Sweden: Absolutely Nowhere
(Champion of the World)
“ROLL ME UP THE ASTROTURF!” screams Phil. “This pitch is ours! We’re taking it home!”
We’d only drawn the match, mind but damn, what a draw!
Two one down with a minute to go according to the shaky wristwatch referee – floodlights and rain are cursing down on the pitch.
Steal the ball from ahead of the sneaky Swedish striker, head it forward to Sean on the left wing, keep going forward, abandoning any defensive duties, Sean to Phil in the corner, the big man stumbles over the full back losing and gaining the ball all at once, he strides into the box. Throwing my marker out of the way when the ref’s not looking takes all the strength of my pre match pasta, I’m free in the middle, Phil looks up, the ball rolls across, defender is nowhere – doesn’t even exist, the round white gold rolls towards me through the desert – stretch out a leg, toe poke…
GOAL! ??I AM BOBBY FISHER! I AM MR. BOLT! I’M JFK! I’M LENNON AND McCARTHY! I AM MICHAEL – CHAMPION OF THE WORLD! I AM ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE AND DELIGHTED TO BE HERE – ALIVE AND KICKING!
“THAT’S IT!” is the cry from Daniel, our Swedish midfielder, and I’m mobbed under the sweat of a huddled lunatic 7 aside asylum team on a dark northern night, on the outskirts of Stockholm, 40 minutes on a train from the city centre and my warm student bedroom, 4 hours on a plane from Ireland where my family eat their stew. Absolutely nowhere and delighted to be here.
The other team turns into puddles of green kit sulk and float down drains like waterworn bank notes, back to homes and houses, to their lonely wives and stagnant studies. At least they have wives and studies (maybe, maybe not).
We stay in the rain screaming until the ref asks us to let him lock the changing room door and get the hell out of this killing cold. He tries to come across all serious and angry, but to us he’s just the thin man in the middle of the pitch, fighting with his whistle against the nights hurricane wind. We know that one day the air might spin with a wicked strength and carry him up, right into the sky, blowing his whistle “Help! Help!” His black shoes will fall down to the ground and that’ll be all that’s left of him. None of the players will notice he’s gone. I can’t help but laugh when he hands me a jellyfish handshake as I walk off.
Afterward, walking to the T-Bann, heavy raindrops bursting around us – feeling good. George from Georgia is there. German Florian too. French Quentin hangs back then splashes fast through the puddles to catch up. Our great Peter Schemichel keeper, Max, a never better aging punk, is a few steps in front, drumming a beat with taps in the steps of his feet.
“Great win” Max turns and says with a grin.
“But we lost” claims a confused Quentin.
“Great win! A great great win!” Cries Max turning forward again but you can tell he’s spreading a massive toothy grin across his face. He’s crazy, you understand.
To get to the station we have to climb a hill. Back broke by the time the peak’s been reached where we can see the T-Bann to our left. There’s all ages here and the older few take a second or two to grab their breath.
If you look straight ahead you can see the islands of Stockholm all lit up. Split by sea and out of nowhere forests the sight rebounds through your eyes. I dust breath off the screen of sight. It’s September but you can already see it as your lungs let it out. I notice and take a deep and cold, high up a hill breath.
Down the hill and into the station. Travel card out. No queue. Through the gate. A vision like flying now. “T-Centralen – 2 minutes” flashes a sign. You hear the train down the line. A great big ghost ship sailing along magnetic waves FAST FAST FAST! Blink once and it stops before you. There it stays for maybe a second or so – just long enough to pull back your thumb, pick up your bag and carry yourself through one of the never ending opening closing doors. Take a new seat every time.
Getting used to life here. Don’t fell much like going home for some time to come.