My Goal

I scored a goal once. It wasn’t a leaping header, three minutes into injury time, to give New Zealand its first point in the 2010 World Cup. It wasn’t a leaping anything; it was more of a plod. But it was very satisfying to me.

I used to play social football in Dunedin for a team then called, if I recall correctly, Lord Louis’ XI – also the name of the cricket team many of us played in during the summer. We had some good players, but I wasn’t one of them. I used to play as a fullback, but I had the game sense of a boneless chicken and the tackling philosophy of Vinnie Jones, meaning that I was a more a menace to my own team’s chances of success than to the opposition’s.

So I was shifted back to goalkeeper. Here, I developed skills in advancing to, but failing to meet, corners and crosses; flapping my hands menacingly at oncoming strikers; and picking the ball out of the back of the net.

In one game at Logan Park, after 40 or so minutes of such ineptitude – I think we were down 8-0 by this stage – the skipper gently suggested that I take a rest from goal. He called in one of our strikers (remember the “0” in “8-0”) to do the job instead, and sent me off to join the forward line.

Knowing no other way, I set off from the goal I had been tending and chugged forward at my customary pace towards the opposition goal. I reached the centre circle. I reached half-way. I crossed half-way and entered the foreign territory of the other half. Play was proceeding around me, and to my surprise, I found myself with the ball at my feet and no-one other than the keeper between me and the opposition goal.

This is nice, I thought, and carried on chugging forwards, expecting someone to relieve me of the ball. No-one did. When I got to the edge of the sixteen-yard box, it occurred to me that, since I was now a striker, it wouldn’t be inappropriate for me to try shooting for goal.

I unleashed a right-footed shot that, much to my amazement, swirled in the air, swung viciously, beat the opposition goalie’s dive, and flew into the back of the net. (Well, it would have done if they’d provided nets to our grade. In reality, it rolled onto the road that led to the old Dunedin Public Art Gallery.)

I seem to remember my team-mates congratulating me, but I was too stunned to pay much attention. I don’t think I touched the ball again all game, and I think we lost 18-1, but in that one moment I knew why people all over the world, women and men, young and old, play the beautiful game.

Good Times, Bad Times

I had a good time at the launch of Before the Sirocco, the 2008 New Zealand Poetry Society anthology, which includes the winning poems (in open and two junior categories) from the NZPS 2008 International Poetry Competition. A packed and appreciative audience at Turnbull House heard poets from all over the country read poems included in the anthology. There was a sizeable Christchurch contingent, and I had the pleasure of meeting Joanna Preston for the first time, and Helen Lowe for what turns out to have been the second time.

Then I went home and had a less good time watching the results of the 2006 [err, make that 2008] New Zealand General Election come rolling across the screen. The outcome was a conclusive win for the right, with a National-ACT-United Future coalition government set to be installed within the next few days. My biggest fear about this is that the modest – very modest – gains which have been made in climate change policy under the previous Labour government will be rolled back, and in particular, that King Coal will be enthroned as the “answer” to New Zealand’s energy needs. It’s going to take a big effort ot prevent that outcome.

To finish on a positive, though, I’m writing this while watching the concluding minutes of a very exciting Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup football (soccer) quarterfinal between Japan and England – currently locked at 2:2*. Having watched and enjoyed the semi-final and final of the recent senior Women’s World Cup, I expected to enjoy these games, but they have even better than I expected: full of skill, commitment, excitement and some wonderful goals, and almost completely free of the cynicism, cheating, time-wasting and boorishness that so often mars the men’s game.

New Zealand’s Young Football Ferns were very unlucky not to progress from the group stages of the tournament into the quarterfinals. A lack of polish in front of goal meant that they lost their first two matches 0-1 and 1-2, but in their final game, against South American champions Colombia, they more than made up with it with a 3-1 victory. You can see NZ striker Rosie White’s hat-trick here, uploaded by an enamoured fan.

The game was played in absolutely atrocious conditions: a howling northerly gale and driving rain. Being there and seeing the game live felt like a badge of honour. I’m delighted I went, and now looking forward to seeing how many of the same players perform in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile in a few weeks’ time.

The semi-finals and final of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup are still to come (semifinals Thursday 13/11 in Christchurch at QEII Park, final and 3rd/4th playoff Sunday 16th in Auckland at North Harbour Stadium). If you get the chance to go along to these games, do take it!

*England won in a penalty shootout – another thing that doesn’t happen in the men’s game!