Football: The Drug, the Junkie, and Match of the Day on a Summer Afternoon

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IJanuary 23, 2017

I was introduced to football at the age of ten at a local park in a lower income housing suburb by a friend who was already hooked.

I had been contemplating signing up for a rugby team that very day, when my friend suggested I go with him to have a look at his team train that afternoon.

I watched the training, signed up with the coach and the rest is history. An obsession that has cost me jobs, girlfriends, friends and countless hours as I fed my insatiable appetite for all things football.

Thinking back on it, I realised that perhaps some might say that my focus on the beautiful game had gone beyond mere indulgence in a delightful pastime and more into the realm of dangerous and maniacal addiction.

I would wake in the morning with dreams of results and games in my head immediately switching to the morning sports report to hear the latest coverage of the latest results. I scrimped and saved to afford new boots and when finally purchased, they would spend a few days at pride of place in the lounge of my parents house, unable to be touched or even looked at for too long by anyone else.

Everything had to be football, or it wasn't really worth being interested in. To this day, I do not know how I ever managed to interact socially with anyone considering the amount of time I spent in front of my Amiga console playing "Sensible World of Football," still to me one of the greatest ever football management and play simulations.

My friends would talk me into going to a party and I would sit in the corner nursing my rum and coke, ignoring potential liaisons with the fairer sex as I pined for my beloved game and the imaginative world it gave to me.

Then it would be winter, that wonderful season fulled with wonderful Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Training and games and the fix they provided superceding anything in my life from that time in my youth right through to the very moment I write this article.

Training was never as good as a game but at least it got me down to the park and amongst those familiar smells and sights. Saturday was the highlight of the week though, walking into the changing room, going through your ritual, which was as specific to yourself as your fingerprints.

Walking out onto the pitch and hearing the whistle blow and the first contact of foot on ball, it was game-time and one and a half hours of ecstasy were here for you to enjoy as long as you did not disappoint the coach too much or horror of horrors, get injured.

As my love for the game expanded by the day and week, I slowly found myself in the New Zealand summer needing to see football being played several times a week to stave off the pain of separation from it.

Oh the torture I endured in this rugby obsessed nation before the days of satellite television. The national news shows would show sometimes one minute of football footage before cutting to the latest witty comment from Griz Wylie or someone equally as eloquent.

The only bastion available in this time was 'match of the day' which screened one week late on Sunday afternoons. Even this was magic though for those of us obsessed with the round-ball game in a country of eggballers.

Looking back on it now, those summers were more wonderful than many things I have experienced in later adult life. The carefree existence coupled with the warm breeze and the crash of a warm wave over your body as you sprinted along the beach to catch your friend who had thrown a jellyfish at you.

It is a pity in some ways that I spent some of this time pining after winter and its advent which would bring back to me my beloved football but I would not have it any other way.

The football is over for me as a player this year but the antipodean summer has arrived. With it comes coverage of European football that I could only dream about as a youth, with the English, Spanish and Italian leagues not to mention various games from the North and South of America adding to the cornucopia of choices at my disposal.

Luckily for myself and other Kiwis like me, it will be easier than it has ever been to tune into our beloved game and see the ball passed about the field in the object of scoring those wonderful goals we all love so much.

I look forward to sitting back and just savouring it for a few moments as I always do, the sound of the crowd, the light upon the grass, the earnest looks on the players faces and the sight of the ball sitting on halfway before the whistle begins the match.

I would compare football to the sweetest drug I have known in an attempt to convey the magic I gain from it but it would be cheapened by the efforts of those who condemn drugs as evil and wrong.

Instead I could perhaps compare it to enlightened religiosity, but it is also subject to venomous criticism for various reasons.

Perhaps instead I could compare it to the sun, which no sane person could condemn as it lights our world and keeps human civilisation breathing and moving from day to precious day.

Yes the sun, the great glowing orb which we cannot do without, a worthy comparison in my mind, probably mildly obsessive to others. Oh well, we each are guided by our own wants and desires, who would we be unto ourselves if we kept our desires in check at the whim and reason of others?

As a kiwi who loves football and always will I have constantly experienced the barbs and poison arrows of those who condemn the game. The fools could never convince me though because I knew something they could never know.

The joy of hitting the ball toward the goal and the sweet sound of it spinning on the net after taking part in an orchestrated movement started by our goalkeeper at the other end of the field, I will tell you now, there is nothing else quite like it.



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