Jaime and I got off the train at Kaita-Ichi and headed for the taxi rank. The driver had to be prized out of another taxi where he and his fellows were hanging out together. The next difficulty was in getting the driver to understand where we were going – i.e. to a sports ground just ten minutes’ drive away…
Fortunately for us it was only 2:30 and kick off was not for another hour. But such was our lack of confidence in the driver that when he pulled up at a sports ground where a game of football was in progress, we double checked with a player from another team as to whether or not we really were in the right place.
It just so happened that the Brazilian team who defeated us last season, and who were promoted to the “A” division, were playing so, just to make sure we were really really in the right place, after we had pulled a rickety bench under the shade of a tree at the far end of the ground, Jaime called the Mrs and got her to check the fixture before ours via the internet. Indeed, the fixture before ours was being played by the Brazilian team.
We then sat back and watched the game, expecting to see a Brazilian victory. But instead, we were treated to the site of the Brazilians being contained and then pressed back and defeated by their Japanese oppononents. That’s the “A” Division – a different kettle of fish, and our ambitions of a couple of seasons ago to gain promotion to it have rather withered on the vine…
We were eventually joined by the Japanese contingent of our team and our new captain, Yuusuke. Yuusuke had not been very communicative in the week leading up to this game and it turned out that Jaime had had to contact the previous captain in order to get any information about the game at all. Yuusuke arrived dressed in a natty red shirt and sporting a very pretty head of long girly hair. He is honing his barkeeper look and had not yet been to bed after “working” at a bar somewhere in the Nagarekawa all night… er and I suppose all day too as it was by now 3:15pm.
Several of the old and welcome faces were back again, and a couple of new ones, plucked from the recent intake of students – but I cannot say that they have left any impression on me yet. I cannot say that I remember a single thing about them.
Anyway, we ambled through some prematch preparations and all was very cheerful. The good news was that there was 13 of us – and Dan had yet to arrive! Actually, Dan was probably less than 500 yards away but was being dutifully misdirected by the locals who seem ignorant of anything in their locality beyond their own vegetable patch.
Our opponents were all pretty young and looked as if they could run around a bit. I had got exhausted merely putting on my grapefruit-smelling sunblock while Jaime was beginning to huff and puff after a couple of minutes of light kickaround.
Captain Yuusuke elected to substitute himself (this is a rather tiresome courtesy practised by our Japanese captains to give the less experienced players a runabout). Beginning with the defenders, he did not mention me so I thought I might by safely ensconced on the substitute bench and was quite looking forward to the rest. Then he announced the midfielders…. “Right Half… Davido”
I think I do a reasonable job as right back, actually, and can at least choose to advance only as far as the halfway line and plod up and down a nice little groove like a player in a game of table-top football. But right half usually involves tearing all over the pitch like a headless chicken – until you collapse in a winded and exhausted heap of sweating and trembling flesh…
As a final touch, Yuusuke elected to place the two (next to myself) most out of condition players up front, Jaime and our chubby young Japanese player who is usually a bit of a hero but was off colour today… The injunction to all and sundry was “Pass to Jaime” but as usual, this injunction was observed more in the breach than the performance.
After several minutes of having to try and get the ball off one of three players who were making nice passing triangles on our right, I thought I was the only player considering substituting himself, buy suddenly Jaime made his fastest move of the day and was racing for the touchline and had was sitting on the bench before you could say “Bob’s yer uncle.”
There was no choice for me but to play out the half. Knackered from tearing around, I quickly realised that a midfielder can operate in a more limited zone and so once their attackers had passed the midfield I tended to take a bit of a break and it was in one of those moments that the other team scored. I don’t mean that they scored because I didn’t go back and defend, merely that I ought to have dropped back more than I had done when they scored!
Anyway, apart from that goal, which was quite a good one, if I remember rightly, our goalkeeper had an excellent game. He made several good saves in the first half, including a low dive to the right to save a shot that was heading inside the right post. In the second half he saved a close range shot that was hammered towards the roof of the net.
The other goalkeeper was singularly untroubled. It was not that we were not attacking, just that our attacks broke down before the decisive moment was reached. Then I found myself trotting forwards, keeping pace with an attack that we were building on the left. Then the ball came across to me and I was just positioned sweetly to boot it with the inside of the old left foot as it came across. To my and everybody’s amazement the ball curved straight towards the opposing team’s goal and for a split second I thought I had scored – but the goalkeeper plucked the ball from its path and robbed us of our glory!!
Do not dwell on such things, but after a rueful glance, run back with the air of one who does that sort of thing as a matter of routine…
It turned out that that was our only shot on target all afternoon although in the second half Yuusuke came on and made a fine run through their defence and with just the goalkeeper to beat shot from an acute angle and beat him – but the ball, which we thought was about to go in – bounced off the post.
Jaime went back on a bit later and played out the whole of the second half while the chubby chap came off feeling the worse for wear.
We held our own agains the other team but the real problem, apart from a lack of practice and a bit of beginning of season ropiness, is the lack of service that our strikers get. Our Japanese players consistently try to play the ball in and that is where they more often than not come unstuck.
Still, thanks to our goalkeeper, the score was kept down to 1-0.
It is going to be a long season…