Most of the pearls of wisdom I’m dishing out on this blog have come from somewhere else. I haven’t dreamed any of them up from scratch all by myself. Some of them have been sparked by therapy sessions, some have come from reading or listening to music, and a few of them are inspired by the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ – which I’ve found to be a surprisingly helpful framework to think about when developing strategies for getting through this thing I’ve been grappling with.
Some of the five ways, like keeping yourself active, are quite intuitive and meet no resistance whatsoever from my naffometer. But I do have to admit that ‘take notice, me aro tonu’ is one I’ve struggled with a bit…
“Be curious and catch sight of the beautiful, remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Try savouring the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.”
When I think of mindfulness, which is essentially what this is, I think of a bad piece of TV I once saw where a guy slowly ate a chocolate raisin, savouring all the flavours and textures over the course of several agonising minutes for all concerned – the actor, the character he was playing and the viewer. I’m sure it works for a lot of people, but I’m highly skeptical that I’d get anything out of it.
Having said that though, this blog has fielded a number of complaints (technically one is a number) alleging that I haven’t been writing much about… the… errrr… I forget… you know, the whatchamacallit… the sphere kicking… the, um, actual football games. So sneer at mindfulness all you want but if absolutely nothing else it does present me with an easy opportunity to satisfy my audience while staying on message at the same time! Everyone wins. In theory.
So I made a special effort to take notice yesterday. Here’s what I noticed.
The first thing I noticed was the weather was a lot nicer than last week. It was a cool and breezy afternoon which is my favourite football weather – not too hot, not too cold and good light for photography regardless of where you want to stand. The light wind gently blowing through the leaves of the silver birches, and the few remaining cherry blossoms keeping the odd tui busy and in song, made for a relaxing backdrop.
The second thing I noticed was the John Kerkhof sidelines had been widened back out from the minimum. There had been a men’s national league game on the same patch of grass 24 hours prior, and when WaiBOP coach Nico Girard was given the option for the Cambridge volunteers to bring them back in he decided to spare them the late night chore.
A sign of confidence? Could it have had something to do with the new old weapon he had in his arsenal – Kate Loye, Football Fern, WaiBOP legend, finally available for the first time this season? Another WaiBOP legend, Helen Arjomandi, informed me “she even went for a run this morning so she can say she’s done some sort of exercise in the past few weeks”.
Team rules dictated that Loye couldn’t start the game. This raised a couple of eyebrows from the spectators. But I thought it was only right. The other players have been trying their guts out all season. It’s an appropriate message to send them that nobody just walks in and takes any of their places from kick-off. No matter how good they eventually get, and some of them are going to get exceptionally good, they can choose to learn from the way a player of this calibre took her place on the bench with a big grin on her face – showing what a great human and role model she is.
And if I might take a moment to take a little credit for my taking notice skills, I was chuffed with myself when another spectator asked me who else was on the WaiBOP bench and I was able to look through my camera’s viewfinder and rattle all their names off without even thinking. It makes me happy to think about how well I’ve gotten to know all these players over the past few weeks.
The first half was effectively a stalemate. I just enjoyed the ebb and flow, the sounds of players calling to each other, spectators offering vocal encouragement, Nico’s Canadian accent calmly calling out instructions, the slap of boot to ball, the poetry of three or more passes strung together to release an attack, the precision of a well timed tackle, a pinpoint pass from distance that lands perfectly at the feet of its intended target. I’m making it sound like El Classico. It wasn’t. But who cares? It still had everything I love about football.
The second half was different. It had the sort of player who can come on as a substitute and change everything. Loye’s introduction at trequartista lifted the whole team. Suddenly the WaiBOP midfield had a solidity to it. Players ran and controlled the ball with confidence and purpose. Some of them had been shuffled back into natural positions they hadn’t played in since the winter. And when Loye gets the ball, if you want it you’d better be good enough to take it. It was a privilege to witness.
Yeah, we won. And that’s great. But for me it was almost secondary to the feeling of watching a team I love play like that.
When people say they want me to write about the game, I’m never quite sure what they really want. I don’t like match reports. I find them boring to read and unfulfilling to write. I don’t really care who kicked what when, what the referee got wrong, who deserves the credit for a win or who’s to blame for a loss. The art of being there is what I’ve always been interested in conveying.
So maybe, as it turns out, I’ve been practicing mindfulness all along without even knowing it! Maybe it’s not so naff afterall.
WaiBOP 1, Central 0
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]