There would always come a day when torrid backyard soccer battles with Mr 9 would cease to satiate his undeniable passion for the round ball code.
And so it came to recently pass my wannabe soccer star insisted on joining the local team of choice, Preston Lions (tucked away in the backblocks of Reservoir). I swear I’m not in denial but I must admit the Auskick registration renewal email has yet to be sent to trash. Each day I glance at it with forlorn abandonment.
It also conveniently came to pass there was two remaining spots on the Under 9’s ‘B’ team, thus halting the flow of Miss 8’s FOMO tears.
My little Lionel Messi quickly found his stride with the other little Messi’s of generally messy skills and attention spans of a Donald Trump voter. Miss 8 also held her own with the rag tag bunch led by one of the most positive and patient coaches you could wish for.
Come the first practice match at an ungodly Sunday morning timeslot and reality kicked them squarely in their spindly shin bones.
Whereas Sydneham arrived kitted up in their pristine white uniforms, the Lions had yet to receive theirs and took to the field like a Dimmeys jumble sale. The game was held up as coach, in his thick Macedonian accent, tried valiantly to provide his charges a precis of Soccer for Dummies. Meanwhile, the Sydenham boys began jogging on the spot in perfect formation, patiently waiting to inflict the mother of all hidings. You had to be there.
The first ball hit the back of the net in a matter of 15 seconds, the second almost as quick. Barnstoneworth United, Bad News Bears, Mighty Ducks, Essendon… Choose your own analogy. Carnage ensued, though at least the gap between scores was extending. Coach positioned himself next to the goal where the action was, where he rifled through stand-in goalkeepers like BBQ Shapes in a desperate bid to stem the haemorrhaging. One kid seemed to think the best solution was to audition for the other team by tackling his own players and kicking the ball the wrong way. I lost count, but by half time the damage must have been in the order of 15-0.
I don’t know what was said during the break but after another Sydenham goal the Lions began moving the ball further forward, venturing into their own half. They even showed signs of… Skill! Mr 9 was channelling Nathan Buckley c1999 (playing midfield, back and forward), running himself ragged in a valiant bid to avert embarrassment.
Then a miracle. Preston scored! He scored!!
Sydenham may have put one more past the Lions but essentially the second half was played on level terms. I’ve seen a lot of comebacks in my time and this would rank right up there. Well, they never really came back as such, but you know what I mean.
At the final whistle an opponent refused to shake Mr 9’s hand, which either meant his performance earned a petulant mark of disrespect, or perhaps it was the kid he brought down in Kevin Muscat-like tackle (that’s my boy!).
I felt joy for coach, and the young Lions who restored their pride and hope for the season proper.
I’m not convinced Mr 9 will play for Brazil or Barcelona (his stated career options), nor Australia or even Melbourne Victory for that matter, but I have to accept he’s better at soccer than Aussie Rules. He’s actually quite good, for his age, in his small pond. And to see him running with his sister (a solid team player) in the same kit, whatever the sport, is something I’m looking forward to this winter.