Beneath the floodlights and amidst the persistent drizzle, there’s an on-field battle taking place. It’s a top of the table clash. The game has been a tight affair, and the refereeing has been slightly dubious. This is football in its raw, most primal state.
This isn’t the Champions League or the Premier League, it’s not even the Blue Square Premier, there are not enough people on the pitch.
It’s Sheffield Powerleague five-a-side, and it’s starting to get interesting.
The thing about games like this is that it is a chance for anyone to become Messi or Iniesta for thirty long, hard, dream-filled minutes. The will to win is just as great (perhaps even more so?) and the dedication shown by the sodden, hyperventilating figures on the Astroturf pitch is unquestionable, after all, nobody gets paid for this.
We do it for the love of the game.
Pulling the cheap, garish shirt on before the match, is a privilege which many people will be familiar with. Unnecessary ankle tape and the odd snood can be seen among the scores of people crammed into the basic dressing rooms. We just want to live our dreams for a while. A myriad of coloured boots (whatever happened to black boots?) don’t clip-clop down the corridor due to the fact that they are rubber dimpled Astroturf boots, but in our minds they do.
Just like in the high echelons of the Football League, you can tell the rich from the poor, our matching kits (with sponsor!) are often the subject of silent, curled-lip derision from less affluent teams who turn up in roughly the same coloured shirts, or borrow the bibs from reception.
This must be what it’s like to be Crawley.
A temporary tunnel has been set up on the path leading to the pitches, playing crowd noises as we walk through it. It’s promoting the Wembley 5’s tournament and it is a very nice touch before the game.
The brief walk through the mazy paths leading between the pitches is always an interesting couple of minutes. You may come across a team you have recently played and exchange pleasantries, enquiring as to each other’s recent results, or you may stop for a moment to admire a scorching goal or gravity-defying save on one of the pitches en route. Or you may just walk past lots of dedicated athletes smoking a last fag before kickoff.
A few WAG’s line the walkways between the numerous theatres of dreams and subs cling to the wire mesh fencing like POW’s planning an audacious escape. Plastic bottles and fag ends are strewn around the ground, and the odd injured soul sits forlornly against the boards with his wounded limb stretched across the path.
The drizzle develops into a kind of wet fog which compromises the vision of anyone who wears glasses in their Clarke Kent-like real life, and a biting chill goes straight to the bones as the tracksuit tops and jumpers come off in anticipation of the game ahead.
Then the moment arrives. The final whistle of the preceding match. No matter how many games you have played in your “career”, there’s always a little heart-pounding at this point.
Trotting onto the pitch for a rudimentary warm-up (which generally involves just booting the ball towards the goal as hard as possible for a few minutes) the matter of team section comes up. Not that it matters, with rolling substitutions, everyone plays as much as everyone else.
As the shrill whistle cuts through the freezing air to start the game……I’m going to stop it here.
It didn’t go well. A 3-0 lead surrendered in the space of the final two minutes leads to the kind of draw that feels like a crushing defeat.
But, that’s football. For everyone that leaves the sports centre feeling like Xavi, there has to be someone else feeling like Shittu.