Thursday morning and the texts begin, becoming progressively becoming more desperate as the day goes on. If we’re going to play tonight we need players. Anyone will do. Contact books are wrung for every last possibility.. it doesn’t matter if they can actually play football we just need someone. As lunchtime slips by we’re getting into I-would-but-it’s-too-short-notice territory and things still aren’t looking great.
Normally getting a team together for 5-a-side is no problem, in fact, there’s often more people than there are playing-slots so a rotation system has to be used, but then August comes along; Holidays, weddings and stag-do’s all conspiring to rip the heart out of the team.
11-a-side doesn’t have this problem. The pitches at the park currently lie fallow, recovering from being torn up over the winter as the goalposts slumber in a park-keepers lock-up. 5-a-side though, played on hard-wearing all-weather pitches, has no such break. As soon as one ‘season’ ends straight away another begins. There is no time for putting feet up to reflect on achievements, or else to re-group.
This incessant nature is driven by the pitch and league operators to squeeze every last drop of revenue from their 3G pitches. At around £50 per pitch per hour having a break for August would represent a huge loss of revenue for them. Better instead to leave it to players to scrape teams together to make it through to September when normal service will resume.
There is a trophy on my mantelpiece won, not through any on-pitch prowess, but through pushing the very limits of social-networking technology in pleading, prodding and cajoling a series of reluctant non-football players onto the pitch ensuring that the lead we had built up in the league before August was not lost through forfeiting games.
Some times this can result in some unusual situations. 5-a-side is an intensive game which can be unforgiving for those unfamiliar with its stresses, more so in the August heat. One time, shortly after kick-off, and with us in the lead by one goal, a player, red cheeked, simply walked off leading to puzzled glances and a sheepish expression from the player who’d brought him along. Five minutes later, having regained his breath and refreshed at the water fountain he returned, but by that time, a player down, we’d shipped four goals.
Evening comes, and waiting for the train home after work I receive the text. “footies off, not enough players.” My heart sinks a little, but part of me also welcomes the break. The never-ending season combined with ever advancing age has placed its strain on my body. Still, September can’t come soon enough.