Monday, June 23, 2014

ON THE PITCH

Mekkar was in town to visit his youngest brother Niillas. The younger sibling asked Mekkar to come and watch him play, the next day, in a soccer (futbol) match for charity. The game would include other pro players like Niillas that supported a specific cause. Initially, was not interested and came up with excuses to avoid coming to observe the game. To Mekkar, it would be only a glorified scrimmage. He prefers to attend real matches where a victory would count for something in the standings.

So, Niillas threw out another bone by telling his older brother that there would be some former International and World Cup stars in the game. Names that he would be familiar with. Niillas also told Mekkar that one side had his favorite player Giorgio Chinaglia along with Pele, and a German goalie. The other side had one of the greatest players from Germany, as well as, others that Mekkar would recognize from all over the globe (Mexico, Brazil, Italy, England, and more). The sell job worked and convinced Mekkar to agree to go. “After all, it was for charity,” Mekkar quipped in justifying tone as if he was trying to convince himself that he had made the right decision.

The man from the Arctic expected to see a tiny member of people in the stands for the matchup. Boy, he was in for a surprise when about a half hour before the scheduled start time the crowd began to file in. There was a lot more than Mekkar originally anticipated. He then received the news why the event was happening at all. The match was put on in a rather hastily manner to raise funds for a fellow old footballer to meet medical expenses for a recently diagnosed disease. Mekkar made the assumption that the individual was a well respected in the soccer (futbol) community and some of his friends wanted to help any way they could.

However, Niillas came over to the bench to get a drink of water with a worried look on his face. Mekkar noticed this and inquired, “What is the problem?” Niillas told his brother that he was just informed that one of the players for his team was unable to get a connecting flight and unable to make it in time for the match. The younger brother asked Mekkar to play instead and said to him, “We have no subs to fill in the hole (in the lineup).” Mekkar came appropriately dressed in a t-shirt and shorts since it was a sunny day and didn’t need to change his attire. Since, the older brother was reluctant, Niillas now pleaded with Mekkar to be the replacement. He told Niillas, “I am a former hockey player, not a soccer (futbol) player!” The younger sibling responded back, “Don’t you think that I know that, but the choices were either you or that fat sports reporter over there on the sidelines. Not only are you in much better shape, you have played the game a few times and watched hundreds of top flight soccer (futbol) games, a number with me in them.” Niillas continued on, “You already know how to play this game and you don’t want us, especially me, to look bad do you?” Mekkar began to be suspicious, as it is his nature, and thought that this was all a big set up of some type, by his sibling. Even though it was not the case, Mekkar was not convinced.

The other side lacked any additional players as well with only the minimum of ten and a goaltender. Niillas influenced Mekkar by making him aware to not disappoint the crowd that had already shown up. Trouble was, it was too late for emergency reasons to turn back and Mekkar finally agreed. He decided to not make any additional enemies in a foreign stadium. Mekkar was not in the mood, at this point, to have a hostile crowd predisposed toward him. Especially, if they found out he might be the one responsible for today’s event being called off. You never know how fans might react to the news, thought Mekkar.

The Arctic Warrior pressed his relative as to what his position would be and what was expected of him on the pitch. Niillas advised Mekkar, “I know that you were a defenseman in your sport and know all kinds of tricks, especially below the waist with the hips and positioning.” Surprisingly, Niillas had never played ice hockey before and lacked excellent skating skills for the sport his older sibling excelled at. Mekkar’s brother went on to say to his older kin, “Use the tactics I mentioned to you and try not to foul too often above the waist. Do that and you will be fine. You will have to mark number six when he pushes forward into his offensive zone, otherwise you will be a regular defender. Your teammates back there on the field will guide you.” And Niillas went on to say, “During the one-on-one marking, the player you will be covering will get frustrated and probably swear at you. You do remember enough choice words to respond back in his own language, right?” Mekkar sot back with disdain in his voice, “Yes! Great, I get to be embarrassed by one of the greatest players ever and have him hate me forever by the time the match is over. Be a pest, I can do that! I was very good at that in hockey and got under opponents skin.”

Yet, Mekkar had to change his mindset because as a hockey player he could get physical by body checking, even punching opposing players. But, in the Beautiful Game (soccer / futbol) it is the complete opposite and you are unable to manhandle other players. Mekkar could not afford to get red carded and removed from the game, thus forcing his side into a shorthanded scenario for the rest of the time. Unlike hockey, down a man to spend two minutes in the sin bin would be a minimum penalty. Fortunately, it never came to that. Niillas squad, which included Mekkar, won the match with a late goal in the last couple of minutes in regulation time. Mekkar was glad there was no tie score as he hated results where there is no clear winner.

After the final whistle from the referee blew, Mekkar began to approach some of teammates on the field that day. He figured that this might be his only chance to ever interact with some them. He wanted to meet Pele right after the match was over and who was on his side, but never was able to because the superstar was immediately surrounded by a thick throng of people. Mekkar did get to chat with some of the other athletes there that he had previously watched for years. He thought it was pretty cool. Plus, Mekkar got to spend some time talking with his favorite soccer (futbol) player in the whole world, Chinaglia.