It has come time for another anecdote. At times, it can be difficult to suppress “gut reactions” while attempting to discover the good in a situation. Such was the case tonight, when my soccer team was playing in the championship game. We fought hard, outplaying the opponents on every level; our passes were crisper, our possession more complete and effective, and our shots tested their keeper. Through both halves, we kept the ball on their half of the field for much of the time, and we defended their counter-attacks adeptly, but we could not connect for a goal. The game seemed destined for overtime, the clock eagerly winding down and not longing for a winner.
And then it happened. With just seven seconds remaining, our experienced keeper picked up the ball as it rolled harmlessly into his box and he proceeded, as was his predilection, to toss the ball out to his foot to run with it. A whistle was blown, and the clock was stopped. The referees signaled, confidently and with no deliberation, that our goalie had overstepped the line while still possessing the ball in his hands, which is a foul. But what’s more, it was indicated that this was the sixth foul, an offense punished by a penalty kick for the other team. And just like that, the game was over, 1-0, without so much as the opportunity to kick the ball off again.
One can imagine the fury, the bewildered looks, the sheer frustration at such a baffling decision. There were many reasons for this, of course, even besides the commendable performance we had displayed; the referees must have been completely assured that the keeper had carried the ball too far, and for this they must have been in perfect position. And they must also have had no difficulty justifying the call when there was no indicator, no warning given that five fouls had been issued to a team. Those who witnessed the game would surely say that the opposition must have been a foul or two away from a similar call, but the exact number was a secret intimately guarded by the officials.
And that brings me here. There is a part of me that recalls my established disdain for referees, and I wanted to write a diatribe of their glaring imperfections. And that same part of me looks to place blame for the outcome, either on the eager keeper and his habitual wandering or the missed scoring opportunities or those aforementioned purveyors of football injustice. And I can say that the game was handed to the other team, but none of that will change the result. So we are left to learn from our bitter disappointments, and to grieve for the victory that should have been but never was.
But still, it is quite difficult finding the silver lining. The best answer seems to be that these encounters serve to balance the priorities and remind us of how pivotal we allow the minutiae of our lives to become. These are the times, when 45-minute soccer matches bring men to such profound introspection, that it may really be best to just sit back and say, “Whatever.” The word is not without its merits.
As a final thought, consider that another game was scheduled after ours and we were already running twenty minutes behind, so an overtime outing would have kept the referees well past midnight with no extra pay. Yes, it was an easy decision in the end, but this was one game of co-ed, recreational, low-division indoor soccer that I will never forget.