A big difference between playing soccer at a low or high level is how far away your away games are. In my eleven years at SBC, our local club, we basically faced the same teams every single year. Convenient on one side, when you arrive at certain teams’ club houses and don’t have to search for the toilets for fifteen minutes, but after a couple of years, the excitement about that pretty much wears off as well.
Off to Wallonia for the first time
Moldavo’s first team plays in a national league, and in Belgium this includes both Flanders and Wallonia. Last Saturday, I played my very first game in French-speaking Belgium, against a team with the great name ‘Union Saint-Ghislain Tertre-Hautrage’.
After a two hour trip we exited the bus at Saint-Ghislain, close to the Belgian-French border. Earlier that morning, I had played half a game with Moldavo’s second team, to get some game time under my belt, so I had spent the long bus journey dreaming away about how I would compensate for my terrible performance last week by scoring the winning goal in overtime today. You never know…
The main field at U.S.G.T.H., as the club is often conveniently called, went by the optimistic name of ‘Stade St. Lo’, but that name couldn’t hide the fact that large parts of the pitch consisted of a centimeters deep layer of clay. If you jogged on it your cleats disappeared into it every other step, and during the warming up, we wondered if this game shouldn’t have been cancelled. But in Belgium games are not cancelled that easily, so an hour and a half after arriving, we kicked off, just as planned.
Two baguettes, please
The coach of the opposing team had a fierce temper, and he kept on yelling at us in French. But given the fact that I do not speak French (aside from ‘je cherche une poubelle’ and ‘bonjour, deux baguettes et un croissant, s’il vous plaît‘, but how on earth is that gonna help you during a soccer game?) he might just as well have been speaking Chinese. The great thing about this is that it immediately feels like you’re playing an international game. A whole different experience than driving to a club nearby and being greeted by your first name in their cafeteria!
I got subbed on for the second half, and also thanks to some excellent coaching by my teammates, I feel like I somewhat stood my ground this time. The level of physical play and ball speed are still things I’m getting used to, and because of my nerves I sometimes want to get rid of the ball a little too quickly, but every week it feels a little less like I’ve been run over by a steamroller after the game. But even more important: we battled our way to a very crucial 0-1 victory, which should keep us safe from relegation for a little while.
The road back to Mol was a whole adventure once again. The bus had not turned the block or the first beers were opened, and the whole journey back people were singing and dancing. Meanwhile, I was staring out the window, almost passed out, because my first 90 minutes in Belgium, including 45 in the clay of Saint-Ghislain, had taken its toll, and on top of that I was dealing with a nail that was trying to remove itself from my big toe (I had planned on sparing you the nasty details of that situation, but that didn’t work out). When I lifted my leg after a short while I even got cramp, something that had never happened before and I truly hope will remain a one-time experience. While my teammates belted out another song, I closed my eyes and tried to get some sleep. Never before had something so detrimental to my body been so worth it.
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂