Back on the Pitch
I currently have a large purplish-yellow bruise on the inside of my right knee, and a smaller one on my right. I’m also a little bit sunburned, thanks to having spent Sunday playing in my first league match in nearly two years. I’m sore, and I love it.
I started playing soccer when I was about six years old. Six-year-olds can’t really do that much on the field; there’s a lot of running around in bunches, and screwing up throw-ins. When I was a pre-teen, I started playing in goal, and never left. I played for 12 years growing up, and only stopped once I got to college. I then played off and on until I returned to Seattle seven years ago.
Thanks to a little serendipity, I ended up at a Sounders match with friends of a guy I’d just started dating (who is now my husband), and his team was looking for another player. I joined the team and played with them for almost five years. We only met on Sundays for matches; there were no practices. Sometimes folks went out for drinks after, and sometimes people brought their little kids to the games. It was a generally relaxed environment, and we were a solidly middling team.
Occasionally someone would join who took the whole thing more seriously than the rest of us, and would get frustrated that we didn’t practice. Those folks were often the ones to lose it with the refs. They were also folks who didn’t really last long. (We were sponsored by a tap house. Like, come on. Read the room.)
When our league unexpectedly shut down, we joined a different one. Our original league required a 50/50 split of men and women on the pitch, understanding that sometimes it’d be six men and five women, and sometimes it’d be the reverse. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many women who wanted to play co-ed soccer in Seattle, so most of the time it was the former, which meant six men and four women running around on the field, with me in goal.
When we switched to the new league, the rule was that it had to be five men and five women on the field, and the keeper could be a man or woman. Since we regularly had trouble finding more than five women available to play, I wasn’t able to be in goal anymore. Because of that, I left the team.
The only position I play is goalie, and while I’m not great at it, I love it. It’s a fun challenge, trying to keep the ball out of the net. I’m the only one on the field who can use her hands. I get to watch the game unfold ahead of me while also playing it. I have to learn how the back line (the defenders) play, so I can know when to expect that they’ll send the ball back to me, or clear it out.
(Also, I don’t have to run as much – I do enough of that on my own. My next half marathon is on October 7!)
When we moved to London I thought hey, maybe I’ve got a chance to start back up again. I did some research and found a club that practices just a couple miles away. They were open to new members, so I went to training.
That’s right, training! They actually practice every week. And then there are matches for an entire, proper season — September to May. It was a little awkward at first. People are nice, but they’re a club and many have been playing together for years. One can’t just drop in and immediately feel at home. I followed the drills, and was able to get a little time in goal that day. I came back the next week, and found there was another new goalie who had joined just before me, and she and I have quickly become buddies, commiserating when we have to do fitness drills or when we don’t get a lot of time practicing in the goal.
We played a scrimmage a couple of weeks ago, and just this weekend I played in my first real match, on the Reserves team. It feels so different from my time in Seattle. We had changing rooms, and proper warm-ups. It was a fairly hot day, and we played on turf, so we were all a bit sluggish. Our captain — who also plays in goal — was delightfully supportive. She warmed me up in goal, offered tips, and during the match, yelled to me (not at me) when I’d forget something or couldn’t recall the way this team does things (they have actual set plays! It’s amazing!).
There’s no guarantee I’ll get to play in any given week. The club has three teams – a rec team on Saturdays (starting this weekend), and then a First team and a Reserves team that play on Sundays. There are three keepers that I know of, and I’m probably the weakest, so I imagine if I do get to play, it’ll usually be on Saturdays.
It feels so good to be playing again. Yes, I’m older, and yes, each week I’m going to be sore the next day. I’m going to screw up on occasion. But I’m also going to get better. It’s so great to have someone (in this case, our manager and captain) offering direction about how improve. I love that I have the chance to keep getting better, and keep pushing myself.