Now if your from Uptown, Brooklyn- bound,
The Bronx, Queens, or Long Island Sound,
Even other states come right and exact,
It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at
Eric B and Rakim: “I know you got soul”
Eric B and Rakim know where they’re at, as did Ian Brown who famously paraphrased them from the stage of the Alexandra Palace. Bobby Byrd, who the song originally sampled, sure as hell knew where he was at, because he had been taken in by, and grew up with the king of them all – James Brown. A man who knew not only where he was from, but definitely, defiantly, where he was at.
The list could go on and on in perpetuity, running forwards like a train, packed to the last buffet car with great minds and men, all of whom know exactly where they’re at.
But me? I would have been left on the platform, fumbling around with the ticket machine, squeezing in a quick half because the damn thing never leaves on time anyway, does it? Shit. What’s that sound? There it goes. Chuff chuff chuff chuff chuff.
On Sunday I had plans. They were plans of the laziest sort. The most contemptible plans I have ever had, simply because I knew I had to cover a game, but I couldn’t be bothered to stray too far from the beaten track that is my Kiez. The solution was clear. Go to Hürtürkel, they’re only down the road. It’ll be easy enough, and the pride that No Dice magazine’s top reporters have would be preserved for another spieltag, at least until the next time my inherent sloth-like tendencies rear their heads again anyway.
There was no-one at the gate to flash my press card to. I was emasculated, crestfallen. Oh well, surely that surly looking bloke in the shed will have a team list, at least.
“Hürtürkel. What else?”
“Don’t play here mate, they’re on Columbiadamm. This is Marathon”.
The words ran through my mind, marathon, marathon. Like the old English chocolate bar that became Snickers? The race – it can’t be the race because these guys don’t look like they could run for 30 minutes, let alone kilometres. Who are Marathon when they’re at home (which, apparently they are), and who are these old guys puffing around the pitch?
It was merely the aperitif – a seniors match – according to my miserable advisor a cup game, but he wouldn’t tell me any more than that it was a) a game of football, and b) that it was in progress. Cheers for that.
But this is why I love football, this is why I love writing for No Dice. Within minutes I was entranced. The sun beat down on my shoulders, the joint between my stained, Sunday morning fingers smouldered away, and the very reasonable Kindl in my hands was icily cold. This is great. Or so say my notes. The guys in orange (they had Marathon on their backs, so at least it was a start) were making all the pressure. The game was slower than a plumber on his birthday, but it still retained a bite, a hint of the battle when something important is at stake. It went on, the players sauntered around urgently (if that is, indeed, possible), before with the last breath of the match they got a corner after a free kick was deflected off the wall and out.
The subsequent corner was whipped in. Diving header from the rotund number 12. Goal. The players were sprightlier than they had been on the pitch, rushing to the sideline to embrace and celebrate. It went to penalties. Again, I rubbed my eyes. There can’t have been more than twenty people there, but this wasn’t about reflected glory – this was about the real thing. It was all square, until one‘s half hit shot was easily parried. Again the greens scored, and number 6 trudged up to the spot, the weight of all of the expectation on his broad shoulders. He took a couple of confident steps, leaned back off balance and spooned it over the goal in the direction of a Sonnenallee that didn’t know or care that there was something important happening in these normal guy’s normal lives. An extraordinary Sunday had ended in defeat, clutched from the jaws of victory. Gutted.
The main attraction was already warming up. The mixture of ageing, huge bellied centre-half’s, and callow, wispy wingers were already knocking balls around. This was the league. Not knowing what league it was mattered little. We had a game to watch, as a couple more friends and families sauntered into the lovely little ground, hemmed in by the allotments on one side, and trees all around. There was more sunshine, and the cat calls of a couple of youths at the side.
“Schiri. Are you blind, schiri? That was never offside.”
Indeed, it wasn’t, but the head-masterly ref was in control. He had done this before. He was five foot tall, and with a thin thatch of grey hair. It was like water off a ducks back.
“Schiri. That was clearly a foul. Schiri!”
Marathon made all of the pressure, their midfield with an impressive number 10, and excellent full backs on either flank, kept the ball, they waited and waited. But the finishing was horrible. It took the best part of an hour for them to finally score. The greens, it turns out they were Wartenberger SV II, couldn’t up their tempo, they couldn’t get back into the game.
The linesman turned around and chatted to a couple of blokes he knew from the club near me, the young Muslim girls to my right shrieked when more and more chances went begging. The family over to my left took turns shouting at their young son and the team they were here to support.
I merely watched and enjoyed, soaking in the sun, and the joy that comes with competition. Any competition. This was hardly champions league stuff, but there was an innate struggle for supremacy on the pitch. The players knew that this was worth something. This was what their weeks lead up to, just a single chance to shine in the mundanity of everyday lives. It is easy to denigrate the standard of lower league football anywhere in the world, but those who play it know what it means. They know how important it is to win.
I loved every second of it, I think I’ve found my team, a home from home. Who knows any more where I was coming from, or where I’ll end up (common sense dictating, if you’ve got this far, that it won’t be to a Pulitzer prize), but I definitely knew where I was at. I was at Marathon. I was basking in the sunshine of the game of their lives.