Thursday, 22 October 2009
I’d like to believe that I am a pretty fit piece of cake in the local bakery, but after a while everyone needs some variation, so when choosing a sport to sign up for, I go for American Football. I am not going to be naïve, so I enquire with the gigantic mammals seated at the desk whether a kid with no experience or knowledge of the game can be useful to the team. They respond positively.
In American Football, you scream a lot. More, perhaps, than in any other sport. The introductory meeting alone ends with the entire room standing up like gibbons at a rally screaming the team’s motto – ‘Who are we? Pirates! Who are we? Pirates! What do we do? We win! What do we do? We WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN! [etc.]’ The second thing that I discover is that American Football, like Americans themselves, meets with scarce popularity outside of the United States. By this I am not referring to – or complaining about – the fact that every time the rugby team crosses us in a pub they start hooting and such a scene has to be raised that you’d think their beers had been served by William Wallace in person. Rather the predicament relates to the hours of training.
The more popular the sport, the more comfortable are the hours allocated to it by the administrators of the sport fields. Anything between noon and four p.m. goes to the local football team. Morning hours are for girls who do volleyball and from four to six you get the rugby players (those rabid hounds). Between six and eight there’s cricket or that ridiculous game with sticks where you pick up the ball with an instrument and run it into the opponents’ goal – something like an hybrid between football and hockey, played of course by hybrids between asses and impalas. From eight until the darkness becomes mythological, there’s a slew of cryptic sports, like frisbee or sack-racing on ice. Then there’s us.
On the first night of training, I am presented with a blizzard of epic proportions. On the second night the weather is more merciful, so I am allowed the privilege of seeing the stars, distant and frozen, like the eyes of Greek divinities looking down in pity at my adventure. I reach the changing room, where I meet a host of seals in the fog: my team-mates. Within five seconds they are already barking – who are we, pirates, who are we, pirates, and so on. Then they hand out the armour, and a couple of minor brawls break out when it turns out that some players get helmets which don’t fit them or nut-shields which work like nut-crackers. We undergo a warm-up phase: despite the sport not being very popular among the locals, every single American in the region has come to take part in the team, so there must be four-hundred of us loping around the field in our body armours. Running in that stuff feels a bit like carrying a bag of bricks, meant for a house which you have no interest in seeing built, to the top of a steep mountain inhabited by wolves. It loosely reminds me of the Great March of Mao Ze Dong.
Then comes something which has the semblance of a real session of training: ‘Get into positions!’ yells one of the coaches. Yes, but what the hell is my position? Not everyone has had the chance of studying the NFL tactical booklet since the age of four. I look lost, so they throw me among the receivers. It is probably not a good moment to mention that I am short-sighted.
The tactics for American Football have been devised by the most intricate underground society since the institution of freemasonry. I wouldn’t be surprised if they told me that it once involved sacrificing goats. The rules are assigned and put into practice by means of mysterious codes which one of the players tells to the others when they all gather together in a circle (the only moment in a footballer’s life when he whispers!). Normally the game gets going while I am still lost in lucubration as to where the fuck I’m expected to go and why. On the off-chance that I do reach a conclusion, I set off running into zones which are such a desertification, with all the play going on elsewhere, that one of two things has happened: either my conclusion was off the mark like a parachutist that falls into the storage blocks of a glass factory, or I’m being used as a decoy by some genius tactician.
As time progresses with the team, I discover that my incompetence is of no great consequence. My role in the squad consists in sitting on the bench and yelling ‘Offence’ or ‘Defence’ depending on what the team is doing and whether I can understand this correctly. I also scream the team slogan when the games are over. The scores are also completely beyond me, on occasions ending something close like sixteen to nineteen, on others something ludicrous like losing zero to seventy-five, occasions in which the team is usually said to have ‘played well.’
The parts after the match are, as a rule, much more interesting than the match itself. What happens is that everybody gets on the bus to go home from whichever small city had hosted us with whichever of its small community of immigrant Americans, stopping at some oil-plant on the way, buying wine or beer to scales which would be illegal in any civilised country other than ours, and then doing our best to vomit before the bus has finalised its run to take us home. The drivers are usually aware of the latter intent and for this reason they race like bastards on the highway. This doesn’t help with the stomach and a few of us let go almost immediately. These individuals are dumped at the back of the bus with the armours. Whoever else loses consciousness follows suit
I probably would have dropped out of this society much earlier than I eventually did if it weren’t for the fact that this was the only team in the entire university that placed us in contact with cheerleaders. Best of all, the cheerleaders partook in the bus and the drinking on the way home, even though they seldom gave their attention to people whose task was that of warming the bench (and shouting the slogans). The other thing that kept me there was the socials. As I was about to find out, there were few clubs in the university that organised socials more awkward and quixotic than the American Football society. This is another story, but it is a good enough story to have kept me with the screaming seals for almost the entirety of the academic year. I’ll recount it in one of the next blog-posts.