I am, to put it mildly, not one of the world's greatest footballers. As a child I would be one of the last people picked in playground matches, and as an adult this record has not improved much since (a) I don't play that often, and (b) I'm still crap. But, for two brief years I was, and I say this with a fair degree of certainty, one of the best players in the country in which I resided. (There is a topical point to this post, so bear with me)
For this we have to go back over ten years now to 1996 (cue twilight-zone-esque music and the wibbly wobbly blurring of the screen as the universal indicator of the flashback). I was living and working in Pohnpei, the capital island of one of the world's lesser known countries, the Federated States of Micronesia. Every evening just before sunset I'd meet up with a few people at PICS Field, which was the only football pitch in Kolonia, the main city, and play a match. Most of us were foreigners of various origins, though there were one or two high school kids who joined us. Among the regulars were a Ugandan guy named Charles Musana, and a wily veteran Ghanaian called Thomas who was over 70 and who could still play a midfield anchor role, standing near the centre circle spraying passes around with unerring accuracy. Other nationalities typically represented included Japanese, Fijian, French, Australian and US American. On one occasion we organised an island wide tournament on a weekend, and we had 5 teams that got together - three high school teams, a team of Fijians, and my team of expats, originally called "The Internationals". For reasons that I can no longer remember, we decided to organise the tournament in such a way that we started off with two first round matches (with one team getting a bye to the semis), followed by one semi final and another bye, and then a final. The flaw in this plan became obvious when we were drawn to play in the second first round match, which we won, followed by the semi final, which we also won. Meaning that we, a team of players almost none of whom were younger than 30 and some of whom, like Thomas, were much older, had to play three matches in a row in the intense strength-sapping 100% humidity that was not really conducive to running around. And to make matters worse we were facing teams of 17 and 18 year olds, who were actually getting a break between matches. However, despite our totally exhausted state we managed to eke out a final win against the Seventh Day Adventist team (the SDA school had some enthusiastic American teachers who actually trained the kids, so they were always seen as potential winners).
This epic achievement still ranks as my finest moment on a football pitch, and possibly (and without too much exaggeration) in life. A little later in my Micronesian football career, I caught my foot in a divot while playing and ended up breaking my leg, which was not such a great high point of my life, though I do like to play up the story where I limped around my house for an evening, and then drove to the doctor's the next day, before discovering that I had broken it, and being gently advised not to drive home since the pain I felt on accelerating and breaking was almost certainly caused by the fact that I had a broken leg)
Anyway, why this story and now? Well, I happened upon this story this week, which rather took me back as you can imagine. References to my former colleague and teammate Charles, "an expat from Ghana" and all the things I remember (especially the barefoot approach favoured by the kids). Good luck to the new coaches. I suspect the (obviously tongue in cheek) hope for eventual world domination in football mentioned in the last sentence maybe a little optimistic, but they might beat Chuuk one day.
Podcast 93: Good Boy Medals, 2017
2 hours ago