many windows open, getting slow and sluggish as it tries to process everything.
I set up our score and apart from that I did nothing in attack.
Switzerland. Drew 5-5
The derby of sorts. I thought we’d lost it till about five minutes after the final whistle.
Searching for divine inspiration after letting in a really poor try through the middle.
After letting in that score, myself and Fed stayed on the pitch and went up the pitch. Finally, I began to get the rhythm. It’s not the most elegant dive. I knew it wasn’t when I was doing it but finally, finally I began to get the timing. And we came back from two down to draw. That’s something at least.
Not a great first day to a tournament but this team has a tradition of improving. I was so impressed by the talk of the established leaders in this team going back till before records were being kept. I felt like I was sitting at the feet of the elders of the tribe soaking in their wisdom.
Their good sense and positivity gives me a good feeling for the rest of the tournament. It’s not going to happen just because we want it to happen. We have to make it happen.
As a Portuguese philosopher said…