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First Touch

By July 11, 2006July 14th, 2019One Comment

The pass out of defence seemed to accel­er­ate as it hit the wet grass and skid­ded towards me. Like most oth­er enthu­si­ast­ic, Sunday, foot­ballers I couldn’t rely on skill, exper­i­ence or tal­ent to guar­an­tee that the ball wouldn’t bounce away in some ran­dom dir­ec­tion (or worse, pass under or around me without con­tact of any kind). Instead, I found myself doing a large num­ber of maths, geo­metry and phys­ics exer­cises in a very short space of time.

While try­ing to stay aware of the play­ers around me, I had to estim­ate the height and speed the ball would reach by the time it arrived so that I could then angle my foot in such a way that the ball (after con­tact) would drop limply beneath me – mine to then have my way with. I under­stand from child­hood coach­ing manu­als that this is called “trap­ping” and I share it with you now only because on Sunday morn­ing I pulled it off and it felt great! Actually it wasn’t per­fect as it came off my calf rather than my boot but I got all the angles right and could look up trust­ing that the ball would still be there when I looked back down again.

I know what I’m good at on a foot­ball pitch. I have what they used to call “an edu­cated right boot” which means when I can look up I see an oppor­tun­ity (a play­er in space ahead of me, or a space that they can run into) and I can gen­er­ally put the ball where I want it, or close enough. But I can also write a book about what I don’t have: pace, stam­ina, determ­in­a­tion, bravery, guile, left foot, etc, which means that in most games my “edu­cated right boot” might as well be on the side­lines, doing its nails. Because an “edu­cated right boot” needs time and space to be effective.

So, this year I decided to con­cen­trate on only one aspect of my game: my first touch. Almost every Sunday morn­ing, with the boys from Newtown Athletic, I trundle down to Rugby League Park (where the Hurricanes and Lions usu­ally train) and we chase a ball around and try and stick it between two cones. As we don’t keep score, play­ers change sides often and no one yells at you for being out of pos­i­tion, I have found the per­fect envir­on­ment for simply enjoy­ing the game and work­ing on the things I wished I did bet­ter. Like trapping.

Former West Ham United Manager Harry Redknapp once said of a tri­al­list, “He traps it fur­ther than I can kick it” but that’s no longer true of me. A few minutes after the calf-trap described above I found myself chas­ing a high ball across to the right-hand corner of the pitch. Using my tri­go­no­metry skills I put myself where I thought the ball would be only to see it bounce high­er than expec­ted and have it bounce off my throat – and land softly at my feet. “Good con­trol”, I heard someone yell and I thought “yeah, good con­trol”, and looked up for an oppor­tun­ity for that “edu­cated right boot”.