“It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you – or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.”
– Kobe Bryant
It is time.
The coach has given the line up and his final instructions. We get ready to head out and start our warm up. As we head outside, a thousand thoughts rush through my mind. Through jokes and gossip, the players are just enjoying themselves, updating each other on what they did between today and the last training session two days ago. I guess it is our way to just cope with the stress and pressure of the task ahead of us. It is almost like we are still a part of this normal world. This normal world filled with all of its problems, bad news, tensions and struggles.
In this normal world, some of us just struggle to get by the day. The striker is having problems with his marriage. The goalkeeper is struggling with his job filled with long hours and low pay. The right winger is trying to find a way to get things done at home. Me? I have my own battles with life, but I have learned to keep them to myself and avoid any possibility of adding insult to injury. We all struggle so much with our everyday lives, and yet the eleven of us are here, in a tunnel leading us to the field, on a Sunday morning. It might not make sense to those who know what is going on with each one of us. It does not matter. What matters is that it all makes sense to us.
“I have two lives, and all the problems I might have, I feel like I drop them once I step on the court.”
– Roger Federer
The tunnel is over. All I see now is a 7,140 square meter green field with some white lines on it.
Suddenly, all the thoughts that were going through my mind just vanished. All the stress. All the anxiety. All the pain, whether it was mental, emotional or physical. All the fatigue. It all disappeared the second I stepped onto the field. Only one thought remains in my head: the game in thirty minutes.
As the team starts to warm up, the thought grows bigger in my head. Nothing else exists anymore. I forget where I am, what time it is, what I am doing afterwards. Nothing matters anymore. It feels like the field was separated from the rest of the world and there was no way to reconnect with anything or anyone until the final whistle has gone. My mood instantly changes as I stop chatting with the guys. I cannot hear them anymore. The only voice I can hear is that little boy in my head telling me: “You have worked hard this week. At university, at home, at practice. Here is your final test. Go get your reward.” It might sound exaggerated, but there were times I felt like a wolf that was out for blood. That feeling was strongly present last Sunday when we were playing an away game.
It took us two hours in public transport to get there. Given kick off time was set at 10am, I had to be there at 9, which meant I had to leave home by 7 at the latest. On a Sunday morning. On that day, Paris experienced some heavy rain and strong wind as well as a strong drop in the air’s temperature. In spite of it all, fifteen players were at the field, ready to play. A football field made of sand, which eventually turned to mud because of the heavy rain. At this point, only one thing was running through all of the players’ minds: “We are not leaving this field without a win!”
At this point, this seemed like the best response to the situation. Since we are going to get hurt and dirty at the end of the game, we might as well get a reward out of all this.
Five minutes separate both teams from kick off.
Every player is trying to give their teammates one last boost of motivation before the start of the game. After that, every player heads to their assigned position in the starting line up and does a few last-minute stretches before unleashing the engines. At this particular moment, the game is no longer the only thing in my head. Another thought kicks in, and it will stay in my head until I get back home.
This thought has been with me for the last ten years, since I made my debut for my first club back in Lebanon. It will always be there whenever I play football, whether I am doing it for fun or in the context of a competition. The thought makes me smile and yet generates a tear in the corner of my eye. I take a look at the stands, even though I am playing in a non-professional league. I just developed this reflex, hoping that one day I will see you there. I know where you are, and I am often told that you are looking down on me and everything, however it does not feel the same when I cannot see you.
I try to picture you there. What would you say? How would you have behaved during the warm up? What would your reaction be when I defended well? Would you jump in joy when the team scores? Would you tell everyone around you that you are my brother? Will there be a day where we will go to the game as teammates?
Too many “What ifs” that I cannot see clearly anymore. All the things that should have been are no longer possible. The pain in my knees and ankles become unbearable all over again, just like on July 13, 2009. Two minutes left until kick off, what should I do? Should I just ask for the coach to bring in someone to take my place?
I close my eyes for a second, and then open them again. I rush to the bench and ask for some water. I quickly rinse my head, shake it all, take a deep breath and head back to my post. Maybe I am a wolf out for blood, but a wolf’s strength is his pack. You are there. I cannot see you, but I can feel your hand on my shoulder. You whisper to me: “Go get them. You can do it.”
I reply: “I am ready”.
The referee signals for kick off.
The back pass is given.
The game has started.
Let’s go get them. Together.
Because this is what brothers do.
“In your darkest hour, when the demons come, call on me, brother, and we will fight them together.”