The atmosphere in the changing room was buzzing. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. Everyone was so excited and couldn’t wait to get out on the pitch. I sat on the bench with my head down in deep contemplation of the job ahead. Slowly, as I fell deeper and deeper into thought, preparing myself, the noise around me seemed to diminish, but in reality it remained the same. It was the final of the spring cup and I was willing to defy all odds in order to have the trophy in my grasp.
“Silence!” yelled the manager. Within an instant the atmosphere was dead silent. He walked into the middle of the small, square changing room where a pile of unused kit laid on the floor. He brushed it all to one side and looked round slowly at each of one of us before he said anything. At this point there was complete silence. You could hear pin drop. He went round the circle continuing to look each of us dead in the eye as he laid down the law and told us each what our responsibilities were. The light shined on him through a gap in the small broken window. Dust motes hung in the ray of sunlight as he spoke with one hand up by his face preventing the sun from shining on him.
Everything seemed be resting on my shoulders. The strategy was to get the ball to me and they all relied on me scoring. It was the same for many other games we had played but it had become a huge responsibility because it was a cup final, and if I failed I wouldn’t only be letting myself down, but the whole team. I sat there and remained focused despite the anxiety.
Then the manager brought his hand together with a loud clap, which made me jolt up in surprise. He then raised his voice and shouted ‘Lets Go And Win This Final Then’.
I felt an unexpected shiver through my body that I couldn’t describe, as everyone jumped up and cheered. I looked at my arms and noticed they were covered with Goosebumps. Everyone began to pour out of the small changing room like a herd of horses. The metal studs beneath everyone’s boots, rattled on the tiled floor like galloping hooves.
My heart began to thump rapidly as we walked on to the pitch with a standing ovation from the small, but loud crowd that were in attendance. I looked around in amazement and saw the whole stadium. Although not very big, and quite grotty, it was still something enthralling and new, as I had never previously played in a real stadium. We were used to the quiet, muddy, exposed open spaces of the local football pitches. It was quite a culture shock to be playing in a stadium.
It wasn’t the best-kept ground. The walls were a smudged shade of white, smeared in dirt. The seats were wooden; some decaying from woodworm and weathering, but it was enough to get my heart pulsate like the beat of a drum.
There was still a lot of talking going on between the teams. The thought of a group of mothers gossiping over afternoon tea came to mind as I stood there listening to the conversations taking place. The referee blew his whistle sharply and very deafeningly, sounding even louder from the position I was in. Instinctively I raised my hands up to cover my ears but it still sent a penetrating deafening ringing sound through my ears. He called the captains into the centre circle. I looked to see who the opposition’s captain was. He was a tall white boy with long brown wavy hair almost down to his shoulders. Wearing the teams kit of a Red and white stripped shirt, white shorts and red socks.
The referee flipped the 10 pence coin to settle on who kicked off. The coin glared in the light as it was flipped in the air. The long brown haired boy called loudly “Heads!! Just before the coin landed on the firm ground. Both captains and the referee looked down to see what the outcome was. The referee told them it was Tails. Our captain Tom chose to kick off, so I immediately strolled over to the centre spot where the shiny, new white ball laid on white circle painted on the rough ground. The noise died down, as the referee prepared to blow his whistle and begin the match. The whistle blew quickly before I even knew it. I rolled the ball to my teammate Greg and the game was under way.
The first 30 minutes were quiet. The opposing team had the majority of the possession, and the possession we had remained in the first two thirds of the pitch. I was beginning to feel more like a spectator than a player. I hadn’t touched the ball once in the whole 15minutes apart from the kick off. It felt nothing like being in a football match.
Then unexpectedly the ball came to me in the air. I controlled it on my chest and killed the pace of the ball. I turned round to see a defender rite ahead of me so I passed the ball to Sean on the wing. I carried on running towards the goal. My heart was pounding more than ever now. I sprinted into the box, with my eye on the ball constantly. I was roughly 20 yards away from goal when I saw Sean was on the verge of crossing the ball. He crossed it in with some power and it was practically at my feet quicker then I expected. I continued to focus on the ball, unaware of anything other than where the goal was and where the ball was. I raised my right leg swiftly and swung at the ball with force. I struck the ball perfectly and it was heading towards goal.
I watched as it soared towards the top corner. I waited in hope and anticipation for it to hit the back of the rigid white net. The goalkeeper was in mid-flight; I prayed he didn’t get to the ball. I watched as it soared past, brushing his fingertips. It hit the back of the sturdy net and fell to the floor. I felt a quiver rush through my body. The adrenaline was overwhelming. I turned round and punched the air with delight. I saw a group of 6 of my teammates rushing towards me. Within a blink of an eye they were all gathered round me. There was an uproar of joy. We were all shouting with delight. There were hands everywhere patting me on the head, on my back and hugging me in appreciation. I was overwhelmed with the reaction I received from everyone when I scored. I felt accepted and loved.
After a few minutes the frantic celebration was over and we trotted back to our positions for kick off.
For the rest of the half I was in disbelief about scoring in a cup final and my team wining 1-0. We were on the road to wining and I could almost feel the trophy in my grasp.
The whistle blew signalling the end of the half. We were 1 – 0 up and emotions were running high. Everyone crammed back into the compact changing room. The atmosphere was now livelier than before the game.
The manager called for immediate silence. The racket continued so he raised his little fingers on each hand up to his mouth, placed them under his tongue and blew creating a high pitched sharp whistle.
Everyone abruptly stopped talking and looked in the direction the sound came from.
“Rite, I’ve finally got your attention,” he alleged with a smile on his face.
“That was brilliant, you played really well,” he declared “Just keep it up and weave got it in the bag”.
He finished talking and kneeled down, and began to rummage through his bag.
He pulled out a see through plastic bags full of fresh oranges.
He stood back up and walked around the changing room circle and extended his arm offering the oranges to everyone.
While doing so he gave a few words of encouragement and praise to each person individually.
I couldn’t make out what he was saying to everyone but he got to me and said ” that was a great goal son, keep it up and let me see some more of the same”
Just from him saying those few words, it made me pleased, and further determined.
We left the changing room one by one and ran back onto the rigid pitch. There was some distant clapping coming from our left in the stands where the supporters we had were located.
We watched as the opposition ran out onto the pitch shortly after us. Their boots hammered on the hard ground, as they got onto the pitch in groups.
Everyone was ready and the referee blew his whistle.
We fought hard for every minute of the match. It was looking good with 15 minutes to go we continued to lead 1-0.
Then suddenly one of our defenders Perry scuffed a clearance, making the majority of the contact with the solid ground rather then the ball.
It fell straight to the striker’s feet. He had clear space ahead of him, no defenders in sight.
I watched praying he would miss, as he dashed towards goal. He struck the ball with a thump. He struck it with velocity across the floor just before he entered the area.
The goalkeeper dived aimlessly to prevent it from getting past him.
He tried his best but couldn’t reach the ball. It flew past his right hand, straight into the bottom left corner of the goal.
I held my head in my hands in disbelief. I felt for Perry who looked distraught about gifting them a goal, and giving them a chance of taking this final away from us.
I strolled over to the centre circle with my head down awaiting the kick off.
The referee blew his whistle. For the first time in the whole match I didn’t want to hear that whistle to signal the kick off.
I rolled the ball 2 Greg and got the game underway once more. There was less than 10 minutes for us to get a goal back and win the match.
We pressurised them constantly with the majority of the possession but we couldn’t make anything of the chances we had.
There was 2 minutes remaining and the opposition had the ball. They forced their way up field and it didn’t look like anyone was going to stop them.
Making several passes they got the ball into our half.
They gave the ball to a skinny ginger haired boy on the left wing. He had great pace and acceleration and ran past our players as if they weren’t there. He rapped his left foot around the ball and put a threatening ball into the area.
Their tall, strong centre forward dived headfirst towards the ball.
He directed the ball with his head towards the top corner.
Our goalkeeper was helpless. The sheer power of the header beat him easily.
As the ball rolled into the back of the net I swore quietly to myself.
No one was to blame for this goal. They broke swiftly and steam rolled their way up the pitch, virtually unstoppable.
I was unaware of the little time that was left and as I rolled the ball to Greg for the 4th time this match the referee blew his whistle for full time.
That was it. Our chance of glory was over. The trophy was snatched away from us in the dying moments.
I welled up inside, fighting not top let the tears out. I was going through several emotions of anger, disbelief, and sadness.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened. We were so close to victory but fell at the last hurdle.
I watched in anger as the other team bunched together screaming with delight.
I pictured me being one of those people crowded round celebrating, but it just made me even more distressed.
I looked round to see that Perry, who gifted them with the first goal from a bad error, was weeping.
His father who had come onto the pitch from the stands consoled him.
We were all sitting on the dusty floor, broken-hearted with our heads down, some staring into nowhere.
We had to endure the humiliation of watching the opposing team go and collect their trophies as winners, while we had to settle for runner-up medals.
I watched in grief as they collected their trophies backed by a roar of applause and cheering as each individual was presented with the gleaming gold trophy with a figure of a football player on a base of marble.
The final player of the opposition received his trophy and it was now our turn to receive our runner up medals.
I forced myself up off the floor and walked towards the table where the shimmering gold medals laid.
Although they were attractive, it was nothing compared to what it would have been like to receive the winner’s trophy.
I lowered my neck and the old man with white hair placed the red ribbon medal around my neck. I looked up again and shook the mans hand and he consoled me saying “Unlucky mate. That was a great goal”.
I was warmed by the praise he gave me but when I glanced down at the medal the words ‘runners up’ stared me straight in the face.
The words resembled failure.