5-a-side and the ‘no asshole’ rule

For over ten years the one highlight of my week was Thursday night with its 5-a-side game. Whatever else was going on I did my best to keep this night free for football; Work and family commitments were scheduled to avoid a potential clash and it would take a really severe bout of cold or flu for me not to go just in case I lost my spot for the next week.

I was never the best player, but that didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t about the standard, but about the laughs to be had charging around in pursuit of a round ball and a bit of glory. That said I did have my moments, once dribbling through the entire opposing team to cries of ‘it’s Messi!’, but there was no room for ego as subsequently ballooning the ball over the roof of the 5-a-side centre was met with laughter from both sides.

Now though the end has come. My reply to the text of ‘footie this week?’ changing from a ‘yeah, of course I’ll be there’ to a ‘not this week’ before eventually the question stopped being asked.

Some people give up when they feel the aches and pains of the next day outweigh any enjoyment, but for me it wasn’t a physical thing. Despite being on the cusp of 40 I’ve become a regular at the gym and am probably in better physical shape now than I was when I began playing.

Quite simply it stopped being fun.

Every 5-a-side group experiences attrition and over the years the composition of our group – made up of our old 11-a-side team – has inevitably changed as people moved away, moved on, or in one more extreme case broke their ankle on the pitch.

At times this has caused a crisis in numbers, but though the core has now whittled away we always found a way to bring in enough new blood to keep going. It also didn’t hurt that we were the kind of group who’d accept anyone, whether semi-pro, or semi competent.

There was though one unspoken rule – The no asshole rule. If someone came along with the wrong attitude whether it was a predilection to yelling at team-mates, or for two footed lunges they wouldn’t be asked back.

Over the years the rule had worked almost flawlessly. Then we began to get desperate. I remember alarm bells ringing when despite being in the lead one of our newer players began to complain loudly about his team-mates efforts. Then I noticed that my tussles with the same player began to take on just that little bit of edge. By then however, their place as a week-in-week-out regular had been cemented. Things came to a head when I unintentionally fouled the player. It was nothing major, just a clip, but on the way out of the 5-a-side centre as I walked in front of the player I caught a stream of invective of which I was the main subject.

Things were patched up, mainly by us being on the same team for the next few weeks. The guy in question was no doubt a good player and we linked up well, but the niggles remained – Incidentally I wasn’t the only one who had issues with this player.

Quitting is a thought which had occurred to me at various times, particularly when we’ve struggled to find 10 players, or when my game has just begun to stink, but always I’d stuck it out and on the other side things improved.  I told myself that my next week would be make-or-break if I enjoyed it I’d carry on, if not I’d take a break. 20 minutes after the scheduled kick-off time we had 6 players turn-up. 30 minutes we had our tenth. My game was at its worst, my mind was made up.

I did try a comeback in January, but by then I’d found other things to fill the time and as I was rusty played worse than ever. Ten years looking forward to Thursdays was finally at an end.

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