Before I bury the lead (and regular readers know I can go to the center of the earth like an atomic dog to hide the main points of anything I write), let me invite you to see
France v. Morocco World Cup Semi-Final,
Wednesday at 1 pm at
Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, 293 Wilson Street.
Free pizza and drinks provided.
Please join me in rooting Morocco on to victory over the defending World Cup champions, France. (French fans are welcome, I suppose, and will not be hooliganized. Promise!)
My soccer history is based on a series of good breaks and misunderstandings. I grew up in a town, Durham, where American football was not played except in backyards and Saturday games at the UNH field. A smallish town populated mostly by professors and researchers, Durham had embraced soccer as its sport before I was born. By the time I entered high school in 1972, Oyster River, Durham’s high school, had established itself as a powerhouse, winning state championships galore in the 60’s and early 70’s. I grew up on a street a literal stone’s throw from the soccer field (we were too naïve and provincial to call it a “pitch”), and every Tuesday and Friday afternoon from the age of seven on, I’d walk up Beards Landing and watch the Oyster River Bobcats win. And win. And win.
Although the old saw is “The older men are, the better the athlete they used to be,” I have no illusions about my ability. I was a mediocre catcher in baseball, filled with more enthusiasm than talent, and a strong runner, winning races and qualifying for state meets in the 880 (now the 800 meters). As a soccer player, I was okay. Just okay. I was a striker, because of my speed, but not a good one. In the fall of 1974, though, I became, very briefly, a star soccer player, at least in the minds of those who didn’t attend the games. Let me explain.
For the first two varsity games of the 1974 season—a season in which we went undefeated until an overtime loss to Kearsarge on corner kicks—Oyster River shut out its opponents. I don’t remember the actual scores, but they were blowouts ending with “garbage time,” the part of the game meant for the mediocre. As it happens, in the season’s first game, I scored a goal of no consequence. I mean, there is absolutely zero difference between a 4-0 win and a 5-0 win—unless you’re the person who scores the final goal, in which case your name gets announced the next morning over the school’s loudspeakers. Girls who had rightly figured me as an attention-starved class clown suddenly looked me up and down with interest. Varsity soccer players had a lot of market value, after all, even if they disrupted class and did little schoolwork. Guys who’d seen me play baseball adequately or basketball spastically had new respect in their eyes.
The following week, Oyster River had another insurmountable lead with five or 10 minutes left in the game, the perfect (and only) time for Keith. I was inserted to kill time and immediately drew a yellow card for interfering with the goalie. Yellow cards are just warnings, of course, but it’s unthinkable for a reserve in an already-decided game to play so aggressively. Equally unthinkable, about two minutes later I scored yet another garbage time goal. The next day, the same announcement as before and the same response from fellow students. To them, I was a quality goal scorer. A few years ago, I ran into an old high school classmate. As we jawed back and forth, she said, “I remember what a great soccer player you were.”
No. You. Don’t.
Without transition, I’m reminded of my first Hope Recovery Festival in 2018. On a whim, right before I welcomed people to Veterans Park, I picked up a banjo on the stage and put the strap around my neck. A photo of me and the banjo was released, and to this day I have people telling me how much they enjoyed my banjo playing that day. A banjo I never played.
Not even a garbage time song.