This afternoon sons no.s 1 & 2 take part in a pick-up tournament at our Menorcan resort. Unsurprisingly the game plays a prominent part in our continental sorties. Each of the Eurocamps we have visited has had a court or area for the game. At I Pini, near Rome, no.1 son (9 at the time) befriended an Italian boy, but was non-plussed that the local lad, defying national sporting stereotypes, was less skilful than he. Last year, at Cala Gogo, north of Barcelona, we played a joyful evening of Anglo-German contests.
It was Le Beaune in the South of France that saw the most drama. It was the site of ‘the humiliation’ – described in a later post – and ‘the tackle’. The campsite stretched a couple of miles through a forest. At the far end from our caravan was the football pitch: an astro rectangle fringed with a wooden fence and benches, with rustic wooden goalposts. During the day, Dads and their young lads played back garden style footie. From five in the evening multinational pick-up matches took place. Sides were no more than 8-a-side, with natural leaders emerging to usher substitutes waiting their turn on the benches to join the match.
The first time we turned up in the evening with intent, no.1 son’s eagerness to play dissolved at the sight of the bench apprenticeship. Minutes earlier (and for much of that day) he had been nagging me to play. I joined the bench more to provide an example than with any desire to play. I soon got the nod, and as I jogged onto the pitch found no.2 son (5 at the time) at my heels. He flitted about getting in other players’ way and took a few good swings at balls that came to him. No.1 son joined us.
I moved back into goal, trying to feed the ball to the boys who were the two smallest on the pitch. Suddenly, with no defensive cover, I found a 2 meter tall opponent alone in front of me. He controlled the ball, looked up, drew his foot back ready to drive the ball past me. Below his eyeline, no.2 son scuttled into action, sliding to make an impeccably timed block tackle at the second the striker’s leg completed its downswing and blasted the ball.
Time moved very slowly. In football terms, the shot was blocked. The spectators on the benches and around the wooden fences gasped. No.2 son was sent spinning from the force of the shot his tiny foot had blocked and he stayed down on the astro, metres from the point of impact. In parent mode, my mind flicked between an immediate diagnosis – fractured ankle – guilt and irresponsibility for letting my five year old play with adults. I pictured the cast on his foot.
I had a flash-back to five years before. Within an hour of arriving at our Sorento resort, the 1&onlyD, under my charge, had fallen from a see-saw landing on her elbow. Three days of hospital visits, police questions and a cast around her arm and body so heavy she toddled and teetered before we cut our losses and flew home three days into our holiday.
The two metre striker apologised in Dutch, German and English. No.2 son was dazed, but intact. We were substituted and the game continued.
It was one hell of a tackle.