Still enough mind fodder

Back in 2005, in one of my best years in all the years I have played hockey, I went with my team from Bologna in Italy where I was living to play the Cup Winners Cup in Lille, France. I had the number 7 shirt for the tournament as my usual number 15 was being used by someone else already. In the first match on the first day, over 50 schoolkids from the area were in the stands behind our bench to cheer us on as we were playing English champions, Cannock. In true Anglo-French competition and sporting war, they set their stall out to cheer on the opposing Italian team, that is to say us, C.U.S Bologna.

At half time, walking towards the bench and 2-0 down against a team full of internationals -including now present Great Britain and England captain, Barry Middleton - the kids cheered us even more. How could I not acknowledge that? I started waving my arms upwards, inciting them to cheer more with an entertained grin on my face, and they loved it. They felt part of us, they belonged to us now, they cheered even more and that #7 player (little beknown to them being as English as any Cannock player, which made me chortle more...) had acknowledged them.

The day after, we played a German team and the kids were back again, cheering us on as mad as before. Through the constant grey drizzle of the day, I saw the kids waving what looked like a small, junior white T-shirt around, only seeing from the bench at half-time that it had an Italian Tricolore designed on the front in marker pen. We lost that game too, the Germans being much more vorsprung durch as imagined and beating us convincingly. As we walked off the field, the schoolkids ran on waving tournament programmes in our faces. Surprisingly in our amateur sport, they wanted autographs. I looked over to my Kenyan team mate, Cliff, who had played in the Commonwealth Games amongst others was signing like he had done it all before. I froze. Until the faces smiled at me and insisted.

So I obliged and scribbled my name on the page of our team photo. Out of instinct I put #15 next to my scrawl, until I realised and corrected it to #7. I did this several times until one of them came up and held out the white T-shirt with the Italian flag on it, all smudged and running with the afternoon rain. Only then, close up I saw what they had written around the flag in the chest:  Vive L'Italie, Allez Italie and...vive #7.

Because of the attention I gave them for their support, they had taken the time to dedicate a T-shirt designed by them for my team and me. I was humbled by a group of 10 year-old kids. They just beamed at me, proud of what they had done. It was laughably my fifteen minutes of fame, or more likely two-and-a-half minutes. The only thing I could think of doing was giving the boy who handed me the t-shirt, my training and warm up T-shirt in exchange. I only had one, but he beamed bigger than before. I really don't know who felt honoured more out of us. Then others started asking me for my stick, thinking I had loads of them; I only had two and they were £150 each too much of a present for an amateur sportsmen to casually give away. I tried to tell them je ne suis désolé, je ne suis pas célebre. Sorry, I'm not famous. They just shrugged and skipped off to get more autographs.

In good old fashioned team spirit, I got the piss ripped out of me in the changing room. But hey, that is what sport is about. It's about the camaradarie in the team and it's about giving the fans what they want. Especially the kids. They are the future of everything and we need to nurture that. Only a couple of years previous I had a contract with the Italian Hockey Federation to tour schools in my area and introduce hockey to kids in a country like Italy which is hell bent on just football. I loved having a hockey stick for 5 hours a day + training. Maybe that's why I cheered those kids to cheer us. Or maybe they saw my French spelt surname and then the #7 and saw the Cantona, the Deschamps, or the Robson, the Beckham, the Best and the Cristiano Ronaldo in their own heads. The imagination of a child is to be revelled in.

The number 7 has always been associated with team sports and players, and also luck. The lucky number 7. Though it hasn't really been mine in that sense. I have always been a 15 or an unlucky 13 when my lucky number is not available, just to tempt fate and go against the wind like I have done so many times. But here as I write this entry, I am doing so because I have been writing Motorways of my Mind for seven years.  I just looked back as I write to my first ever entry, to remind myself: Motorways of my mind and then my first blogging anniversary entry, Happy Blogging Birthday to me.html. I never thought I would be still doing this (to be honest I never even thought , that is too much to ask from me in the future...), but it seems I still have enough mind fodder to spew out. It gives me satifaction if you're still here reading, so you must get some kind of enjoyment out of it.

I still have that T-shirt, I wanted to take a photo and put it on here, but it is still in storage in my friend and Bologna team-mate's house in Italy. So instead I have posted the photo I post on other blog anniversaries, just because it gives me a giggle, and it might just bring luck and be a good omen, to get to 15 years of blogging, or even that bloody book.


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