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Respect; But Never Fear

Time was when, in lieu of an exhibition game against other schools, I would ask the high school and college teams to kit up and square up against each other in what would be our pre-season curtain-raiser. Well, the college team is already halfway into its first semester league season; but the high school lads are still to kick a ball in competition.

Since last Friday was a national holiday, and since the uniforms had all finally arrived for both teams, I thought it would be a good idea to revive a club tradition. This way – or so I thought – the high school lads could get a feel of the real thing prior to playing its opening high school league match.

In a previous note, I had written that the high school team, made up of 13 and 14 year-old lads, had started to make real progress in scrimmages against their older counterparts. A draw and a high-score one-goal win over the college team hardly seem anything worth boasting about; that said, even a draw would have been unthinkable just last summer. And that was less than 3 months ago…

I need to point out that, in both scrimmage matches, there were two or three key college players missing because of classes. Thus, a pseudo-competitive match under the heat of a holiday afternoon would answer a few vital questions.

The high school lads had already tried out the all-green strip when these first arrived; so for this match, I asked them to kit up in the all-white strip. The college team, on the other hand, had worn the all-white in the previous weekend’s league match; so I thought I would like to see them in the all-green.

Both teams warmed up like they would in competition; so all that was really missing was the referee and his two assistants. I had my Cybershot and happily snapped away!

The moment the match started, I was immediately treated to an afternoon’s entertainment of highly technical and tactical football. From both teams! The college lads, predictably, had more of the possession. It was patient football; attacks were built intricately from the back-line.

But the high school team sat back and defended in numbers… The lads chased and harried their older mates into making mistakes; and were compact and organized in front of their own goal. When they did win possession, they broke forward in numbers, stringing together one- or two-touch passes in flowing moves that had even the more experienced college defenders mesmerized!

This ebb and flow into the match continued unabated for half an hour. It was utterly fascinating! Were it not for the colors, I could have been watching a Manchester United-Chelsea Premiership match at the Bridge!

Half an hour into the match, the high school lads broke forward again. Alex sent in an inch-perfect left-footed cross blind side of Karl into Enzo’s feet; and the little Italian had the easiest of tasks driving the ball past Gregg and into the college net. 1-nil to the youngsters!!!

Of course, I could not really celebrate the goal with the high school lads. Had I done so – and at the risk of being partial – the celebration would have been short-lived. The college team was soon level and eventually led by two when I called the teams in so others could get a run out.

The result did not matter! It was unthinkable – and unacceptable – for the college lads to have lost, anyway! But plain for all to see was the fact that, for the high school lads, there was every reason to be optimistic about the impending season.

So, alright! The youngsters may have improved vastly in ball control and learned to read the nuances of a football match. In truth, what matters is less these things but more the fact that they have also somehow learned how to approach any opposing team. With respect, yes; but never with fear!

I have been in this business long enough to have realized a long time ago that teams – in any sport – that learn to play this way eventually end up becoming successful teams.

[This story was first published on Facebook on 25 August 2009.]

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