It’s a quarter to eight on Sunday morning, when my alarm clock abruptly puts an end to my dreamless sleep. My right hand searches for my phone, and with my eyes half-closed I check the blue-lit screen. No messages, unfortunately. This means that our match has not been cancelled, and I officially have two hours and fifteen minutes left before I’m expected to play at our local soccer club.
Moaning and groaning I toss the covers aside, pull myself out of bed and look outside. The temperature can not be far above the freezing point, because I can see a thin layer of fresh ice on our front lawn. I sigh. I can’t believe I’m actually paying an annual fee to voluntarily stand on the pitch in these weather conditions.
About an hour later I park my bike, and pull my soccer bag from the luggage carrier. When I walk past the canteen I wave at the lady behind the bar, who is already busy serving coffee to six elderly men. Few people have seen me intoxicated as often as this women, and given the amount of embarrassing stories she knows about me, staying friends with her is vital.
When I toss my bag in the corner of dressing room 6 and take up my usual spot on one of the benches, I see that I’m the first one to have arrived today. I check my watch. Five minutes left until we’re supposed to be meeting here. At that very moment, our left back enters the room. Judging by the bags under her eyes, her wild hair and the mascara stains, she’s had a rough night. ‘They better not put me in the starting eleven today,’ she says, by means of greeting. ‘I’ll puke my guts out’. The distinct smell of alcohol that makes its way into my nostrils confirms my suspicions.
Right behind her are our right back and goalkeeper. The fact that the latter is carrying more than a few extra pounds and had never even had a ball at her feet before the season started, doesn’t really matter. She was our saviour. At the beginning of the year, all the field players had to take turns standing in goal, until our center half convinced her brother’s girlfriend to join our team as a goalie. She agreed to do this on two conditions: that she only had to show up for practice once a week, and that she’d be treated to a free beer after every game. If our new recruit can prevent the double digits today, she had a succesful weekend.
We lose the game by 7 to 1, and our goal leads to loud cheers on the sidelines. ‘Come on girls, it’s still possible!’ our left midfielder’s dad shouts when we score our only goal of the morning. The handful of people that challenged the cold weather to come and support us today laughs loudly.
Not completely dissatisfied we step off the field after 90 minutes. Job done for this week. Time for beer. Three players smoke a quick cigarette before hitting the showers, and start preparing themselves for the most important moment of the day: the third half. We ask the canteen lady to bring the first round of beers to dressing room 6 in a few minutes. Turn on the beamer, and we’ll be there shortly to watch this weekend’s Eredivisie game together. Man, how I love Sundays.
Dear fifth division. My attempt to reach the highest levels in soccer has been a crazy journey these past two years, filled with highs and lows. It has been one big adventure from start to finish, and I hope that I still have many years to go. But when I no longer can play at a high level, I’m coming straight back to you. I wouldn’t swap you for my current situation in a million years, but you know what they say: you’ll never forget your first love, no matter how hard you try.