Football Fever

The image above used to be my idea of football; pick up games on the local field, chaotic playground football and creative street football. What a joy it was to play on the hard concrete against people of all ages and sizes, where skill and great goals were celebrated, and the emphasis was always on freedom and enjoyment. Winning wasn’t important, no one ever remembered the result; but instead, a sublime piece of skill.
However, when I began playing organised football for local teams I realised I was completely wrong, how naive I was. It was plagued with unnecessary violence and unbearable pressure from demanding coaches and threatening parents. The hostile environment was exacerbated by the national win-at-all-costs philosophy. Every Sunday morning match was dreaded. I didn’t eat before it. I prayed it would get called off. I counted down the seconds until the final whistle. During the games I didn’t want the ball, I wanted my mum. This was not the game I had grown up to love.

As a result, despite football having been one of the my main reasons for living, my playing career was dominated by fear. Only 2 or 3 times did I enjoy a match and play to the best of my ability. Sometimes it was due to the fear of playing well and god punishing me for it or realising I wasn’t that good, but mainly it was down to the fear of fighting, from parents as well as players.

Below are two short stories about some of the worst times of my life; playing amateur junior football on local parks…

A tournament abroad

Not only was I thousands of miles from home, I had to play football against aggressive foreign boys with aggressive parents. In spite of that, the tournament had started well, I´d even managed to score a few goals. Normally, getting into a goal-scoring opportunity terrified me, but I even managed to score a header, despite being scared I’d suffer irreversible brain damage. There were also short moments when I forgot to panic and enjoyed myself, but everything was going too smoothly.

During the knock-out stages, I didn’t want to play anymore. I had finally had enough. I could get into a fight. My dad was my manager. Another manager could punch my dad and he could get hurt, I just wanted to go home.
As Murphy´s law would have it, that next game didn’t want to end. The 90 minutes crawled by. Then there was extra time. Then 30 more minutes of extra-time proper. And then extra time of the extra time. It was as though everyone but me wanted to play football forever.
Eventually, the penalty shoot-out was upon us. Finally, it had to end.
Our team formed a huddle.
“Okay who wants to take one?” Dad said.
Everyone looked at each other with the if-you-will-I-definitely-will look.
My first thought was, I hate this, I don’t want to play anymore. Take one and blaze it over the bar, then hopefully we get knocked out.
“I´ll take the first one, I don’t mind” I said.
To everyone else I was so brave, but it was one of the most selfish thoughts I’d ever had.
4 others soon put themselves forward and we had our 5 penalty takers.
The penalty takers formed their own huddle.
“Right, just place it low in the corner, keeper aint saving it.”, one said.
“Pick your spot before you go up.”, another said.
Everyone put their hands in.
“Come on boys!”
I said nothing.
The referee tossed his euro coin, we won. Our captain chose to kick first. That meant that I was first-first, out of everyone.
“Go on Bish lad!” a teammate shouted.
There were easily a hundred people watching: players, coaches, parents, referees, all eyes were on me.
As much as I wanted to miss, I couldn’t do it. Everyone else on the team were enjoying themselves, and not only did they want to win that penalty shoot-out, they wanted to win the whole tournament. I decided I would take a decent penalty and pray the goalkeeper saved it. My plan was to look to the right but kick the ball into the left corner, and give the keeper the eyes.
I picked up the ball and placed it on the penalty spot. I can´t remember anything about the goalkeeper, about what he looked like nor how tall he was. I stuck to the plan, I looked to the right of the net then kicked the ball to the left, at least that´s what I´d intended. Instead the ball travelled almost straight down the middle; the goalkeeper only had to shift slightly to his right to reach the ball. He guessed correctly and leapt towards the ball, easy save, thank God.
Now I remember the keeper, he was shit.
His gloves touched the ball but he palmed it into the roof of the net.
You dickhead. Why didn’t I just fucking sky it over the crossbar? Why did I have to look the other way as well? I didn’t need to do any tricks.
Needless to say, we won. I had to play yet another game, potentially even more.
Thankfully, the next game was against a strong Uruguayan team; it was a horrible match (god wouldn’t make it that easy) but the tournament was over. My teammates were gutted; I was delighted. I couldn’t wait to get back to the pool and have fun, with no more matches to dread.

Of course, we had to go and support the older age groups, where boys were no longer boys but fully grown men with too much testosterone. Those matches were a whole

other level…

A Cup Match in Leeds
I was so happy to have finally joined a new team with all my new mates. However, that elation lasted all of 2 training sessions. I was soon, unfortunately officially signed up and it was time for my first game… against our arch rivals. Everyone had been talking about it in training, there was no love lost between us. To make matters worse, it was the knock-out stages of a cup competition. And it was away from home. And it was in a rough part of Leeds. And the sky was blackening. And I had an irrational fear of thunderstorms.

As soon as we arrived it was clear the rivalry was real. Gangs of scary hooded people on BMXs ran the length of the pitch. The home team stared as I walked with my tail between my legs to the pitch, whose name alone, “the wreck”, made it difficult to breathe.

Why couldn’t I be one of those lucky kids who went swimming or visited their grandparents on Sunday mornings? Even something boring, anything but this!
I was ready to give up football there and then. I had threatened thousands of times before but this I meant it. I didn’t care as long as it meant I was spared.
As the game kicked-off, my legs turned to jelly. I prayed I wouldn’t receive the ball, I tried to hide in midfield and watched as the ball flew back and forth over my head. My tactics were; if the ball came to me, get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Initially, the plan worked well; however, midway through the first-half some idiot on my team decided it was a good idea to score; that pissed them all off.
The home team 0-1 some cheeky cunts.
I didn’t celebrate, I thought if i was respectful they´d spare me after the game when they tried to beat us up. For the next 20 minutes I almost lost possession on purpose, as an apology for us scoring.
The first half slowly turned into the second. The clouds continued to dye themselves darker. The goal started to give me mixed emotions; winning after 90 minutes meant no extra-time and getting out of here quicker, but did it have to be us that won!?
The pressure from the home team mounted. Their striker had a great shot well saved by our keeper.
Then came their penalty appeals.
“Fuck me ref! How was that not a pen?!”
Then another. “What fucking game are you wotchin? Are you fuckin joking?! Blind cunt!”
This time, my team-mate replied, “Never a pen, what game are you wotchin!?”
“Fuck off ya cunt! Woch after this match dick-ed! I´ll kick fuck outta all of ya!”
I froze.
From that moment on, I imagined the battering I would receive. The mob of home supporters continued to incessantly eff and blind at the referee; I was certain they´d take it out us.
Almost simultaneously, the first drops of rain began to fall, the sky was eclipse-grey. I saw no point in asking the referee for the third time how long was left. I knew; we were seconds away from the mother of all thunderstorms and our deaths.
Another penalty incident, this time a “stone-waller”.
Not given. I think the referee secretly wanted extra time even less than I did.
Then, they won what seemed like their 30th corner kick in 5 minutes.
Please! Not now!
Our defender headed it behind; another corner.
This time, the cross was better. The tall boy I was marking shoved me. He ran towards the back post. I didn’t chase him, I just froze and hoped he wouldn’t get the ball. He did. He had a completely free header. 2 yards out.
Goal. And it was all my fault.
He headered the ball towards goal. It hit the cross-bar and flicked over, goal-kick.
Fuck me.
Moments later, the final whistle sounded. 0-1. We shook hands. The thunderstorm must have missed us. The beat-down never came. The manager made a clichéd team talk he´d probably heard on Match of the Day, “we didn’t play great but we´ll look back on this at the end of the season as the turning point”; in truth, I never wanted to think about that game ever again.
Quarter-finals here we come….
I thought football was played with your feet; not your fists. If this is football; I´m allergic. I have football fever.
Viva Neymar.
Come.On.England.

Xenophobia: Am I racist?

I often worry that I’m racist. A vast amount of my panic attacks have been caused by the colour of a person’s skin and the thoughts it has evoked in me, I cannot lie. In an airport, the racist man inside my head tells me everyone who “looks Muslim” or “like one of those bombers on TV” is a terrorist. This has even crept into my daily life, so much so that it has been difficult to travel by bus as I constantly predict the first terrorist attack in Leeds. My bus route to town passes through Harehills, a place containing many ethnic-minority communities; during these journeys whenever I overhear a foreign language, I assume they´re plotting a terrorist attack. (Why they would do it in the midst of a crowded bus, I’m not sure) Why don’t they speak in English if they´ve got nothing to hide? Perhaps all English language teachers are xenophobic like me. If I’m in a busy place and I see a woman in a burka, I panic. How would I know if she´s angry underneath there? I really don’t want to offend her, but should she be allowed to wear that? It’s so floaty, how would I know if she´s carrying a bomb?

A True Story 

Once, I was at Roundhay park with a friend; we were lying down on the grass enjoying a rare spell of sunshine, however I was incredibly hungover. After half an hour of making strange noises and feeling sorry for myself, several cars pulled up nearby at the side of the field. It seemed a suspicious place to stop, despite the fact it was possible to be seen from the main road, that section of the field was very secluded.

A large group of Asian men all stepped out of their cars (god forbid) and began speaking with raised voices; they sounded angry, like they were arguing about something serious. Then, they started fighting. Soon everyone joined in, it was like a battlefield. With no one nearby to intervene, I desperately wanted to call the police, but I couldn’t. The fight escalated quickly. It was barbaric, and It was going to end badly.

One man sprinted towards his car. He looked possessed, like he had lost control completely.

Moments later, he reappeared. He was holding a gun.  

Someone shouted, “What th- “

-BANG. BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG. BANG. BANG.

The man couldn’t stop. He was way beyond the point of return.

BANG-BANG. BANG-BANG-BANG. BANG.

He shot everyone, including those who had been defending him.

All I could hear were the harrowing screams of grown men who sounded like babies.

Then he spotted us, witnesses.

BANG-BANG. BANG-BANG.

Within minutes, I had imagined the worst mass murder probably in Leeds’s history as well as my own death, simply because some Asian men parked their cars and began talking loudly. Have I completely lost my mind? Did I imagine all that just because they were Asian? Would the same thought have manifested itself if they were all white? Why would I assume an Asian man had a gun in his glove box? I don´t know the answer to any of these questions. Oh my god, I´m so racist!

Later that evening, when I came clean to my friend about what I had imagined; he revealed that almost the exact same thing had gone through his mind! In fact, his version of events was so scarily similar to mine it was as though we´d rehearsed it, religiously. The most curious part of this is he doesn’t have an anxiety disorder. Who´s the racist one now?!

This isn´t a single isolated incident, I’ve had similar irrational thoughts hundreds of times. As a result, if having a racist thought constitutes racism, I’m guilty. It doesn´t matter how many friends or family I have from ethnic minority backgrounds, the irrational thoughts are totally unbidden. I don’t know the aetiology of these fears, it´s certainly not grounded in statistics or facts, and they have nothing to do with my opinion. Surely they must be so deep-rooted in my subconscious. But what makes me like this? I love “black people” and “Asian people”, even “Welsh people”, at least I think I do? Maybe I’m subconsciously pissed off that black people look sensational in every single outfit they ever wear, whereas I would look like a tit in a hat, or with an afro or otherwise; maybe it´s because I´m jealous of the family orientated Asian culture, I normally need a very good reason to spend time with my family. Who are “Black people” or “Asian people” anyway? Who am I? White? I thought I was bronze or olive. I spend the entirety of every single summer holiday trying to get darker skin, how can I be racist? It doesn´t make any sense.

Whatever the reason, this is still 2018, not 2118, nor 1984; there’s no such offence as thought crime. I once thought I would be a professional footballer, thinking doesn’t make it so! And just because I love motorbikes, it doesn’t prevent me from jumping a metre off the floor every time one fleets past.

If you´ve ever suffered from these thoughts; you aren´t racist, anxiety is.

 

Disclaimer: Xenophobia is often confused with Racism. Racism involves acting on prejudiced beliefs to negatively discriminate against a culture of people; whilst Xenophobia is simply defined as a “Deep-rooted fear towards foreigners” (Oxford English Dictionary). Xenophobia is an irrational fear, it is not concerned with hatred.

Social Anxiety: Why is it so difficult to say “Hello”?

Serious question. There are plenty of options but none fit me. “Hi”, “Hiya” and “Hey” are too camp. “Alright” is too closed. “Safe” or “Wag-warn” are long gone, maybe on Facebook. There’s “Yo” but I’m also a 25-year-old English teacher. Plus, does anyone actually say “Hello” apart from Adele? Then what’s left? As a result, I normally say something cringey I instantly regret, say one of the above in a stupid accent or say the French or Spanish, this only adds to the dread of social situations.

Even if there were a simple word that didn’t sound strange, I’m also terrified of talking to people in general. If I spot someone I know in public, the first thing I do is try to avoid them. Why make a fool of yourself if you can just avoid the situation altogether? For people I don’t know very well, it’s a winner; it avoids awkwardness and small talk. The problem arises however when I come across a family member or a good friend, somehow who I would genuinely enjoy talking to, but I just can´t get past that first hurdle.

Recently, one of my best friends walked onto my bus, instead of shouting something offensive at him or taking the piss out of his clothes and getting him to sit next to me; my automatic reaction was to duck my head and avoid him. Thankfully, he went and sat upstairs. Once the bus approached the city centre, I stood up and walked to the front of the bus in anticipation of a big queue of people, it paid off as the queue must have blocked his view of me from behind. I jumped off the bus quickly and walked off before I heard a shout from behind. The shame I felt afterwards was immense.

On another occasion, I spotted my older brother in the same bar as me in town and I was too afraid to let him know I was there. At the time, I thought So I shout his name, he comes over, then what? I just saw him a few hours ago at home, what the fuck would we talk about anyway?

After the awkward “alreet”, if it’s a girl, it’s time for hugs and kisses. It’s not the physical contact nor the proximity which causes the issue, it’s the confusion. Do I have to give them 1 kiss on the cheek, or is that just for my Nan when she’s ill? Do I give 2 kisses, or is that forward? Do my lips actually need to touch their cheek or do I just pretend?

Hugs can be fatal; flailing arms can end up in all sorts of places. Also, once embracing, do you hold the hug momentarily or let go straightaway? Do I rub their back or is that the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard? What if we go the same side and our heads clash?

Finally, there’s the pressure to make conversation. In social situations, I can often be loud and occasionally I like to be the centre of attention; talking to the group as a whole is not the issue. However, speaking with someone 1 to 1 can be a catastrophe; I´m awkward, weird, really really nice or painfully boring. Even if I’ve known you for years or we´re best mates, my favorite conversation starters include: How’s the job going? What are you drinking? How old are you now? Is your birthday still the 13th September? Yep? Sound. Have a good night mate.

Just to remind you, I apologise in advance. If we bump into each-other, especially if we´re alone, no matter how much I love you, my immediate reaction will always be to pretend I haven’t seen you… unless I’m off my tits.

If we absolutely have to greet each other, here are some rules:

  1. Ladies, commit to two if we´re kissing. Lads, get off me!
  2. If we´re hugging, stay right, I’ll do the same (going the opposite direction is the same side you dingbat)

Hypochondria: Is a walnut a peanut?

Obviously not, is what you´re thinking. Don´t talk daft. I’m perfectly aware that a walnut is not a peanut. But Is it that black and white? Is there any chance it could be? Could my body mistake it for a peanut? Is there any chance they could have served me a peanut by accident? Is there a possibility it was transported in a box containing peanuts? Do walnuts also contain allergens? Is a walnut even worse than a peanut? My monkey brain always convinces me it’s a monkey nut.

You’ve probably realized by now that I’m allergic to peanuts. Negative. Only once in my entire life have I ever had a reaction to nuts, and even then, I’m not sure beyond reasonable doubt whether it was a peanut or even due to the nut content itself. I was having a sleepover at a friend´s house. There wasn’t any choice for breakfast, it was some supermarket´s own brand of Crunchy-nut Cornflakes or bread and look for it. After a few painfully slow, revolting mouthfuls, my right cheek swelled up to the size of a tennis ball. Devastatingly, my friend´s mum was a nurse, she advised my friend to keep an eye out for any swelling around my neck or breathing difficulties. For the next hour all I thought about was my imminent death and the focus of my school assembly the following day. In the end I went home, ate 2 slices of beans and cheese on toast and made a miraculous recovery. I´m still not certain it was peanuts, but I hate them so much anyway I might as well be allergic to them. More recently, I ate a breakfast cereal bar which had peanuts in by accident. I immediately phoned the doctors preparing myself for anaphylactic shock. Between 10 minutes and 5 hours later, the doctor phoned me back and confirmed there was no chance I was allergic to peanuts. So not only am I not allergic to peanuts, but anytime I come across them or any other type of nut, I panic. Peanuts are everywhere. If I eat one 7 times will I become allergic? (that cereal bar was probably the 6th knowing my luck.) Can it be developed? Is it nature or nurture?

Ever since I learnt what the word meant I’ve been a hypochondriac. A slight belly ache is enough to have me imagining my funeral. Whenever I get ill, I’m adamant its rare and incurable. Every headache is a brain tumor, every stomach ache is a deadly virus or peptic ulcer, every arm or chest pain is a heart attack, every ball ache is testicular cancer, every mole is skin cancer and every graze or cut has been infected with something deadly. As I have googled so many potential medical emergencies, I now know all the tell-tale signs, I spot them early doors. E.g. Every time I smell burning, it’s not the pizza in the oven, it’s a heart-attack. I’ve suffered numerous brain tumors, heart attacks, a variety of cancers, as well as diabetes 1, 2 and 3… That’s only the physical illnesses. Countless times I’ve been on the verge of: psychosis, losing my mind forever, blacking out and coming back as someone else, from unlearning how to speak, not knowing who I am or where I am, and not knowing or remembering anyone; I’ve had bi-polar, PTSD (post-peanut, I’m certain that’s what the “P” stands for), schizophrenia, early-onset Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease, I’ve been through the wars.

In reality, I have suffered with all and none of the above. My counselor thinks I have an anxiety disorder; I’m certain I have a peanut allergy.