Chapter 1: And the Final Whistle Blows

At last.

That’s the only thing I’ve been waiting for – a signal that another game has ended.

To hear the whistle feels like manna from heaven, an answer to a long-held prayer. I’m sweating like hell. I had bursts of sprints, chased the ball, did defence near the penalty box, dribbled towards and past the centre field, built up an offencive attempt on the wings, got blocked, retreated at the back, launched a counterattack, and prepared for the opponent’s counterattack.

Which spilt to extra time and penalty.

It was the longest game of my life, not to mention the toughest. Coach made no substitutions until the last minute. Not that he didn’t want to; there’s no one to replace us. Thank the heavens for water break and halftime. Else, I could have died gasping for air.

“Finally. Full time,” I murmured.

Columbia Avenue FC prevailed over its archrivals, Smudgers United, in the final match. Score was 2-2 (decided over penalty kicks, 5-4).

I’m walking around the pitch. Where my teammates went, I don’t know. The opposing team is roaming, too. I’ve thought of shaking hands with them for the sake of sportsmanship. Suddenly I’m taken aback.


On this particular occasion, I personally don’t want to. The whole saga has been characterised by series of bad games, from terrible officiating to dangerous tackles. Thus a handshake would mean these tactics have been acceptable. Especially that (1) I was given a yellow card during the first match on a foul I didn’t commit and (2) a serious tackle paralysed my left foot. The second one was left unnoticed by the referee. Pain, however, was felt for years. Too bad.

I changed directions going to the left corner. My thighs are sore. Perhaps people-watching is a good idea.

Some of my teammates are heading to the locker room after fulfilling a champion squad’s checklist: hold the trophy, feel it with both hands, inspect its contour, damp it with a sweet victory kiss, and hoist it too high. They seem to be elated.

The crowd relentlessly chants the team motto, quickly followed by the squad’s anthem. At this moment, they almost look the same: faces beaming with joy, eyes sparkling with tears, and lips naturally stretched out. This weird connection existing among people of varying familiarity with each other amazes me. Players get called one by one, regardless of contribution to the result. They indeed yearned for this cup more than us.

The archrival’s streak has been broken.

We won. And it feels like a draw to me.

I’m celebrating this for the sake of the fans. Definitely I’ll drink with them tonight and share the same level of enthusiasm talking about the highlights of the final.

Off the footy pitch, I’m sure of one thing: tonight’s win won’t instantaneously dilute years’ worth of agony and frustration. To do that involves years of rebuilding and recovery. Though the unknown can be scary, the thought of starting over somehow relieves me.

As I stand up, I can’t help thinking about the champagne.


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