November is here, and the football season is well underway. But also underway is a tide of seemingly endless rain, causing our 11 a side pitches to resemble murky swamps. So if you need your weekly football fix, you should stop playing on these and risk drowning in the process (a bad way to go), and instead turn to Astroturf and 5 a side football.
Here, you are not only impervious to rain, but you also don’t have to run very far. Assuming you’re now convinced and currently scrambling for your boots, here’s a little guide to who and what you’ll face…
The Big Lad
Tree trunks for limbs, a mammoth chest inflated by sheer ego – you know the score. For this specimen, football often takes a back seat for more rewarding activities, such as snapping ankles and insulting the other team. Didn’t he play that troll in Harry Potter? He isn’t the most agile, but you won’t want to be in the way of one of his trademark piledrivers.
The Pint-Sized Winger
Sure, he doesn’t look like a threat when lining up for kick-off – in fact your eyes probably passed right over him. But be warned, when this fella gets the ball he will be past you in a blur of neon boots, leaving you wondering why you ever took up football in the first place.
The passing, the technique, the vision. Dreamy. He could shed a few pounds, but when on the ball he is a sight to behold, reminiscent of the great Paul Scholes as he floats yet another ball through your defence. He could find your self-worth with a pass, and you haven’t seen that in years.
He stands before you, calm and collected, his sensible haircut matching his sensible style of play. ‘Waste not, want not’ he murmurs to himself as he passes another ball sideways, a human metronome in motion.
“Our penalty, you were inside the box!” He’s as annoying as they come, diving at every tackle, wailing at every contentious decision. What’s worse is that he normally gets his way. Drama was his favourite subject at school, and he probably got an A*.
(Sub) The Ginger
There is always a red-head. And he always plays in defence.
The Astro complex looms into view, its towering floodlights illuminating an enchanting mist of evaporating sweat. You join your new team on Pitch 3, known locally as ‘Wembley’, and are passed your shirt. It’s immediately clear that team names here are slightly less professional (ie. better) than in 11 a side. ‘FC BANTERLONA’ is stretched across the shirt’s back, while on other pitches NetSix And Chill are conceding a penalty to Bud Lightyears, while The Melting Munters battle Pink Like Matip.
Warm-ups tend to be useless in 5 a side, but your captain leads a high knees exercise anyway, four seconds into which someone’s hamstring is torn and the activity abandoned. While the captain tends to the wounded, you can assert your authority by getting everyone to fire shots at the goalie. The opposition will be really intimidated by that. As usual, however, only two shots go anywhere near the target, with the last one knocking out a passing badger. At least the opposition look similarly hopeless; one of them is even sipping a tinny.
The game’s underway and a collective surge of testosterone causes everyone to crunch into each other near the centre circle. You run around a bit, trying to show you’re keen, but that pre-match curry is rolling around ominously in your stomach. Remember to avoid entering the D, (the marking on the pitch not the other thing), or an opposing player will cry foul.
Anyway, here it comes at last – your first touch of the ball! You control it deep inside your own half and launch a perfect diagonal to your striker. You’re about to high five the nearest teammate and shout ‘still f*cking got it’ when it’s rudely pointed out that balls over head height aren’t permitted. Naturally, it was The Whinger who was first on that call.
A few minutes later and half-time is announced, but things aren’t going well. The team is 2-0 down, but the team talk is the same as it will ever be. ‘We’re way better than them’ rasps the captain, his pink face drenched in sweat. ‘We just have to talk to each other, communicate, get stuck in’. Sounds more like dating advice. Now you need to nod stoically, making sure to stare resolutely at the floor.
But only moments into the second half, something shocking happens. A ball bounces over from another pitch, rolling to a terrifying stop at your feet. You need to kick it back.
It feels like the biggest moment of your life, and probably is. Aim high, don’t go for distance, just clear the fence. But the kick goes straight into the face of your teammate two yards away, and your team has lost another player. It’s a heart-wrenching moment, but you’re a valiant lot, and everyone is completely revitalised by an incoherent chorus of ‘COME ON BOYS’.
It’s a powerful war cry, and one that can often feel overwhelming. It’s certainly got to one of your teammates, because moments later a huge brawl has broken out. Of course, it hasn’t started due to the horrific tackles that have been flying in all game, but rather for the most minor offence – apparently the opposing goalie didn’t take a goal kick quickly enough.
It’s just a blur of fists, and you should jump in, maybe rip that guy’s neon boot off or something. But before you can, the timer on the floodlights runs out and the scene is plunged into darkness. Guess that’s the end of play for today, shame about the result. You can always tell the league admins you won 6-0.
Illustrations by Nishad Rai