Old Thoughts From the Fullback Line 

The World’s Cup June 2006

We are once again on the eve of the World Cup.  For me this is a month or pure sport.  As a generic Canadian I have no favourite going into the tournament (In my memory the Canadians made it there only once thanks to an extra CONCACAF berth because the US was hosting the tournament.  The odds makers were giving the Canadians a 1-10,000 chance of winning a game and a 1-1,000 chance of scoring.  They did neither).  I can therefore sit back and watch in un-jaded wonder at the game to see what mysteries will unfold:

  • Will the Germans thrive under the pressure of playing in front of their fans
  • Will there be a “Hand of God” or English goal/non-goal off the cross-bar moment
  • Will the Italians once again fail to meet the ridiculously high expectations of their countrymen
  • Can Thierry Henry still lead the French to greatness
  • Will the Brazilians somehow shock the world again (somehow this is expected and yet would still be a surprise)
  • Will the Africans dazzle us with speed and fitness
  • Can the referees overcome their regional idiosyncrasies to manage the games consistently
  • Will the English ever have a captain that isn’t hurt
  • Have the Argentineans replaced Maradonna

  After the last World Cup my family was in Mexico on vacation and I spent an afternoon with a local cab driver who’s terrible English was way better than my Spanish.  As we raced through the country-side the two of us relived every moment of the tournament and shared our appreciation and frustration with the results.  That’s what soccer is about, a passion that transcends culture, borders, religion, geography and language.

The moments that will define our love affair with the beautiful game for the next four years will play out, in the middle of the night, like a sordid love affair for the next month.  And its all in high definition, WhooHooooooo.



Under Doggin'It January - 2006

For some reason coming from behind is better than being ahead all along.  I am not sure why this is, I suppose everyone likes an underdog, even if the team put themselves in the doghouse.

A season or two ago in the old indoor facility the Roadrunners faced off against their long time friends and rivals, Capitals United.  The Roadrunners started off with their characteristic build slow game plan.  United started off with their usual full speed attack.  Before we decided who was playing on what line it was 3-0.  We stopped the bleeding after that but the goals continued at about one every five minutes.  The game had become a blow out with a 6-0 score line.  With two minutes left in the half I had the naive thought that maybe a late goal would help.  If I remember right Kirk Nordick notched that hope filled dream just before the whistle blew for the break.

The Roadrunners half time talks are usually really effective or a complete bust.  This time there was quiet agreement that we needed to get our heads up and start trying.  As United went through the motions we slowly climbed back into the game.  As we gained momentum United grew frustrated.  To say momentum had changed would not do it justice.  The Roadrunners threw themselves into the offensive zone and fell back on defense in controlled desperation.  The goals came one after another.  I took a look around and noticed that the stands were suddenly all filled.  There were faces in every opening in the windows and the teams getting ready to play the next game were on their feet cheering.  Somehow this waste of everyone’s time had become the game of the night.  With minutes left it was 5-6.

United dug deep and starter to control the game, but in a last ditch attack on their net the Twins crashed the United crease with the ball, one fell and the referee pointed at the spot.  The Gods had spoken, this would be a tie.  The fouled player prepared to take the shot. As an old fullback (unqualified to take a penalty shot myself) I realized that this could not be left to chance, I slid in beside the shooter just to make sure.  The whistle blew, the ball was struck, the diving keeper smashed the ball into the air, United cheered, I headed the airborne ball into the back of the net, the Roadrunner bench cheered.  The referee shook his head in disbelief and pointed towards the net.  It was done.  Neither team tried for the last goal in the dying minutes.  This tie was meant to be.

People in the audience laughed an applauded, it was great sports moment.  As the Roadrunners relived the game in the dressing room players from other teams busted into the dressing room to say “well done”, “is it true you came back from 6-0?”

It was a great night followed by St Patrick’s Day beers at O’Hanlons and Gerry Kane singing songs about all the players.  While I usually excessively pat myself on the back over my very few goals I really believe that goal was guided in by the entire team.  On the drive home it occurred to me that if we had tied 1-1, or won 2-1, it would have been a footnote in the schedule, only one small event not really worthy of comment.  I guess that's why we love "Rocky" movies?


But what a game September - 2005

The great thing about sport is that you can make what you want of it.  When things are going well it can be the greatest thing in the world.  When things are going badly, well it’s just a game.

Many years ago in a galaxy far away (Nova Scotia), I played for the Timberlea Titans.  A patched together group of high school friends that could usually manage a .500 season and were always a threat in tournaments.  We were late into a bad season with no wins.  The opposition for the evening was Lusitanos, a Portuguese team with a rabid fan following.  They were in first place so we were fired up.  I lined up for the opening whistle and noticed my counterpart, an over weight barrel-chested middle age man (he reminded me of Nick Odonadas for those that remember the Beachcombers).  I thought to myself, this was going to be easy.  The referee blew the whistle, my friend blasted by me with the ball on his foot and scored on a 50 yard break away. 1-0.

We held the score for the half but were under a lot of pressure.  At one point I stripped a ball away from the opposition but was facing my own net.  I had two choices, pass to the keeper softly (you could do that back then) or kick it out hard.  I averaged those and blasted it at the keeper.  Man what a save.  I had no idea our keeper could move like that.

The Lusitanos fans were obnoxious.  They screamed they would kill my girlfriend, my dog, my mother and slash my tires on the way.  After an hour of ignoring them they finally quieted down.  Unfortunately a team mate came to tell me about some secret play and heard the yells.  He shouted back and gave them the finger and off they went again.

Late in the second half we were awarded a penalty pick and tied the score.  The emotion began to build, maybe we could do it.  The opposition was panicking and we had nothing to lose.  We pushed forward.  The play was ugly but all in their end.  Finally, minutes before the whistle their keeper bobbled a save and several player fell on him.  To our shouts and screams the ball squibbed out and rolled in the net.  We won.

Their fans circled us and threatened, we didn’t notice.  On the sidelines the winning goal had already become a thing of beauty and every player had to describe where they were when it happened.  We all headed into Halifax to the most expensive, flashy club in the city.  We drank and danced and retold the story of the game over and over.  My girlfriend finally asked if we won the league.  I said it was “just a game”.  But what a game.

Goalies August - 2005

Goalies are very unique players.  Every goalie I have played with or against has a completely different style.  Here are a few examples:

  • Pure violence  - Many years ago I played with a goalie from Cape Breton.  After an opposing player told him he was going to break his ribs, our goalie broke the mans chin bone on a corner kick.  He stood over the guy as he rolled around bleeding from his nose and eye and told him quietly to keep out of his penalty area.  To this day when I hear "keeper's ball" I hit the deck.

  • Style - Again out East I played with a friend, Garth Tupper, who one year grew his hair long, bought bright red shorts, shirts and gloves and grew a handle bar moustache.  It drove me crazy to hear opposing forwards suddenly saying this guy is great, don't bother shooting from outside the area.

  • Attitude - Tim Benna played for the Roadrunners for years.  He brought an aggressive attitude and bright red baseball shoes with sharpened blades for cleats.  Once I was guarding the post on a corner when Tim punched the first save back into danger.  The ball was fired right back at my chest.  Tim recovered and punched the ball and my head into the post.  He told me off for being in his f***ing way.

  • Guile - Eugene Mooreside "Gene the Machine" had Attention Deficit Syndrome (ADD).  In most years the constant and changing threats faced by Roadrunner goalies would suit ADD, but ironically, Gene played in an era when the Roadrunners actually controlled the ball for long periods of time.  It was quite often an adventure.  I would always cringe when Steve Masyoluk would smash a ball into Gene in the warm up to keep him alert.  My favorite memory was in indoor.  Twice Gene had his coke bottle Buddy Holly glasses broken in a game.  Both times the referee stopped the match and Gene shouted he could keep going.  It made you wonder what he saw?

  • Talent - Max Lingard, the self proclaimed "sexiest footballer alive" was the most skilled goalie I have ever played in front of.  He was fast, had great hands, and could fly through the air.  He could kick a ball 60 yards and throw it 50.  He quickly realized the key to winning with the Roadrunners, get the ball directly to the forwards.

  • Confidence - Scott Samis's ego could stop a ball in mid air.  His confidence was incredible.  He was great to play in front of because he truly believed that he should have been able to stop any shot on net, no matter whose fault it actually was.  In 1998, Scott stopped an amazing six penalty shots in a row.

  • Commitment - Mike Raymond, like his father before him, inspires the fullbacks around him with his quiet confidence and his commitment to making saves.  He is the kind of guy you put your body on the line for, because he would take a hit for the team.  If he has bad things to say about the fullbacks, he keeps them to himself.  I like that.

  • The Kitchen Sink - There have been many others who filled in between the pipes.  Some examples, Schepers would break his ribs or go blind every time he went in net to rest his knee.  Jason Randall gave everything he had, including gallons of blood.  Darryl Luterbach has always been there to back the team up in our hour and a half of need.  Even little Spartak tried, his saves were OK but his 11 yard goal kicks all came flying back faster than they went out.

It has been a pleasure and an honor to play with all of these memorable and great players.

Estadio Algarve May - 2005

On a recent scouting trip to Portugal I was amazed at the impact of soccer on most peoples lives in Europe.  Despite the rather large differences between the English and Portuguese language I had several debates with local people about Sporting's bumpy trip to the UEFA Cup final.  Team scarfs are everywhere and it seemed that everyone had a working knowledge of the British and European leagues.

The highlight of the trip was a journey to the beautiful Estadio Algarve in Faro (built for EURO 2004) to watch a Div II match.  I arrived early to find the main entrance fenced off and guarded.  Through an awkward exchange with the Portuguese security guard I suspected there was a game that day so I parked and headed for a side entrance.  There were people hanging around but I was not sure I was at the right place until a guy started barbequing squid on a hibachi.  Nothing says "game on" like burnt squid.

When I eventually got inside I found that the supporters are separated.  I tried to sit with the home crowd but misread the hand written sign and ended up with the enthusiastic away supporters.  I secured a cerveja and sat in the magnificent and peaceful stadium.  Then the busses arrived.  In came the fans: yelling, waving flags, singing and blowing those God awful whistles that are so much a part of soccer in the more passionate parts of the world.  Security people came around to remove the caps off of the spectators water bottles, I assume to lessen their effectiveness as a projectile.

Eventually the game started and it had the same flash points that all games have.  A home team striker that goes to ground a little easy, a linesman that is too quick with his flag, and despite the obvious skill of the players every pass through the midfield was a toss up.  The fans had plenty to shout about.  Late in the second half the away supporters were rewarded with a goal that took the lead for good (I questioned the judgment of the striker that scored the goal charging into the raving fans). 

With the match in hand I found my little rented Peugeot and headed for the relative safety of the Portuguese highways.  All in all a wonderful adventure.

February 24 - 2005 Nial O'Hanlon Announces Retirement from the Roadrunners 

Ending weeks of speculation Niall O'Hanlon today announced his retirement from the Roadrunners (at least for now).  Niall cited irreconcilable differences with Roadrunners management and coaches as the main reason for his departure.  Soccer insiders had speculated that Niall's bonus laden contract became almost worthless when his field time was reduced this past outdoor season.  "For fecks sake, when they said I would get $1.2 million if I played more than Crouter, I thought I was rich" a frustrated Niall O'Hanlon remarked at the end of the Roadrunners most recent successful campaign.

Others have suggested that it was his commitment to O'Hanlons Pub that led to the decision.  The demands of running a pub outside the Old Whorehouse district have perhaps taken their toll.  Also, recently Niall found himself off-side with the Hoteliers in the recent smoking ban debate.  This may have affected his decision to return to the beloved squad that welcomed the young midfielder some four years ago.

Since Niall is still a young man, other have suggested he is distancing himself from the Roadrunners in order to join another squad.  The team's recent fall from grace could have driven the midfielder turned barkeep to the Chargers.  A recent publicity shot of the Chargers provided ample evidence that Niall is in their plans.   All sides have denied this rumour citing a communication mix-up for the picture.

Either way, this is a sad day for the Roadrunners.  Many were brought to tears by the news:

Niall, was he the guy at the pub, at the field or both?  That reminds me, I have to return my shirt
- Colm Dunne

When Niall was out there I never had to worry, hey Niall, do you want my shirt back?
 - Dave Smith

Niall was a friend, a boss, and much more.  I wonder if he wants my shirt back?  It's ripped.
- Nev Fernandez

I loved playing soccer with Niall, although I really liked Gaelic football better.  I should ask if he wants his shirt back. - Paul Laughran

The sad news for the Roadrunners was softened by Niall's other announcement today that the Pub has renewed its sponsorship deal with the team.  A one time cash injection has been provided for the indoor season and potentially new uniforms in the Spring.  An enthusiastic Dick Stinson would not comment on the amount of the financial arrangement but did hint that it would cover most of the teams fines.

In honour of the renewed partnership O'Hanlons Pub is introducing an all vegetable pizza called the "Roadrunner".

Niall, you will be missed greatly on the pitch.  We will see you at the pub.


January 2005 2nd Division 

I don't actually remember when I started playing for the Roadrunners, it was the early 1990's.  It was a great time for the team.  We were in the 2nd Division and the struggles were titanic.  Players like Frank Mak, Bryan Sigurdson, Steve Masyoluk would dominate our game plans as we took on Olympiakos, the air force team from Moose Jaw, White City.  I couldn't sleep the night before the big games.  It was probably the 1996 season that we finished second and lost to United in the semi-final on a blown off-side call.  Steve lost his temper and the full back line never really recovered.

Back then the indoor team was quite different from the outdoor squad.  The few of us that couldn't play hockey or basketball suited up to get some exercise and drink beer (back then is was cheap domestic).  The Roadrunners finished last that winter and through some pretty bad policy at the league level the outdoor team got relegated to the 3rd division because of it (I note here that I joined the league executive and changed that ridiculous policy).

The outdoor team that was a competitor in the 2nd failed to thrive in the third.  The odd shaped, un-lined fields and the lack of linesman killed the Roadrunners devastating off-side trap.  Several players left and there we wallowed for the better part of a decade.  There was always a team of 17 year olds in the 3rd that would finish ahead of us, move to the 2nd division and then break up because they learnt to drive, drink or date girls.  We couldn't earn our way out.

For me the third division became a symbol of what was wrong with recreational soccer.  We got the last pick of fields, refs and linesman.  No one wants to deal with the rogues running around in that tier. 

With the possible exception of the players that don't show up for practices, the rest of the Roadrunners probably take the game and the results too seriously.  In my mind it didn't make sense that I cared so much about our games but the officials and league office didn't.

The 2003-2004 campaigns put an end to this madness.  The Roadrunners are home.  We don't belong in the premier division but I like to think we don't belong in the lowest tier either.  The game is better in the 2nd division.  The tackles are cleaner, the game is more precise and the referees don't start the game trying to avoid a brawl.

I appreciate every minute of these games, and I don't intend to go back until they farm me out to the masters league.

October 2004 95 Fullback Minutes 

0 minutes - Whistle Blows, Coach shouts "Bruce, that's your man".
5 minutes - I catch up with a forward that I thought was faster than me, I begin to relax.
7 minutes - Coach shouts "Bruce, that's your man".
10 minutes - Intercept pass, send ball up to Duncan, coach shouts " don't stop and admire your pass"
15 minutes - Get called off, replaced by Niall who tells me to "enjoy my rest because it looks like I need it".
30 minutes - Subbed back in, I tell Niall it's too bad he has already lost a step at his age.
31 minutes - Coach shouts "Bruce, that's your man".
35 minutes - Receive ball from keeper, relay it to midfield who send Kirk off to score on a breakaway, I quietly compliment myself for starting that play.
37 minutes - Gerry shouts "Bruce, that's your man".  Where the hell did he come from, I thought he was hurt?
40 minutes - John scores - I start to actually enjoy the game.
42 minutes - I "give" a ball to Duncan then remember to do something, oh yeah "go".  I get the pass and lead the ball back to Duncan at midfield.  Now I stop to admire the pass, screw the coach.
45 minutes - Halftime - great speech from the coach.
60 minutes - I am finally subbed back in.  Niall doesn't say anything this time.  I think to myself it must be time to lock down this game.
65 minutes - See a big hole at midfield and shout to Anderson "Bruce, that's your man".  Oh crap, now I am doing it.  He gets as mad as I usually do.
70 minutes - I jump up for a header on a corner kick and my man drops to his knees when he realizes he can't get the ball.  The referee points to the spot.  I am crushed, I let the team down.
71 minutes - Sterling takes a yellow complaining and Darryl helps me up off the pitch, that makes me feel a little better.
75 minutes - I am subbed off, I sit by myself.  Coach comes to ask me what happened, I am glad to see he isn't pissed at me.
92 minutes - Whistle blows, we win the Shield.  I run to congratulate the keeper.  On the way I think about the pain, the obstacles overcome, the commitment, the losses to United, the unmet expectations of the past, and the completely met expectations of today.
93 minutes - Dick raises the trophy
95 minutes - My five year old son asks the simple question "did you win the trophy".  With tears in my eyes I say "yes we did" and I hand it to him.

August 2004 - Coach This

The Roadrunners have never been coached, or coachable for that matter.  We have had captains on occasion but eventually they got tired of the abuse.  At the end of the day we were a bunch of individuals with a common cause.  This year we made the transition to having a genuine coach.  John Schepers has the respect that comes with talent, history, and compassion.  A rare combination that qualifies him for the job.

The transition to having a coach is a huge one.  When you play as an individual on an un-coached team you try to fit in and support your team mates.  When you play on a coached team you have to give up your desires for those of the team.  For the young talented players there is no difference.  They think they should play and they do.  For the semi-talented or ageing it is much more difficult.  You have to look in the face of age, skill deterioration and injury and say maybe I am not the go to guy, maybe I am a role player.  This mirror does not hide anything.  The usually polite players around you, now faced with the accountability that comes with the coaches expectations, have criticisms.  Again you must put aside ego and your personal feelings and soak up the criticism and take what you can to improve yourself in your role to help the team.

Many will dream about a recreation league that is supposed to be fun and is not taken seriously.  I don’t believe this league exists.  When the whistle blows the game is on.  While there is some comfort in not trying your best and risking it all. At the end of the day the pain that comes from knowing your team was less than the sum of its parts because it was not organized is a hard pill to swallow.  The challenge that comes with making the team the best it can be, even if it means you personally must focus your contribution to smaller shifts, is a noble goal that will be remembered by you and others.

While I struggle with my age and ego I have learnt a valuable lesson: I would rather play 45 minutes of very nice soccer, than 90 minutes of kick and run on a team that didn’t really have a plan.  It's not easy, but what's worthwhile that is.

July 2004 - So does your momma

I am really bad at trash talking.  More often than not, after I try to say something rude and clever I walk away thinking “damn, that didn’t make any sense”.  The only one I have that works is after I tackle a younger faster player from behind because I was beat, if they whine, I say “maybe if you weren’t so slow I wouldn’t run into you”.  I know, it’s sad.

The Roadrunners have had some good trash talkers.  Sterling Snider denies it but the urban legend recalls he took the Red Dogs keeper out of a game when he told him he got a good look up the leg of his shorts when he made a save.  Homophobia works wonders.  Jean-Guy Zakrevsky had a strong French accent.  Once a young opposing player verbally assaulted him with the endlessly witty “French fag”.  Jean-Guy ran over to him and said “do you think I am gay” and then explained that he wasn’t gay because he didn’t like to have sex with men, and that he hoped he didn’t hurt his feelings, and that it was OK with him if he liked having sex with men but it just wasn’t his thing.  The young lad didn’t return to the game.

Bruce Weild used to routinely draw players into fights by blowing kisses.  If you didn’t know why someone just suddenly took off after him in the middle of a game you could assume he snuck another one.

  Spartak lashed out in Russian at a Serbian player.  No one but he and the Serbians knew what he actually said, well no one except the Russian referee who gave him a red card.

  If you are bad at trash talking here is a tip I learnt from a friend.  When someone says something to you say “so does your mother”.  Here, I’ll show you:

  “You suck” ---- “so does your mother”

“Go screw yourself” ---- “so does your mother”

“Nice elbow you hack” ---- “so does your mother”  damn, that didn’t make any sense.


March 2004 - It's how you play the game 

I have spent most of my recreational soccer life on average or below average teams.  The plan was always to stay competitive then wake up in playoffs.  With alarming regularity this works.  It is a treat to walk into the playoffs with no pressure or expectations and let it all fly at full speed.

This year was completely different.  The Roadrunners started strong, we had assembled the usual team but didn't really have the roster set until November.  The battle weary veterans held the fort while we found spots for the new talent.  The first sign that we were not simply under dogs came at Christmas.  The schedule was spotty with breaks and then busy weeks, then there was the Grey Cup vacation.  Suddenly, with one more win in December we could go into the new year with an undefeated record.  At the time we were all happy with that.

That's when the season changed.  We were not the ones with nothing to lose.  We were the ones that everyone wanted to beat.  Every team brought their A-game.  The pressure grew every match as the team won the league, then finished undefeated and then won the first two playoff matches.

Every one of the last 10 games of the season was important.  We could not just show up and see what happened, we needed to win to keep the dream alive.  On defense the pressure was immense to not give away any chances.  But at the same time, there was the confidence that even down a goal, the forwards could get it back.

The team grew closer together with every match.  It is certainly easier for everyone to get along while the team is winning, but for unmanaged teams, the decisions around substitutions and floor time can be devastating to morale.  There were debates and occasional strong reactions, and in important games everyone should have strong opinions, but the team held together.  There was never a player put down or left out.  Every man was welcomed and their role respected.

The final ended in a loss in penalties.  The team with nothing to lose won.  For the Roadrunners, perhaps the real victory happened late in the game when the suggestion was made on the bench to overplay the high scorers on the team and it was shouted down.  The pain of the loss is staggering, perhaps the only thing to make it bearable is the way we lost it, as a team.

November 2003 - Speeches 

Over the two decades of my recreational soccer career one of the most important things I have learnt is how to motivate myself.  Especially around playoff time I have to be careful to get pumped for the game but not get so anxious that I get nervous.  To manage this careful balance I only listen to myself, I don't let any outside influences affect my mental preparation for the games.  That, however, was not the case for the 2003 outdoor playoffs.  I got caught up in the John Schepers school of motivation.

The Roadrunners have never had a coach and rarely a player that we all look to for direction.  For one thing, it is far too frustrating a role for anyone to take on.  For the playoffs this year however, John stepped into that job, at least for pre game speeches.

The first match was against the Red Dogs (now RD Porto).  We match up well against them but the last regular season game was a disaster.  They swamped the midfield and for a fullback it was hell.  It was a 90 minute jail brake of 6-7-8 players at a time.  To get ready for the quarter final game I kept telling myself we had played them well before.  I was still not sure.  Before the playoff game, John pulled us together and said, " I want to play Sunday" (the final).  That simple phrase collected all my thoughts.  It wasn't about what they did, it was about us going on.  We won.

The semi-final was easier because the Dragons took half an hour to get 11 men together.  I bet some of them were even registered.    John reminded us of the need to play Sunday, but also not to take the game lightly.  We didn't and we won.

The final against United was a scene.  United was there early running drills, their fans in place behind a banner, and their team shouting chants.  When the Roadrunners had finished their smokes and got their battle weary legs taped up we took to the field to warm our keeper up by kicking balls into the north core area of the city.

The three games in four days had taken their toll on my body but mostly my injured hamstring.  When I knelt down for John's pregame speech this time all I could think of was how was I going to get back up.  I wondered what rabbit he could pull out of his hat this time.  He said:" I have played a lot of big games in my life, and this may be the last one, these guys want this game, I want it more".  I thought briefly about John's past career, the national team, the Olympics, Russia, Azteca Stadium in Mexico, tears filled my eyes.  The pain was gone, I jumped up, ran to the centre circle and I was shaking, waiting for the ref to blow the whistle so I could rip that ball away from United.

That speech kept me charging for 105 minutes of very tough action on a broken body.  When the final whistle blew I fell down because I had nothing left.  John claims he doesn't remember what he said, but I will for a long time.  


August 2003 - Watching

The toughest thing to do as a player is watch from the sidelines.  When you are playing you can address all your problems by making adjustments.  You can get fired up, calm down, protect sore muscles, change your attack angle, plan with your team mates, etc.  On the sidelines there are no adjustments, you just sit there watching things you can't change.

As hard as it is what you have to do is learn from what you see.  When you are in a game you get lost.  There are games within a game, player vs. player confrontations, battles that only the people involved see.  When you are on the sidelines you see the whole game.  The total team match-ups emerge, how does one teams forward line match the others defense, how does the transition game from D to mid to forward work.

You try to help.  You can yell all you want but the people playing don't really want to listen because you aren't playing.  Sitting there you can't help but think you could change the game.  If you are a star you know you could, if you are a role player you remember your best game.  It may seem that all you can do is grab loose balls when it is your team's throw in, or suddenly be distracted when the ball heading to the parking lot belongs to the other team.  But you have a job, watch and learn.

Plan your return to the field.  Note the strengths and the weaknesses, watch the flow from D to goal.  Learn from the games and tell your lessons to your mates when you have your cleats on and they may listen.  Remember it is just a game, and more importantly, remember how much you miss playing so that when you are back you make the most of every play.

April 2003 - The Big Game

I find the most exciting and most frustrating thing about team sports is the "Big Game".  Early in the 2002-03 Indoor season the Roadrunners easily managed United and then made the Serbians earn a tie.  Later in the same season, with the heat of a division title on the line we lost both "Big Games" easily.  The first because the team was unsure after the departure of our regular goalie, the second because it was probably too late to take even second place.  Each player gave his all, but the team psyche was deflated.

When I coached youth soccer I found these ups and downs really frustrating because as the coach I was supposed to do something about it.  If my team won an important game against a tough opponent, the next time we played them I went through great lengths to ensure the preparation for the game was exactly the same.  That was completely wrong, it is not the same game.  Once we had beaten them we were now confident, cocky, we had nothing to prove, and we were ripe for the picking.

The trouble is, that if the team gets "up" for some games, it will be "down" for others.  The Roadrunners rallied and played great in the Regina tournament and the shield playoffs.  We were ready for those one time "Big Games".  We even took second in the division due to an administrative intervention.  A perfect team would be so confident and technically skilled that they would roll over every opponent with out ever having to get up for a big game.  In the end though, I think I would rather have the team play flat every once in a while so that I could feel the anticipation that keeps you awake the night before a playoff game. 



February 2003 - Referees

Love or hate em we need em.  We blame referees for a lot of our problems and I am not convinced it is always fair.  I have several friends who play that Ultimate Flying Disc game.  They play without refs.  I would not condone that in anyway but the end result is that the players have to resolve all disputes themselves.  This requires you as a player to use your conscience, sense of fair play, and also have your team defend your position, if they believe you.  That is a tremendous amount of responsibility that I assume makes it much easier to just not foul someone.

In a game regulated by a referee, players can just attack at will and let the referee sort out the results.  That poor bastard is supposed to see everything and judge everyone's intent.  The players on the other hand just carry on guilt free blaming the referee for all that is wrong in the world.

There are not many people in the world capable of doing a referees job very well.  Also, the moderate pay and heaps of abuse make it even harder to attract the good ones.  A great ref makes for a great game because s/he controls the situation.  A weak ref makes for a crappy game, partly because the players don't take on any responsibility themselves and add to the mayhem. 

Real examples of poor refereeing from this season:

  • Dave Smith having to change his keeper shirt back and forth every game
  • The Roadrunners talking a ref out of a penalty shot goal
  • The ref missing a goal and not blowing the whistle until we explained what happened

Examples of great refereeing:

  • Hans Sternig, in a playoff game several years ago against White City one of their players bounced off me a took a dive on the penalty spot, I looked up for the inevitable hand pointing at the penalty spot, instead I saw Hans laughing.  A few minutes later I took advantage of the situation and knocked the same kid down (outside the box) instantly Hans was in my face yelling at me like I shot his mother.  I was never so scared.

Examples of Regina refereeing:

  • Dick getting a yellow card for telling Murphy his fly was down
  • Chris Ference getting a yellow card for asking where to put the ball for a free kick
  • A game in the rain being called so I could put the top of my car up (although I thought that was the right call).

So lets cool off a bit, refs suck at times, so do we.



December 2002 - Midfielders, there OK I guess.

While I am a career fullback, I do enjoy my occasional trips up field.  I think it is important to lead by example so occasionally I leave behind the stark reality of our 18 yard box to play midfield.  Two trips up an back is usually enough to make my point then I sub off to stop hyperventilating.

The midfield is where you find the actual soccer players.  Forwards and fullbacks are more specialized.  Forwards rely on an uncanny ability to know the exact location of the net, the defenders, the ball, and the goalie (or more precisely where the goalie is not).  Fullbacks have to suppress the human desire to tackle, attack, just get the bloody ball and show patience.  Turn him out, make him pass, slow him down, its not easy when you would rather risk a breakaway and go for the ball.

Midfielders are the ones who need all the skills.  They have to receive, pass, and control the ball, set up the forwards, support the defenders (they get to tackle the guy that the fullback has slowed down), and are supposed to be in good enough shape to cover the whole field.  Much of this goes unnoticed as fans remember the player who scored, the player who gave up a goal, but rarely the player who passed the ball in front of the net (theirs or ours).  I think when soccer outsiders think of the game, they are thinking about midfielders and their wide range of skills and fitness.

Once I was asked into a game of hacky sack and the others were disappointed that I could only keep that silly little bag in the air for a few kicks, someone remarked aren't you a soccer player?  I responded that I am fullback, its my job to knock people who can play hack sack down.  I bet a midfielder could have played all day.

September 2002...Are we there yet?

The season is over.  I expected great things, there was more talent on this team than any team I have ever played with.  It wasn't a bad season, 7-10-3.  We were in every game we played and I remember being ahead in every game we lost.  The playoffs were hard to take because I had convinced myself we had just taken a long time to gel and the last six games showed we were ready, we weren't.  John's suspension and Kirk's ribs certainly didn't help, but I think it goes deeper.

I think the team got caught somewhere between what it was, and what it could be.  This was certainly true on the back line.  Maybe the rest of us laid back and waited for the new recruits to lead the way.  Maybe the new recruits needed more support.  We suffered the fate that all non-coached teams do, too many strategies and not enough coordination.  We had players waiting for balls on the wings, players trying to beat everyone, and players looking for give-and-goes in the middle, all at the same time.  On defense we recruited Conrad and Sean.  Conrad's steadiness and Sean's scrapyness were a good combination.  This left the bulk of the old fullback line stranded on the side-line.  It was a big squad for most games and almost everyone took their subs so I am not whining about field time.  I have noted though, that the team has never won a game with more than two of the old fullback line on the sidelines.  The reason isn't that they are so great, it is a signal that most of the team is playing out of position, the team was trying to be something it is not.

So where do we go from here, forward or back?  For brief spells the team's roster was at 20 players.  This is too many for one squad.  There has been talk of adding a few players and splitting in two.  We need 30+ players to do that.  Also, it has been my experience that the first 18 guys are committed, the extras come and go with varying degrees of emotional and financial commitment to the team.  We risk watering down what we have with this approach.

Dick's plan is to hold practices and see who is committed.  My guess is that a core of 18 players will emerge from that.  The challenge for that team will be to work together, slow, fast, skilled, determined, everyone on the floor, everyone thinking about the other team's net.  We need to balance everyone's skills with set lines.

If 30+ players show up I say we try to create a 2nd Division team.  I am fairly certain an "old 3rd Division" and a "new 2nd Division" team would emerge, and I am also pretty certain that I will be on the 3rd Div team and it will be the Roadrunners.  But that name means a lot to a lot of people, and I am not the only one prepared to fight to get it back to the 2nd Division, or go masters trying.  I love that Guinness jersey, but I could live with the "Kilkenny" Roadrunners if I had too.


August 2002: Switch to the low ball

The Own Goal column is dedicated to the silent pride of the fullback. For this month's edition, I therefore offer the following quotes from semi-retired Roadrunner legend, Bryan Sigurdson.

"Switch to the low ball"
- a direction barely heard above a 90 km/hour wind driving the largest rain drops I have ever seen so hard into my eyes that I could barely open them. When the storm cleared, we were up 3-0.

"When you get back from out of town you phone your manager first, you call your mother second"
 - advice Bryan suggested to several team mates who kept forgetting to tell  Dick when they were going to miss games.

"If you are not getting yellow cards, you are not trying hard enough, if you get a red card, your an idiot"
- Excerpt from Bryan's speech at his 50th birthday party.

"Sorry about the oranges lads, I will talk to Cindy"
- an apology offered after Bryan's wife Cindy (who was 8 months pregnant and with two toddlers) arrived with sliced oranges but several minutes after the half time break had ended.

 "You beat the teams below you in the standings, and you tie the teams above you"
- A strategy that focused me to play better against seemingly unbeatable teams (e.g. Olympiakos) and led the Roadrunners to second place in the second division.

 "I'd bite this button off, but I would probably choke on it and die"
- Bryan complimenting team management on our new jerseys.

 "Here, have a look at my ankle"
- a horrible sight that not only caused me to stop whining about my "minor" ankle injury, but has stopped me from ever complaining about any  injury since.

- A term Bryan often uses to inspire, and only an aging fullback would fully understand what it means coming from a true veteran.


May 2002: Bring it on...

Despite the snow falling in buckets the night before the season opener, I am very excited about the prospects of the next campaign.

The reason for my optimism, this season has the potential to be a glorious one.  I am not one that looks for signs or premonitions, I don't believe things happen for a reason. That said, there are all the signs of glory in 2002.  The team came out of the indoor season with a reasonable record and a good attitude, that is rare. The core of the squad is skilled and confident, a marked improvement over the outdoor season of 2001.

My first premonition, the last time Murray Hilderman played for the team we won 11 games in a row and finished in second place in the second division and should have won the final.

Second, I see from the schedule that we finally get a few games back at Realtors park. Those two fields were the site of all of the great games I remember since I started playing in Saskatchewan. We played the finals of the second division rally mentioned above there. Realtors West hosted "guaranteed win night" when we beat United by a goal. Realtors East was where I scored my only goal in 20 years of league play.

Third, everyone has paid there fees. The stability inherent in that statement can only be appreciated by team management.

Fourth, against all odds, the new homepage started behaving and I was able to post it on time, the week of our first game. You need the newest Explorer or Netscape to get the scripts to work, but it does work!

Past the premonitions there is other good news. Added to the core of talented players is Mat and Jeremy, both will add to the morale and goal totals. Then there is Conrad, I did not get the ball away from him once in five practices, and oddly enough, his biggest contribution may be on defense.

I hope the sun gets this snow the hell off the fields, because I am ready for this season to start.

March 2002: Spartak...

The Own Goal column is a place for fullbacks, I rarely take the time to discuss forwards, other than to point out their obvious faults.  But today I find a hole in my heart because my young friend Spartak has left the team, and I feel a need to talk about it.

The Spartak saga started two years ago when a friend from the Open Door Society called to say she knew a young refugee who wanted to play soccer.  It started off rocky, he was in trouble with the police, at school and quickly he got into card trouble on the playing field.  On top of that his cockiness bothered his line mates.  He didn't pass enough and he was always losing his temper.  That put him in pretty good company from what I could see.

Over time he became a friend of many of us.  I have no doubt he would do anything for the Roadrunners.  He actually ended up at the Police station for fighting with another coach that said we sucked.  He played an entire season in net when he didn't want to, we almost did the impossible and broke his spirit that summer.  What used to bug me was that, while he certainly had faults, he was punished more than he should have been.  Once he got into a shoving match with a middle-aged man that had a good enough life to be a better person.  He told Spartak he was going to kill him because he was a F'in puke.  The referees report said the incident was all Spartak's fault.  That was wrong.

Spartak, around the Roadrunners, did his best to be a mature, responsible friend.  His life was filled with problems we can't imagine.  It is a lot to expect any 17 year old to fit in with middle-aged men but he did.  He was working on controlling his temper and was doing much better.

Spartak's story has many chapter, I hope that this is not the last one for us.  I will wait as long as I can in the dressing room hoping he will show up.  For his sake, I hope he brings his two strips or Niall will kill him.

February 2002: The Penalty Area...

The letter said: "denies an obvious goal scoring opportunity". This clear definition of the role of a fullback was in this case used to describe why my team faced a penalty shot and had to play a man short , and why I was suspended. The reason for this seemingly incongruent interpretation of the role of a defender was that the infraction happened in the penalty area.

When you enter the penalty area you leave all fairness behind. On the rest of the field, any of the ten fouls listed in the FIFA Rules of the Game are meet with a consistent response regardless of whether you are attacking or defending. In the penalty area, any foul by a defender (except for minor interference) leads to a penalty shot and a near certain goal for the attacking team. Any foul on a defender leads to a free kick some 100 plus yards from the other teams net, gee thanks.

Given that the forwards have been given sweeping rights and privileges in the penalty area, you would hope that these rules would be applied with some consideration for the defenders. This does not appear to be the case. For example, in almost every case, if any part of a fullback's arm touches a ball, penalty shot. The rule says the contact must be intentional to be a foul. Given the near certainty of a goal on a penalty shot, I would not play with a fullback that touched a ball in the penalty area on purpose . I think I could successfully argue that handballs in the penalty area are almost always un-intentional, not the reverse.

All this said, I am prepared to run around in that mystical box with my
hands tucked in my shorts and the virtual certainty that any contact will lead to a goal, if one concession is allowed. If a fullback is fouled in
the penalty area, the ball should be moved to at least half. Or, better
yet, march it all the way down to the penalty area 100 yards downfield.

December 2001: The Goal...

The relationship between a father and son is like the relationship between a fullback and a goalie.  The unbreakable bond of being a single unit, at war with the constant need to react as an individual.  

Their relationship was like this, so very close and yet as far as only a father and son can be apart.  It is the way nature intended.

The son played on the same team as his father but was always frustrated with the presence of the man who always knew better, who always had the last say.  He could have played for other teams but didn't, like magnets held the wrong may, they repel, but when turned the right way, attract.

That night, the Roadrunners had the game under control but nothing was needed more than an insurance goal.  The father took the ball into the corner, his skills and training told him to look in front of the net, but he didn't need to, he knew his son was there.  He had seen him take his first steps, kick his first ball, ride his first bike, go to school, drive a car, get a job.  He had seem it all through his eyes, this was no different.

The son waited patiently, his father took so long, he went too far into the corner, why doesn't he just pass!  At the same time, he knew his father could see him, and he knew where the ball was going.  Every game in the back yard, every game they watched together on TV, everything they had done together was in preparation for this.

The ball went up and with precision and pace was guided into the net.

The rest of us could only wonder at what they felt.  They did it together, it was a perfect goal that only a father and son could score.

October 2001: Act Your Age...

When people get older, they usual gain perspective about their world.  Reactions become more thoughtful and planned as you gain experience.  This doesn't seem to translate to soccer.  For some this may be due to lost skills and speed, for others it is years of baggage, for some (myself included) it is just being an old fart.  Yellow cards used to come once a decade, now it is once a year, and always for an over-reaction to something.

With age, however, comes responsibility.  We are asked to teach and nurture the younger generation so they can have a better start.  This doesn't always translate to soccer either.  I have seen several examples.  I remember defending a corner kick against a team with a mix of old and young players.  I overheard one young man asked his all knowing elder what to do, the response: run the goalie.  The multi-level moronic nature of that comment would take more web-space than I have here to analyze. 

Recently, we wrapped up the season against another mixed team.  Unfortunately I was involved in an injury to one of the younger players.  His young mates ran to his aid immediately.  Several minutes later his older team mates eventually wandered up the field the tell the referee their cataract tempered version of what they saw and to threaten anyone who wouldn't make eye contact.  It wasn't until then that I realized that the younger kids on that team always played with quiet skill, determination and respect. 

My point, when a younger player asks for advice or needs your help, try to think of something useful to say or do.  Act your age, or, act younger. 

August 2001: Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

It was a hot day. The kind of day when the intensity of the sun somehow breaks through the oppressive humidity.  The city was quiet, the silence that only happens on a long weekend.  Faint in the air was the smell of mini-doughnuts and the fun-filled screams of the fair.  But for some, the day was not about the beach or the Tilt-O-Whirl, it was about soccer.

I arrived to see five of my team mates slowly getting ready.  Slowly because the task ahead was not to be rushed, the other team had a full squad and four subs.  As we prepared we all took unnoticeable glimpses at the parking lot.  First to see five players, then hoping to see one, so we could play.  At the last minute, Grant's aging Mustang pulled into the lot, we had enough to play.

After a brief discussion it was decided that Sterling and his injured knee should play net instead of Spartak.  I for one, was not going to play a game like this with a fit 16 year old watching from the net.  I suggested a 3-3 but was over-ruled.  The brain trust felt a vertical alignment was better and we went for the 2-2-2.

The game started confused.  Spartak looked lost which wasn't surprising considering he hadn't played out for years and he had a third of the the pitch to cover.  Darryl was moved back to defense because the need to score goals was far too important for the fullbacks to leave to the forwards so they had moved up.  After two plays, order was restored, Internacional scored their first goal.

Then we had a break, Sterling found me at mid-field, Spartak broke left.  I moved the ball up and the opposition backed-off.  I stepped up to smash the ball down the left wing.  My toe punch actually curled into the middle, off Nick, and onto a charging Darryl.  He was dragged down an immeasurable distance outside the box.  The free kick missed by inches.

I decided to take control of the defense and implemented an impenetrable offside trap, this consisted mostly of yelling at Bruce Weild to move up.  He finally got fed-up and told me to be the last man.  I quickly found that calling the offside trap is way easier if you are not the last man.  They scored again, and again.

In the end we lost. no surprise.  I was very proud of my six team mates.  We didn't have to play, we wanted to.  We gave our all, we lost.  As they say, we left it all on the field.

I still think the 3-3 would have worked.

May 2001: What Position Do You Play...

I am often frustrated when I hear media people talk about racism being a part of soccer, these discussions are usually related to fights surrounding European fixtures.  My experience has been quite the opposite.  In Regina we have teams related to cultural clubs: Sudanese, Greek, Serbian, Austrian, Chilean, etc. but who cares.  These teams are assessed based on their skills and ability to beat your team.

The same goes for people's place in society.  The Roadrunners have had members from all walks of life, presidents and vice-presidents, students, refugees, bureaucrats, city councilors, unemployed, etc.  Each of these players are known to the others based purely on their ability to help the team.  Last names rarely even enter the conversation.

Last week several members of the team got together the watch the FA Cup.  The people there were from all walks of life and from all over the globe.  The seating plan was based purely on allegiance to Arsenal or Liverpool.

I find it refreshing to step over the badly marked lime line on the grass an enter a world where you are judged only on your ability to stay on-side.  I remember once being asked about a player on our team who in the real world was an influential person.  She asked me what he was like, I gave a truthful answer: he doesn't pass enough.

Over the Line...December 2000

Soccer has many rules and regulations. The FIFA handbook clearly states what we are and are not supposed to do. But soccer, much like life, is largely conducted between the lines of the law. Beyond the rules there is a code of conduct between players.

The last few games we have played have reminded me of what the whole point of the game is. Like most fullbacks I enjoy a good rough game. The Roadrunners played the Chargers in a two game series early this month. I felt both games afterwards, but the bruises were largely confined to my shoulders. The result of collisions, fighting for the ball. When I look back at every hit I think that was good clean fun. Then we played two games against the Capitals United. The battles between our clubs go back decades and are legendary. These two hard matches resulted in a similar amount of bruises, but this time on my knees and calves. Every hit an intent to injure. There was no fun in that.

I was watching an English Premier game this morning. A microcosm of the game was a battle between a fullback and a forward. Several times the forward fell to the turf too easily to the cat calls of the fullback. There seemed to be no respect. Late in the game, however, the same forward came in hard for the ball and heavily tackled the defender. When the referee came to card the forward the fullback jumped from the turf and signalled to the ref that it was a clean tackle and no action should be taken.

That’s the point. Go in hard and high with everything you have. And if someone does it to you, turn away and think to yourself, that was a nice hit. Those are the plays you remember.

September 2000: For The Love of the Game...

The season started with the usual confidence and fun that all preseason practices hold. Everyone was having fun and laughing, but in the quiet moments I overheard quiet conversations about last year’s youth movement and keeper. I only saw one person that was young and they must have been talking about a different keeper because I didn’t recognize this one. I spent more time in the net than I ever did before.

The season started and as hard as I tried I could not get into the other team’s half. Every shot the other team took scored. This started the long string of keepers. Old, young, fast, slow, some with bad prostates and broken toes, others with incredible talent. I don’t know why the keeper with the braces didn’t play in net because he knew what to do. I still have marks from where he kicked me, but man, what a game. My buddies in the back of the van used to hold pools over who the keeper would be for the next game but no one ever won.

The team kept practising and getting better, but because of the rain we hardly ever played. Then some of the players disappeared and others got injured. New players kept showing up but it didn’t seem to help, the team stopped playing together. I tried my best to make good passes but every time I got near midfield I was intercepted. Sometimes I thought the other team wanted me more than my team. Once the rain stopped we were playing three times a week and most of the team stopped practising, I think most of the team needed to rest between games. It was a lot different than last year when I was going so fast the other team’s goalies couldn’t stop me.

I seem to be the only one enjoying the games. I heard someone talking about there being only one more game. I hope that isn’t true because I want to spend as much time on the field as possible. I love the feel of the grass, the wind and the net. I hate spending the winter sitting in the basement.

Roadrunner's Game Ball

June 2000: Team...

When things go well it is easy to be a team. Only when things go wrong do the bonds that bind a team get tested. If confidence is lacking, the speed in which a situation can send a team into a death spiral is staggering. True teams, however, count on each other and survive.

For the Roadrunners the stage was set. The loss of several key players had left our team with a challenge. Off-season acquisitions filled some but not all of the void. When the season started the new players were not established in their positions and the loss of our two keepers left us open to attack. The blow-outs began. Quickly the analysis of the problems began, everyone had an opinion: the keeper is not ready, the full-backs play too square, the mid-fielders don’t control the ball, the forwards are not getting open. I can tell you who was right, everyone. The entire team has failed. When early goals are given up the fullbacks fall back, then the mid-fielders have too much field, then the forwards have nothing to do but analyse. The delicate balance that comes with confidence is gone and we are no longer a team. We all give up way to quickly and start sending long balls (and they haven’t worked since the Hilderman’s moved to the 1st division).

How do we turn it around?...like a team. We did lose some people but the players that are left are all talented and committed. We have to look at each other’s strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies to use them. The Roadrunners have always won games with grit at keeper, "old-time soccer" at fullback, a control game at mid, brilliance at forward and exaggerated stories of bravery and valour over beer afterward. As a team we can beat anyone. Besides, we could use a few new stories.

March, 2000: Advantage, yeah right...

Sometimes a violent event has to happen to produce ideas that change society for the better. In this case, the pain in my leg has caused me to rethink the "advantage" call. In situations when a foul has taken place a referee can allow the play to continue (instead of allowing a free kick) if s/he feels it is to the advantage of the fouled team. While I always trust the judgment of the referee, I have thought up some ideas to make it easier for them to make the right call.

With the case in point, I beat a player to the ball so he kneed me in the thigh. Through a combination of skill and luck (5%-95%), I held onto the ball. I assume the referee let the advantage go because he didn't stop the play. Now, for starters, me on a breakaway is not much of an "advantage", add in a sore leg and it is an even chance at best. I would have much preferred a stretcher and a free kick to one of the big-money guys.

So here are the potential solutions. In an advantage situation the referee calls out something like "advantage red", and the fouled player can raise a hand if he wants the play to end. Or, how about using the eligible receiver rule in football, the referee has a list of numbers of players who do or don't want the take an "advantage". The best solution would be an automatic penalty kick for any foul against a fullback. Any fullback on the team could then take the kick, at least it would be a goal then. Buts that's a topic for another day.

Dr. Laura Knows...December, 1999

Several articles ago I ranted about the penalty shootout to end the Women’s World Cup. Specifically the American keeper coming off the line. Several weeks ago my wife pointed out a newspaper column by Dr. Laura also saying this was unacceptable. Being in agreement with our fundamentalist friend caused me to question every belief I have.

I realized after some thought that her concern was different than mine. I thought the referee should have called the foul. She thought the goalie should have never made the foul. Bragging it was justifiable made her a crappy role model (join the list on that team). But does the good doctor have a point? Should we always be pushing the rules, only limited by what the insightful referees call?

We all push the rules: running interference, overacting on offside traps that were late, hitting the ground harder than you need to, hitting opposing players harder than you need to, etc. We all like the think that we are sportsman and respect the game, yet we do these things.

The way I see it is that it is a matter of intent. There are two reasons to bend the rules. The first is to react to an uncalled foul against you. A pulled shirt, an elbow to the throat on a header, anything that takes you out of the play opens the door for you to do what is necessary to get back into the play or to end it. The second type of foul is to protect yourself. And if this requires a preemptive strike, so be it. Any technical fouls remaining can be justified on the grounds of leveling the playing field against younger players. Without such instruction, how will they learn?

So it all makes sense. We are sportsman, and Dr. Laura missed the point.

Again...October, 1999

Well, we lost our second final in a row. It has been a month and I am still pissed off. Since I feel obliged to write something about the season I am going to use this report to see if I can make myself feel better.

The standings would suggest that we were better than every team but White City. There is some, if not honour, pleasure in that. I enjoyed coming out ahead of the three Capitals teams and their "progressive" youth policy that saw the same three under-19 players play on all three teams. The semi-final against United could have been a classic but ended up with them running our goalie and ranting about "class" (although we will have to talk to Wayne about throw-ins late in the game). We had three default wins against Nyala, that was an embarrassment, but to their credit they put a good team together in the end. And luckily for us the Hotspurs turned their power and anger against themselves. As for White City, they are a good young team and the final was closer than the score would suggest.

On a more positive note...our youth movement was great this year. Curtis, Mike, Wayne and especially Gabe really shined. Paul and Sterling got up to speed very quickly and were welcome additions to the outdoor team. And I can tell you that in the first ten games the fullback line was not a nurturing environment. Kirk was amazing with a 30+ goal season and everyone else played solid all year. In usual Roadrunner fashion, after the games, wins were exaggerated and losses were quickly forgotten.

John S. told us after the game that we can’t be happy with second place. I don’t think anyone was. The real frustration was that we could have won the last game but we didn’t. But...the season was a good one. Losing the final hurts, but I sure like playing the last game of the season.

On and off the field.... September 1999

Several weeks ago my wife and I had a healthy, happy baby boy. It was, however, a very difficult pregnancy that left my wife in bed for four months, most of them in the hospital. As this supposedly doomed tragedy twisted its way through the summer I found a great deal of relief on the soccer field. In the end I only missed a couple games. While this may seem like a life skills priorization problem it made good sense to me. The change in venue from work or waiting in the hospital for life or the doctors to make the next move; to a two hour game where I had some control over the destiny around me we was welcome relief.

Also, the support from my team was amazing. The supportive words, questions, flowers and patience for those nights when my concentration wasn’t what it should have been were greatly appreciated. In the end it all worked out and it truly was a miracle. A miracle based on the care of many great people, including the Roadrunners whose support to me can not possibly be valued. Bryan always says that when you play for the Roadrunners you do what you can to help the team, on and off the field. Apparently the reverse is also true. I also remember Bruce Macnab (ex Roadrunner and varsity hockey legend) say: "it doesn’t hurt when you win".

Of Bras and Goal Lines...August 1999

Recently we all had the opportunity to watch the Women's World Cup.  The skill and determination of all teams entered was to be marveled at.   The event, however, was marred by two things.  First, and least importantly, was Brandi Chastain.  I thought the importance of the tournament was lessened by her nude photo lay out, her impressive own goal, and stealing the US team's marketing potential by ripping off her shirt in the most scripted show of spontaneous emotion I have ever seen.

That aside I come to the real problem, the one that affects soccer's future.   The FIFA rules clearly state that in a penalty shot the goalie cannot leave the goal line before the ball is struck.  The save made by the American keeper to win the tournament started three feet off the line.  I seem to be the only one worried about it.  I talked to long time Roadrunner legend Bryan S. who tells me that no one calls it anymore and that good forwards wait for the goalie to over commit before they shoot.   My problem is that if you don't use the rule, what are you using?  Should the referee allow the goalie to come out and slide tackle the shooter as contact is made?   If that's the case then I'll go in net.

I did not see a glorious victory for the US.  I saw a referee with a lack of courage.  How hard would it have been to let the Chinese take the shot over.

Interference...February, 1999

For years it seemed to me that the interference call was a confusing erratic call that appeared at the most inopportune times and places (IE. end of a game with a 1-0 lead in the penalty area). As a defender, how could you be called for interference when your job is to interfere with opposing forwards. This same problem seemed to plague football, hockey, any sport where there is a defender.

The matter was cleared up for me after one such seemingly confusing (almost game losing) call. One of my team mates on the wall of death (serving a suspension at the time) commented that I was called because I wasn't working hard enough. Then it all made sense. You are not charged with interference because you blocked another player (of course you blocked the other player), you are called because you took the easy way out. Instead of giving all I had to get to the ball, and coincidently in front of the opposing forward, I just stepped in front of him.  I was called because I was lazy.

The referees I have dealt with don't want to make a weak call like interference against a full back bearing down on the ball with all the fire, courage and power h/she can muster and their eyes set firmly on the ball (and their peripheral vision carefully plotting an intercept course with the closest forward). So what if you never made it to the ball, you tried your best, and isn't that what soccer is all about?

The Horror...November, 1998

For me, knees have become associated with horror. Too many great players have been lost solely because of the knee joint's tenuous grasp on its ligaments.

I think back to Gene, the fighter. He fought through Attention Deficit Syndrome, concussions, and who could forget the ridiculous scene when he was in net and his coke bottle glasses would get smashed off his head and the referee would stop the game and Gene would shout "play on, I'm fine". It was a knee that took him down.

I have nightmares thinking about the idiot giant that took out Bruce W's knee. He knocked me down and went on to play Bruce's knee instead of the ball. That cost Bruce two years, although it would have been one but he wouldn't go to the doctor (damn, I broke my promise to never mention it).

Who could forget the summer, only a few years ago, when Steve and Bryan entered into a competition to see who could score from farthest away: Steve 45 yards, Bryan 47, Steve 49, then finally Bryan 51 (although Bryan gets an asterisk because of Gene's artillery style attack of the goalie on that play). Knees have turned that derby into folklore.

When I take a first step in the morning after a game and my knee howls I feel that horror, then on the second step it holds and I think not me...not Gene, not Steve, not Bryan, not today. Bryan is in for a rebuild, if Steve would get on the bike he would be fine and Gene should have got a second opinion.

There is Glory in Losing...September, 1998

Last Sunday the 1998 outdoor season ended in a rather one-sided match that saw the Lumsden Purple Haze snatch the Championship from the Roadrunners. All week this loss sat heavy on my mind: maybe we are an average team, maybe we should go masters. But time and Roadrunner approved beverages heal all wounds.

The Roadrunners all take the game very seriously, not so much that we would actually start practicing regularly or anything like that, but it is a big part of our lives. For most of us our best physical years are packed away in the closet with the tiny jersey that used to fit. Yet every year we successfully attack the division with the same game plan: get above 500 in the regular season, then break loose in the playoffs. The last few years the seasons have been shorter, 15 games instead of 20, so our traditional 5 game losing streak to start the season makes it a little bit more difficult to climb into the top half of the standings but we always do (or at least get close). Again, right on schedule we assembled our two best games of the year in the playoffs and found ourselves in the final. Sure we lost, to a younger, faster team. So big deal, when I was that age I could...play about half that good (I blame the coaching). But the way I see it, these teams are league sponsored aberrations, squads on their way to higher divisions. Take away the youth teams that don't want to be in our division anyway and look who is on the podium.

Every year the Roadrunners make at least the semi-finals. For 20 years, once the leaves start to turn and the playoff bell rings, if you want to win the division you have to come through us. And many good teams have tried and failed. So in 1998, mission accomplished, again. See you in the playoffs next year.

So what are we doing here anyway?...August, 1998

One of the things I like best about playing for the Roadrunners is the confusion. Usually when you know exactly what to do it is because someone you don't like told you what to do. That doesn't happen with our team. It is management by consensus, or probably more accurate, an averaging of opinions.

For years the argument was North-South: the offside trap, to be or not to be. Every game was marked by disagreement on this issue. I love the trap, others prefer to sweep. Against fast young teams who don't know anything other than shoot and run the sweep works, but I like holding people up. A slow game is a Roadrunner win. The trap doesn't work worth a damn with a sweeper though. The league decision to eliminate linesman from our division changed this debate. To be in the "trap camp" was to be openly and accurately accused of complete insanity.

So now the debate is East-West: man to man or zone. Our recent success can be largely attributed to a zone defense, I like man to man. We have been susceptible to plays down the middle and zone allows you to concentrate your efforts in the box. In our league you are rarely punished from a shot more than 20 yards out. The veterans hate seeing men open though, I agree with them, if everyone is covered, no one can score. So again I find myself with the wrong philosophy.

So what do you do? I'll tell you what I do. On fast breaks from the other team I occasionally sneak behind the center and then charge up on a pass to get an offside call. If it is perfect, no one even realizes I did it. On crosses, I park myself in the middle of a big open zone, and when no one is looking, I take a couple of steps towards my man. If it is perfect, no one notices. I like to think of it as the game within the game.

What is a Leader...