Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Great Night

Is a road trip tournament too much to ask?  Apparently it is.  I have always wanted to go on the road with my team.  In 25+ years of playing it has never happened.  Then I saw it on the schedule...a game in Weyburn in August.  A Wednesday but we could make it work.  I started planning in May.  When the time came though the plans unraveled, everyone had an excuse.  I have to work, I am married, I am afraid of the dark.  To hell with it, I was still making a trip of this.

The night started at Starbucks.  We met in the parking lot and assembled a convoy.  High on caffeine we headed for "the Opportunity City".  On the way in we passed the Roadrunner gas bar and saw the opportunity at once.  A patched together Roadrunner squad of 11 battle weary men, no goalie and a pretty good attitude.  As the young lineswoman stripped down to her sports bra and played with a soccer ball in front of our bench the Roadrunners stretched and finished their cigarettes.   We started the match with the fiery Bruce Weild in net.  As expected the powerful young Weyburn squad attacked in waves firing at every opportunity at the top of the net.  Not good enough.  Eventually they started to break down and the Roadrunners countered with three Dave Charge breakaways against the most moronic off side trap at half I have seen since the Roadrunners squad of the early 90's.  Key the cute lineswoman to flag every one incorrectly.  It was left to Adam Ailsby to weave through the entire Weyburn fullback line, ask our good friend Laurie the ref if he was onside and then run the last half and score.

The second half was more of the same as the Roadrunners dug in with guile and tenacity.  Wave after wave was repelled and slowly we took control.  The Weyburn crowd grew frustrated as the night sky engulfed the game.  Alfie brilliantly asked for a water break after a prolonged Weyburn attack.  Unfortunately this lead to 12 minutes of extra time in pitch blackness.  In a match that will make me as proud of my team mates as anything I have ever been proud of the Roadrunners smashed to pieces everything Weyburn had to offer.  Ailsby eventually put the nail in the coffin catching the Weyburn keeper off his line popping one in from 35 yards.  I was extremely proud to take on my roll at midfield late in the match running as hard as I could at long balls only to be smashed to the ground repeatedly as the ball was cleared down the street.  Tick tick tick...Weyburn looses.

We left Weyburn, a city torn by lightning, a city defeated, with a quick stop for a picture at the Roadrunner gas bar.  We headed to O'Hanlons, the entire team united.  We drank, laughed and told stories until closing.  Connie took the next day off because he was closing the bar with me.  What a guy.  I stumbled out at closing, drunk, proud and victorious.  I finally had my road trip, all in one night.



Goalies are very unique players.  Every goalie I have played with or against has a completely different style.  Here are a few examples:

Pure violence  - Many years ago I played with a goalie from Cape Breton.  After an opposing player told him he was going to break his ribs, our goalie broke the mans chin bone on a corner kick.  He stood over the guy as he rolled around bleeding from his nose and eye and told him quietly to keep out of his penalty area.  To this day when I hear "keeper's ball" I hit the deck.

Style - Again out East I played with a friend, Garth Tupper, who one year grew his hair long, bought bright red shorts, shirts and gloves and grew a handle bar moustache.  It drove me crazy to hear opposing forwards suddenly saying this guy is great, don't bother shooting from outside the area.

Attitude - Tim Benna played for the Roadrunners for years.  He brought an aggressive attitude and bright red baseball shoes with sharpened blades for cleats.  Once I was guarding the post on a corner when Tim punched the first save back into danger.  The ball was fired right back at my chest.  Tim recovered and punched the ball and my head into the post.  He told me off for being in his f***ing way.

Guile - Eugene Mooreside "Gene the Machine" had Attention Deficit Syndrome (ADD).  In most years the constant and changing threats faced by Roadrunner goalies would suit ADD, but ironically, Gene played in an era when the Roadrunners actually controlled the ball for long periods of time.  It was quite often an adventure.  I would always cringe when Steve Masyoluk would smash a ball into Gene in the warm up to keep him alert.  My favorite memory was in indoor.  Twice Gene had his coke bottle Buddy Holly glasses broken in a game.  Both times the referee stopped the match and Gene shouted he could keep going.  It made you wonder what he saw?

Talent - Max Lingard, the self proclaimed "sexiest footballer alive" was the most skilled goalie I have ever played in front of.  He was fast, had great hands, and could fly through the air.  He could kick a ball 60 yards and throw it 50.  He quickly realized the key to winning with the Roadrunners, get the ball directly to the forwards.

Confidence - Scott Samis's ego could stop a ball in mid air.  His confidence was incredible.  He was great to play in front of because he truly believed that he should have been able to stop any shot on net, no matter whose fault it actually was.  In 1998, Scott stopped an amazing six penalty shots in a row.

Commitment - Mike Raymond, like his father before him, inspires the fullbacks around him with his quiet confidence and his commitment to making saves.  He is the kind of guy you put your body on the line for, because he would take a hit for the team.  If he has bad things to say about the fullbacks, he keeps them to himself.  I like that.

The Kitchen Sink - There have been many others who filled in between the pipes.  Some examples, Schepers would break his ribs or go blind every time he went in net to rest his knee.  Jason Randall gave everything he had, including gallons of blood.  Darryl Luterbach has always been there to back the team up in our hour and a half of need.  Even little Spartak tried, his saves were OK but his 11 yard goal kicks all came flying back faster than they went out.

It has been a pleasure and an honor to play with all of these memorable and great players.

Nial O'Hanlon Retirement

Nial O'Hanlon Announces Retirement from the Roadrunners 

Ending weeks of speculation Niall O'Hanlon today announced his retirement from the Roadrunners (at least for now).  Niall cited irreconcilable differences with Roadrunners management and coaches as the main reason for his departure.  Soccer insiders had speculated that Niall's bonus laden contract became almost worthless when his field time was reduced this past outdoor season.  "For fecks sake, when they said I would get $1.2 million if I played more than Crouter, I thought I was rich" a frustrated Niall O'Hanlon remarked at the end of the Roadrunners most recent successful campaign.

Others have suggested that it was his commitment to O'Hanlons Pub that led to the decision.  The demands of running a pub outside the Old Whorehouse district have perhaps taken their toll.  Also, recently Niall found himself off-side with the Hoteliers in the recent smoking ban debate.  This may have affected his decision to return to the beloved squad that welcomed the young midfielder some four years ago.

Since Niall is still a young man, other have suggested he is distancing himself from the Roadrunners in order to join another squad.  The team's recent fall from grace could have driven the midfielder turned barkeep to the Chargers.  A recent publicity shot of the Chargers provided ample evidence that Niall is in their plans.   All sides have denied this rumour citing a communication mix-up for the picture.

Either way, this is a sad day for the Roadrunners.  Many were brought to tears by the news:

Niall, was he the guy at the pub, at the field or both?  That reminds me, I have to return my shirt
- Colm Dunne

When Niall was out there I never had to worry, hey Niall, do you want my shirt back?
 - Dave Smith

Niall was a friend, a boss, and much more.  I wonder if he wants my shirt back?  It's ripped.
- Nev Fernandez

I loved playing soccer with Niall, although I really liked Gaelic football better.  I should ask if he wants his shirt back. - Paul Laughran

The sad news for the Roadrunners was softened by Niall's other announcement today that the Pub has renewed its sponsorship deal with the team.  A one time cash injection has been provided for the indoor season and potentially new uniforms in the Spring.  An enthusiastic Dick Stinson would not comment on the amount of the financial arrangement but did hint that it would cover most of the teams fines.

In honour of the renewed partnership O'Hanlons Pub is introducing an all vegetable pizza called the "Roadrunner".

Niall, you will be missed greatly on the pitch.  We will see you at the pub.

95 Fullback Minutes - 2003

95 Fullback Minutes 

0 minutes - Whistle Blows, Coach shouts "Bruce, that's your man".

5 minutes - I catch up with a forward that I thought was faster than me, I begin to relax.

7 minutes - Coach shouts "Bruce, that's your man".

10 minutes - Intercept pass, send ball up to Duncan, coach shouts " don't stop and admire your pass"

15 minutes - Get called off, replaced by Niall who tells me to "enjoy my rest because it looks like I need it".

30 minutes - Subbed back in, I tell Niall it's too bad he has already lost a step at his age.

31 minutes - Coach shouts "Bruce, that's your man".

35 minutes - Receive ball from keeper, relay it to midfield who send Kirk off to score on a breakaway, I quietly compliment myself for starting that play.

37 minutes - Gerry shouts "Bruce, that's your man".  Where the hell did he come from, I thought he was hurt?

40 minutes - John scores - I start to actually enjoy the game.

42 minutes - I "give" a ball to Duncan then remember to do something, oh yeah "go".  I get the pass and lead the ball back to Duncan at midfield.  Now I stop to admire the pass, screw the coach.

45 minutes - Halftime - great speech from the coach.

60 minutes - I am finally subbed back in.  Niall doesn't say anything this time.  I think to myself it must be time to lock down this game.

65 minutes - See a big hole at midfield and shout to Anderson "Bruce, that's your man".  Oh crap, now I am doing it.  He gets as mad as I usually do.

70 minutes - I jump up for a header on a corner kick and my man drops to his knees when he realizes he can't get the ball.  The referee points to the spot.  I am crushed, I let the team down.

71 minutes - Sterling takes a yellow complaining and Darryl helps me up off the pitch, that makes me feel a little better.

75 minutes - I am subbed off, I sit by myself.  Coach comes to ask me what happened, I am glad to see he isn't pissed at me.

92 minutes - Whistle blows, we win the Shield.  I run to congratulate the keeper.  On the way I think about the pain, the obstacles overcome, the commitment, the losses to United, the unmet expectations of the past, and the completely met expectations of today.

93 minutes - Dick raises the trophy

95 minutes - My five year old son asks the simple question "did you win the trophy".  With tears in my eyes I say "yes we did" and I hand it to him.

Speeches - 2003


Over the two decades of my recreational soccer career one of the most important things I have learnt is how to motivate myself.  Especially around playoff time I have to be careful to get pumped for the game but not get so anxious that I get nervous.  To manage this careful balance I only listen to myself, I don't let any outside influences affect my mental preparation for the games.  That, however, was not the case for the 2003 outdoor playoffs.  I got caught up in the John Schepers school of motivation.

The Roadrunners have never had a coach and rarely a player that we all look to for direction.  For one thing, it is far too frustrating a role for anyone to take on.  For the playoffs this year however, John stepped into that job, at least for pre game speeches.

The first match was against the Red Dogs (now RD Porto).  We match up well against them but the last regular season game was a disaster.  They swamped the midfield and for a fullback it was hell.  It was a 90 minute jail brake of 6-7-8 players at a time.  To get ready for the quarter final game I kept telling myself we had played them well before.  I was still not sure.  Before the playoff game, John pulled us together and said, " I want to play Sunday" (the final).  That simple phrase collected all my thoughts.  It wasn't about what they did, it was about us going on.  We won.

The semi-final was easier because the Dragons took half an hour to get 11 men together.  I bet some of them were even registered.    John reminded us of the need to play Sunday, but also not to take the game lightly.  We didn't and we won.

The final against United was a scene.  United was there early running drills, their fans in place behind a banner, and their team shouting chants.  When the Roadrunners had finished their smokes and got their battle weary legs taped up we took to the field to warm our keeper up by kicking balls into the north core area of the city.

The three games in four days had taken their toll on my body but mostly my injured hamstring.  When I knelt down for John's pregame speech this time all I could think of was how was I going to get back up.  I wondered what rabbit he could pull out of his hat this time.  He said:" I have played a lot of big games in my life, and this may be the last one, these guys want this game, I want it more".  I thought briefly about John's past career, the national team, the Olympics, Russia, Azteca Stadium in Mexico, tears filled my eyes.  The pain was gone, I jumped up, ran to the centre circle and I was shaking, waiting for the ref to blow the whistle so I could rip that ball away from United.

That speech kept me charging for 105 minutes of very tough action on a broken body.  When the final whistle blew I fell down because I had nothing left.  John claims he doesn't remember what he said, but I will for a long time. 

The Legend of Bryan Sigurdson

Switch to the low ball

The Own Goal column is dedicated to the silent pride of the fullback. For this month's edition, I therefore offer the following quotes from semi-retired Roadrunner legend, Bryan Sigurdson.

"Switch to the low ball"
- a direction barely heard above a 90 km/hour wind driving the largest rain drops I have ever seen so hard into my eyes that I could barely open them. When the storm cleared, we were up 3-0.

"When you get back from out of town you phone your manager first, you call your mother second"
 - advice Bryan suggested to several team mates who kept forgetting to tell  Dick when they were going to miss games.

"If you are not getting yellow cards, you are not trying hard enough, if you get a red card, your an idiot"
- Excerpt from Bryan's speech at his 50th birthday party.

"Sorry about the oranges lads, I will talk to Cindy"
- an apology offered after Bryan's wife Cindy (who was 8 months pregnant and with two toddlers) arrived with sliced oranges but several minutes after the half time break had ended.

 "You beat the teams below you in the standings, and you tie the teams above you"
- A strategy that focused me to play better against seemingly unbeatable teams (e.g. Olympiakos) and led the Roadrunners to second place in the second division.

 "I'd bite this button off, but I would probably choke on it and die"
- Bryan complimenting team management on our new jerseys.

 "Here, have a look at my ankle"
- a horrible sight that not only caused me to stop whining about my "minor" ankle injury, but has stopped me from ever complaining about any  injury since.

- A term Bryan often uses to inspire, and only an aging fullback would fully understand what it means coming from a true veteran.



The Own Goal column is a place for fullbacks, I rarely take the time to discuss forwards, other than to point out their obvious faults.  But today I find a hole in my heart because my young friend Spartak has left the team, and I feel a need to talk about it.

The Spartak saga started two years ago when a friend from the Open Door Society called to say she knew a young refugee who wanted to play soccer.  It started off rocky, he was in trouble with the police, at school and quickly he got into card trouble on the playing field.  On top of that his cockiness bothered his line mates.  He didn't pass enough and he was always losing his temper.  That put him in pretty good company from what I could see.

Over time he became a friend of many of us.  I have no doubt he would do anything for the Roadrunners.  He actually ended up at the Police station for fighting with another coach that said we sucked.  He played an entire season in net when he didn't want to, we almost did the impossible and broke his spirit that summer.  What used to bug me was that, while he certainly had faults, he was punished more than he should have been.  Once he got into a shoving match with a middle-aged man that had a good enough life to be a better person.  He told Spartak he was going to kill him because he was a F'in puke.  The referees report said the incident was all Spartak's fault.  That was wrong.

Spartak, around the Roadrunners, did his best to be a mature, responsible friend.  His life was filled with problems we can't imagine.  It is a lot to expect any 17 year old to fit in with middle-aged men but he did.  He was working on controlling his temper and was doing much better.

Spartak's story has many chapter, I hope that this is not the last one for us.  I will wait as long as I can in the dressing room hoping he will show up.  For his sake, I hope he brings his two strips or Niall will kill him.

I hate Biggots - Nial O'Hanlon

If an Asian footballer went to Scotland and started receiving racist abuse from opposing fans at every football match he participated in, or if he was repeatedly attacked in public places because of his ethnic background, the authorities would undoubtedly handle the matter swiftly.

Police presences at football grounds would be increased to weed out the offending element.

Public figures would voice their disapproval of such mindless behaviour and demand action.

I have absolutely no doubt of this.

Why then, is Celtic's Neil Lennon continually the victim of bigoted abuse, sectarian violence and racist chants?

He is not allied to any political movement or paramilitary organisation, and has never given any cause for this provocation, other than donning a Celtic jersey and playing football.

He's a Catholic Irishman earning a living in Scotland - albeit as a football player - and no-one seems to be doing a thing about the shameful attacks made against the man.

From Kilmarnock 's Rugby Park , to Aberdeen 's Pittodrie Stadium, Lennon is booed by fans up and down the country for no other reason than his religion and his choice as a footballer to play with Glasgow Celtic.

Can you imagine any other minority group, footballer being abused in the same way?

I hate bigots


 P.S. Bruce Crouter will be made pay for this in Seattle.

Bruce Crouter's Retirement - by Nial O'Hanlon - 2002

The Regina Roadrunners Players Association annual fundraising luncheon at O’Hanlon’s this Thursday will feature special farewells to retiring player Bruce Crouter

The farewell to Crouter, who has the unique distinction of been the leagues oldest player having first played football in 1947. Last year when approached about retirement, Crouter grunted “as long as I am faster than Darryl Luterbach I’ll keep Hacking” To celebrate Bruce’s Birthday on Thursday, I thought I would ask Bruce and a few other Roadrunners what they think about Bruce.

"I'll never change my game. It isn't possible. If I did I would be half the player that I am." B. Crouter

"Bruce Crouter is Damien, the devil incarnate off the film The Omen. He's evil. Even in training." J. Gibbons

  "I hate losing in training, I'm always arguing, having a go at everybody. I take my football very seriously." B. Crouter

  "The type of game I play, I'm going to pick up injuries and suspensions, unfortunately."  B. Crouter

  I don't think he is mentally right". Dick Stinson

"He's a bully, a firkin big-time Charlie". Dick Stinson

"If we played like that every week we wouldn't be so inconsistent."
B. Crouter

"Dick Stinson is the best manager I've ever had at this level. Well, he's the only manager I've actually had at this level. But he's the best manager I've ever had."
B. Crouter

"I'm 40 now and I just felt I had to draw the line somewhere. I thought I can't let people say what they want and get away with it..... In my opinion his behaviour towards me has been cowardly."
B. Crouter in regards to my last column  

"0 to 0… well from Lapland to the Antarctic, that's level scores in any mans language…" B. Crouter. Bruce can make sense of any game

"The Baggio brothers, of course, are not related. B. Crouter

"The lad got over-excited when he saw the whites of the goalpost's eyes." Dick Stinson

I never comment on referees and I'm not going to break the habit of a lifetime for that prat." Bruce Crouter

"I make no apologies for my absence but I'm sorry they're not here."
Bruce Crouter

“As Dick Stinson said, each game is unique, and this one is no different to any other." Bruce Crouter

"Dick is everywhere. It's like we've got eleven Dicks on the field."
Bruce Crouter

There is also talk of why Bruce had to leave Halifax . I am pleased to report with the help of Darryl Luterbach and his vast knowledge of illicit internet sites we have found out the truth. Here is a clip from the Halifax Sun Newspaper

  A footballer has been given a six-month ban after pinching the referee's bottom.  Bruce Crouter is a defender for Whitecaps United. He repeatedly pinched the referee in a bid to make him change his mind over a penalty kick. The incident happened during a seventh division match in Halifax , Darryl Luterbach’s website reports.

Roy Keane - By Nial O'Hanlon - 2002

A common way of complimenting a courageous footballer is by saying he's the sort of player you'd happily have alongside you "in the trenches". When the goings gets tough, he wouldn't chicken out. But what about when the going gets stupid?

Roy Keane would be a useless soldier. Because this boy from the Rebel County is not prepared to blindly follow orders if they're nonsensical.

And so, Ireland's captain, who also happens to be one of the best players on the planet, has been expelled from the World Cup for being a "disruptive influence". Is that what we should do with dissidents? Banish them to the gulags? Let them wallow wastefully in the wilderness with their hi-falutin' notions of progress?

Tremendous. Roll up, roll up, the country that brought the world endless internicine strife in Ulster now brings you a shambolic World Cup campaign!

Roy Keane is by his own definition a private man. Some would even say the boy Roy is coy. And yet, in recent seasons, he has rocked many a boat with his carefully considered comments. And they are carefully considered. Read them.( the Shrimp munchers at Old trafford) He is an articulate man, indeed, he speaks like he plays, with a kind of grinding minimalism - deliberately, forcefully, but with not a single wasted syllable.

Why has this timid lad become so outspoken? Is it because he's pampered in Manchester? Has he degenerated into just another spoilt celebrity brat?

Certainly not. He is the captain of his club and country and he knows it is his responsibility to further his teams' cause. Gaining the captaincy at one of the biggest clubs in the world co-incided almost precisely with his becoming a father - another hefty responsibility, another job a man can cock up if he's not prepared to stand up for what he believes to be right for him and his.

And, of course, he is reported to have introduced some personal vitriol to the "clear-the-air" talks with McCarthy. We don't know what he said, but when you hear Steve Staunton, Niall Quinn, and even Alan Kelly, the Irish player with whom Keane is probably closest, saying it was GUBU, then there's a blatant problem. But was it irretrievable? Could Mick not have referred again to Roy's "personal problems" and sent him to his room to think about apologizing, rather than
dispatching him home immediately?

Ultimately, Roy cares passionately about Ireland. Knowing he and his team are about to confront some of the finest footballers in the world, he was distraught to find that the bureaucrats who get such splendid junkets on the back of his boys efforts couldn't even organize simple things like water, footballs, and a quality training pitch, all of which, we must agree, are fairly essential to football at any level, let alone a World Cup.

Perhaps, stressed by the heat, the pressure, and "personal problems", he expressed himself rudely. But did sending him home so quickly not make losers of all football fans especially Irish publicans in their native land and abroad. After all this is the man that if he came up against a more skilled player he would simply kick his way to success. (ask Zidane, Figo or even Beckam, they crap their pants whenever
Keane is in opposition). Ireland will probably not even make it into the second round now and will only have themselves to blame.

I think its a good thing the game is cancelled today as I feel like doing a whole lot of kicking myself. The Surge have been spared for another day

Guinness - By Nial O'Hanlon - 2002

Well after last night's defeat to the raiders I don’t feel much like writing about football.  So instead I will delve in to another of my favourite topics. BEER. Not just any beer the one and only our sponsor, yes folks you guinnessed it. Guinness! Since I started writing these pieces I have been inundated with countless questions about Guinness. Here are Some of the more interesting queries. 

Bruce Crouter Q. I have heard that it is possible to live on Guinness and milk alone. Is this true, or even partially true?

Niall A. This is not quite true. Guinness does contain many vitamins and minerals in small quantities, but is lacking vitamin C, as well as calcium and fat. So, to fulfill all of your daily nutritional requirements you would need to drink a glass of orange juice, two glasses of milk, and 47 pints of Guinness.

Bruce Crouter Q. Does Guinness make you better in bed or the
soccer pitch?

Niall A. Tough question Bruce. There is medical folklore about Guinness and stout, in general. In some countries, stout is seen as an aphrodisiac or as a beneficial bath for newborn babies. Since most research indicates the aphrodisiac effects are primarily psychological, there may be truth to the former. As for the pitch I think the ever improving Roadrunners answers that i.e. the more we drink the better we get.

Bruce Crouter Q. Is it true that if I am in hospital in Ireland I
can get myself some free Guinness.

Niall A. Yes
Bruce in Ireland, Guinness is still made available to blood donors and stomach and intestinal post-operative patients. Guinness is known to be high in iron
content. But I’d like to point out to you Bruce that a pint of the black stuff is only$5.50 in O’Hanlon’s whilst the flight to Ireland will set up back in the region of $1000.00.

You will have to stay in hospital in Ireland for a considerable time to make this idea of yours economically viable.

Bruce Crouter Q. Although when in Regina I always drink my Guinness in O’Hanlon’s, my duties as Roadrunner scout sometimes takes me to
the four corners of the earth. How do I go about finding another good Irish pub with good Guinness?

Niall A. Well Bruce you have asked real conundrum of a question this time. I will try to make my answer into points for you.

1 Choose your pub carefully. A pint of Guinness does not appreciate loud music, loud people or bright flashing lights.

2 Ask politely for a pint of Guinness. Depending on the pub, it is possible to catch the barman’s eye and mouth the word "pint", he will translate this accurately.

3 The barman will fill the glass between 70% and 80% capacity. It will then be put to the side for a few moments to allow it "to settle". Once the brownish liquid has almost turned to a solid black the barman will then fill the rest of the glass. NB: do not under any circumstances take the glass before it is filled. Some virgins seem to think that the settling stage is the final stage and walk away with an unfinished pint. At this point we Irish DO understand the predicament, but I assure you it causes endless mirth as well. (Remember the first we spoke Bruce you don’t want everyone laughing again now do we?)

4 Once you have received your pint, find a comfortable stool or seat, gaze with awe into the deep blackness, raise the pint to your mouth and take a large mouthful. Be firm.

5 A good pint can distinguished by a number of methods. A smooth, slightly off- white head is one, another is the residue left on the inside of the glass. These, surprise surprise, are known as rings. As long as they are there you know you’re okay. A science of rings is developing - the instance that comes to mind is determining a persons nationality by the number of rings (a ring is dependent on a swig of Guinness each swig leaving its own ring). An Irishman will have in the region of 5-6 rings (we pace ourselves), an Englishman will have 8-10 rings, an American will have 17-20 (they sip) and an Australian won't have any at all as they tend to knock it back in one go!

6 As you near the end of your pint, it is the custom to order another one. It is a well known fact that a bird does not fly on one wing. 

The Penalty Area - 2002

February 2002: The Penalty Area...

The letter said: "denies an obvious goal scoring opportunity". This clear definition of the role of a fullback was in this case used to describe why my team faced a penalty shot and had to play a man short , and why I was suspended. The reason for this seemingly incongruent interpretation of the role of a defender was that the infraction happened in the penalty area.

When you enter the penalty area you leave all fairness behind. On the rest of the field, any of the ten fouls listed in the FIFA Rules of the Game are meet with a consistent response regardless of whether you are attacking or defending. In the penalty area, any foul by a defender (except for minor interference) leads to a penalty shot and a near certain goal for the attacking team. Any foul on a defender leads to a free kick some 100 plus yards from the other teams net, gee thanks.

Given that the forwards have been given sweeping rights and privileges in the penalty area, you would hope that these rules would be applied with some consideration for the defenders. This does not appear to be the case. For example, in almost every case, if any part of a fullback's arm touches a ball, penalty shot. The rule says the contact must be intentional to be a foul. Given the near certainty of a goal on a penalty shot, I would not play with a fullback that touched a ball in the penalty area on purpose . I think I could successfully argue that handballs in the penalty area are almost always un-intentional, not the reverse.

All this said, I am prepared to run around in that mystical box with my
hands tucked in my shorts and the virtual certainty that any contact will lead to a goal, if one concession is allowed. If a fullback is fouled in
the penalty area, the ball should be moved to at least half. Or, better
yet, march it all the way down to the penalty area 100 yards downfield.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen - August 2001

It was a hot day. The kind of day when the intensity of the sun somehow breaks through the oppressive humidity.  The city was quiet, the silence that only happens on a long weekend.  Faint in the air was the smell of mini-doughnuts and the fun-filled screams of the fair.  But for some, the day was not about the beach or the Tilt-O-Whirl, it was about soccer.

I arrived to see five of my team mates slowly getting ready.  Slowly because the task ahead was not to be rushed, the other team had a full squad and four subs.  As we prepared we all took unnoticeable glimpses at the parking lot.  First to see five players, then hoping to see one, so we could play.  At the last minute, Grant's aging Mustang pulled into the lot, we had enough to play.

After a brief discussion it was decided that Sterling and his injured knee should play net instead of Spartak.  I for one, was not going to play a game like this with a fit 16 year old watching from the net.  I suggested a 3-3 but was over-ruled.  The brain trust felt a vertical alignment was better and we went for the 2-2-2.

The game started confused.  Spartak looked lost which wasn't surprising considering he hadn't played out for years and he had a third of the the pitch to cover.  Darryl was moved back to defense because the need to score goals was far too important for the fullbacks to leave to the forwards so they had moved up.  After two plays, order was restored, Internacional scored their first goal.

Then we had a break, Sterling found me at mid-field, Spartak broke left.  I moved the ball up and the opposition backed-off.  I stepped up to smash the ball down the left wing.  My toe punch actually curled into the middle, off Nick, and onto a charging Darryl.  He was dragged down an immeasurable distance outside the box.  The free kick missed by inches.

I decided to take control of the defense and implemented an impenetrable offside trap, this consisted mostly of yelling at Bruce Weild to move up.  He finally got fed-up and told me to be the last man.  I quickly found that calling the offside trap is way easier if you are not the last man.  They scored again, and again.

In the end we lost. no surprise.  I was very proud of my six team mates.  We didn't have to play, we wanted to.  We gave our all, we lost.  As they say, we left it all on the field.

I still think the 3-3 would have worked.

On and Off the Field - Sept 1999

Several weeks ago my wife and I had a healthy, happy baby boy. It was, however, a very difficult pregnancy that left my wife in bed for four months, most of them in the hospital. As this supposedly doomed tragedy twisted its way through the summer I found a great deal of relief on the soccer field. In the end I only missed a couple games. While this may seem like a life skills priorization problem it made good sense to me. The change in venue from work or waiting in the hospital for life or the doctors to make the next move; to a two hour game where I had some control over the destiny around me we was welcome relief.

Also, the support from my team was amazing. The supportive words, questions, flowers and patience for those nights when my concentration wasn’t what it should have been were greatly appreciated. In the end it all worked out and it truly was a miracle. A miracle based on the care of many great people, including the Roadrunners whose support to me can not possibly be valued. Bryan always says that when you play for the Roadrunners you do what you can to help the team, on and off the field. Apparently the reverse is also true. I also remember Bruce Macnab (ex Roadrunner and varsity hockey legend) say: "it doesn’t hurt when you win".

The Other Side of Half

This column is about the silent pride of the fullback. The thankless, painful pursuit of not making mistakes. I have often been jealous of the carefree, high profile world of the forwards. It seems that when they make a mistake it doesn’t matter, when they do a good job, they are heros. That doesn’t seem fair when compared to the fullbacks world where a rushed pass under pressure leads to a goal for the opposition, and a perfect clearance may justify a high five, if and only if, it leads to a goal by the forwards.

One game a season or two back I got a chance to play a few shifts at forward. It was great, the weight of the world was off my shoulders. I met up with my line mates at center, they didn’t seem to even be worrying about their positions. We talked about where to buy a good cigar, investment strategies, and compared and contrasted the latest release of sport utilities. Then the Roadrunner halfs appeared with the ball, suddenly my new friends were gone. Like coiled springs they waited on the wings. When the ball was passed they sprinted for goal, with me a distant third. Moments later the same thing happened again, and again and I was starting to wonder how many 50 yard sprints I had left in me. What struck me about these adventures was the long walk back to half when we didn’t score. No one yelled or pointed fingers but it sure was quiet. I felt the weight come back on to my shoulders.

I returned to my regular position later that game and was welcomed home. The center fullback asked how I liked it up there. I told him the fame, women, drugs and paparazzi were starting to get to me. I managed to break up a two on one break away later that game, I was sure proud.

What is an Own Goal

In hind sight I think I got ahead of myself. Here I have been writing the Own Goal column for a year and I have not taken the time to discuss the very nature of the title. I don't know if an official definition exists, television commentators and vicious competitors are quick to throw out the designation without much thought. Sure, any ball that bounces into the net off a member of the defensive team (other than the goalie) is an own goal. Life, and soccer, however, are not that simple. 

Occasionally a motivated fullback will find him or herself standing on the goal line with their hands behind their back waiting to get blasted by a striker five feet away. If that ball should careen off a broken skull or arm (cleverly placed out of any protective position to prohibit a penalty shot) call me a radical but I don't think that the fullback in question deserves the ridicule of anyone. While the black and white judgemental people of the world scream "OWN GOAL", I think the real judgement come from inside yourself. 

After a technical own goal you have to go home, lie in bed and think about it. Then you go to work and phone, e-mail and visit your most trusted confidants and explain the situation. If you have a spouse or significant other explain the situation to them. If they are there to do something other than claim half the assets they will offer help. After all the replays and input from friends, colleagues, team mates and partners you sit down and watch Soccer Saturday. Since 90% of the highlights are goals you can see how the multi-million dollar fullbacks screw-up. Then, and only then, you ask yourself several questions. Was there something I could have done different? Why was I left on the goal line protecting a huge open net like a no-armed goof? Why did the goalie tackle me as the ball arrived? Where were my ten assistants? 

If the answers are: yes; I don't know; because I was in the way; and playing their positions; then it was an own goal. If the answers were no; because everyone got caught up field trying to score; he or she was late; and lost; then do yourself a favour and forget about it. If you are like me you have enough trouble dealing with your own mistakes, don't carry the weight of everyone else's.

The Existence of God

I don't know if I believe in God, or Gods, or not. I have just not had much evidence one way or the other. But last June I was struck down by a God, the Soccer God. 

For me the season had been a troubled one. The ridiculous schedule that seemed to conflict with anything else I wanted or had to do, and the troubles with the league office were getting to me and I had gotten to the point where I was not enjoying playing anymore. I just seemed to be out of synch. One dark night in June I decided to let some nagging injuries heal and quit for the rest of the season. I didn't tell anyone, except for my wife (and she didn't believe me). I decided that unless the next game was a blast I was done for 1997. 

The game was a classic confrontation between the Roadrunners and a depleted, demoralized squad. It was played at 10 am on the Sunday of a long weekend (see ridiculous schedule above). All was going well and we were in such control that I was sent to the forward line. Deep in their box Kirk passed me the ball (I should have known something was wrong right there). As I planted to blast a shot into the near open net a cold supernatural force gave me a brutal slide tackle. Elbow to the back, knee to the thigh, then ripped apart the ligaments in my ankle. A casual observer would not have been aware of this divine interference. 

It was so comical that I was lying on the ground with no one near me that the understanding referee refused my request to leave the field. After my pathetic attempt to crawl to an on-side position he acquiesced and yelled at me for taking too long to get off the playing surface. By the next morning I was in a cast with the rest of the season to think about what had happened. 

So there I sat. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge with the ghosts of Christmas present and future I had my cast to lead me through life without soccer. I still had to go to league meetings, argue about the schedule, and organize the new team player cards in our manager's absence. I didn't need a ghost of soccer past. The memories of happier times were constant: the anticipation before games, the stories of bravery and valor after, the glory of goals for, the agony of goals against, and sore legs the next day to remind you that something important had happened the night before. 

This week I put my cleats back on. If, for some reason, the Roadrunners need a fullback with a bad ankle and limited goal scoring ability, I will take to the field. Not with the downcast stare of a man beaten by administration, but with the wide-eyed excitement of a child at Christmas. "God bless us, every one".