Been up since 6 am. Two bananas and a cereal bar for breakfast, it’s my day. I can feel it. Find my gear bag and pull back the zip. The smell stings my nostrils, sweet perfume. The smell of Sunday mornings. My smell. Tough game today, crucial game. Home to the league leaders. Haven’t lost in eight games, champions-elect. Due a loss. Mustn’t think about that yet. Concentrate on my preparation, same routine. Walk the dog, clean my boots. Which boots to wear? The black pair? Steady, reliable, nothing too flashy, do the job. A defender’s boot. Not for me, not today. The red pair? Silky, bright, dazzle the defenders, classy. A goalscorer’s boot. That’s the pair. My pair. They’ll all remember me.
Fill the bag and double check everything. Out to the car and put on the CD I made last night. My favourite songs. Inspirational. Motivational. Mentality is everything. I’m ready. Clouds disappear as I drive. Beautiful day. My day. There it is. The club gates. The outline of the prefab dressing rooms. Nerves kick in, only natural. Nobody else here yet, I’m always first. Time to get changed, prepare for battle. Bicycle shorts, check. Team shorts, check. Shin-pads, check. Under-armour, check. Flashy boots, check. Team socks, check. Over-socks I saw Torres wear last weekend, check. Pull socks above my knees like Henry, look the part. Team-mates are here now, so is the manager. The gaffer. Knows all about me. Knows my game. Trusts me. I look into his eyes. Not giving anything away, a slight glint as he sees me. I’m in the team. I can feel it.
Time to warm up. Walk over to the pitch. My pitch. Big crowd building, at least twelve. Biggest of the season. Extra pressure, more nerves. Could be some scouts here. Off to England, ad deals, sponsorships, fame. Matter of time. Go through the stretches, got to be thorough. Clubs don’t want injured players. Back to the dressing room for the team-talk. Barely hear a word, in the zone. Focused. Gaffer names the team. On the bench, gutted. Gaffer is smart though, wants to keep me fresh. Ran myself into the ground in training. I’ll win it late on. Secret weapon. Jerseys handed around, number 22. Kaka’s old number, big boots to fill. I’m ready.
Game starts, come on lads. Don’t watch it; too busy dribbling past the gaffer with the spare ball. Keep in his mind; he knows I’m eager to play. Only twelve players today so alone on the sideline. More room to warm up. Know I’m better than the other lads but they need a game too. They go a goal down, doesn’t look good. No leader on the pitch, no touch of class. No flashy boots. Half-time whistle. I bring the ball to the far goal and practice my finishing while the lads get the team-talk. Bottom corner. Top-corner. Precision. Class. I could get a hat-trick today. Easy.
Second half. I move up and dribble next to the fans. They’re impressed, must be wondering why I’m not on the pitch. They deserve to be entertained. I think about my celebration, practiced a few in my room last night. Can’t wait to get on. Time running out now. Ten minutes to go and I’m still on the line, the lads are still losing. Getting anxious, keep glancing at the gaffer. He trusts me. Five minutes to go, I get the shout. Finally. Sprint over and make sure my socks are pulled up fully. Gaffer doesn’t give me any instructions. Doesn’t need to, I know what he wants from me. Trusts me. Run onto the pitch. My pitch. Take my place up front and start making some runs. Screaming for the ball, eager. Ball comes into my feet outside the box. Back-heel first time, without looking. Out for a goal-kick. Stare at my strike-partner. Not on my wavelength. Torres would have read the pass. Time running out, game slipping away. Our winger gets down the left and crosses the ball. Defender clears to the edge of the box. Right in front of me, perfectly timed run. Think about my celebration as I run to the ball. Bounces up perfectly. Time to take a touch. Don’t need one, go for the spectacular. Swing my leg back as the ball bounces up. Catch it clean, on the volley. Ball rockets off my foot, sweet strike. But no, keeps rising. Keeps rising. Well over the bar and onto the main road. Damn! So unlucky, tough chance. Did well just to connect at all.
Full-time. Heartache. Shake hands, gracious in defeat. Not my day, nothing I could do. Didn’t have enough time, should have started. Gaffer knows. Sure to start next week, I know it. Back into the car. Hate losing, still bottom of the league. Doesn’t matter, I’m in form. Best player on the pitch today. Bring on next weekend!