Wing-backin’ it

(I played around with that headline for about half an hour, I hope the play on words is obvious)

In news that will surprise exactly zero people, I’m quite a fan of sports. So much of a fan, in fact, that I made a new blog all about them (nudge, nudge). But my favourite form of running around in pursuit of arbitrary measurements of athletic accomplishment, and the one that I have the most complicated relationship with, is football.

I was a much more passionate fan – of both football in general, and of Tottenham Hotspur football club in particular – when I was younger, and when I got to university, I somewhat shunned the sport as part of a wider disassociation from many of the things that I enjoyed as a kid, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, would reach its peak with the whole gender thing. I wasn’t a 16-year-old, reliant on playing in weekly kickabouts and watching irregular Tottenham games for entertainment, I was a far more mature, and independent, 18-year-old! Free to make their own entertainments and pursue their own interests, which, in reality, resembled being really sad and playing a fuck-tonne of dodgeball.

But in the past few months, I have fallen in love with the game again, fuelled by a combination of a surprisingly entertaining World Cup, the continued and surprising not-shitness of Tottenham, and stumbling across an LGBT+-friendly team in Soho, a stone’s throw-in away from where I’m currently living in north London. Having played precisely two games of football in the last four years – both of them one-off Boxing Day matches which served chiefly to burn off the previous day’s Christmas Dinnering rather than encourage any revolutionary football to be played – I rocked up to a training session on a Friday night and never looked back. This weekend, I played my first game for the team – about an hour of ball-chasing in a pre-season friendly – and for the first time since I first joined the dodgeball club back at university, I’m feverishly excited about playing a sport again.

I thought, for a while, of writing an elaborate and self-centred match report from that Saturday afternoon, in which I would have berated myself for my poor positioning as a left-back in an expansive 3-4-3 system, and wagged the firmest of fingers at Past Casey for their inability to track the run of the opposition right-winger, who scampered in behind me to score the second of their four goals in a 4-2 defeat for Soho. But that’s not the point (at least, gratuitous self-pity was never the intention of any of this blogging business, but the best-laid plans and all that).

But honestly, it’s the excitement that’s got me more, well, excited! The games I’ve played over the last few years have been relatively new additions to my life, and while the friends and experiences I’ve made and shared on tatami and court have been largely wonderful, I have never escaped the feeling that they are additions, bolted-on activities and pastimes to break up long weeks and short weekends. Football, however, is something altogether more personal, somehow more intrinsic; I spent my parents’ wedding decked out in a full England away kit, dribbling a ball back and forth with my grandfather and astutely ignoring the ceremony; from the ages of 8 until about 18, my primary means of socialising was taking a ball down to the park at the bottom of my road, booting it at the nearest similarly-aged lad and striking up the firmest and most temporary of friendships, as we’d pass and move and shoot to, around and at each other on our Sunday evenings, burning days into ashes ahead of another week at school.

And football is that for me; no matter how important the abstracts of tactics and positions become in a proper 11aside game, or the fact that playing with adults requires adult conversations and socialising rather than romanticised friend-making through ball-kicking, I think football will always hark back to that romanticsed past. A time before rent payments and disappointing relationships, or Nazis took over the internet and society became self-aware and promptly flung itself off a cliff.

I’m making this football malarkey up as I go again, and it’s the best feeling.



I did a thing today. A new thing. A thing I’ve not done in years.

I went for a swim.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with swimming. I’ve always enjoyed it, but my pursuit of aquatic greatness has always been hamstrung; I was in the designated ‘you such, you swim widths not lengths’ group in school, and family members have been relatively successful competitive swimmers in the past, so my attempts to drown across the width of a pool always looked like abject failures in comparison.

I’ve also not swum for about two years. I know because today was my first time swimming with my pump, which was stunningly not a catastrophic failure.

My adventure at Cally Pool and Gym (yes that’s honestly the name of the place) was an odd one; as a Saturday afternoon, it was startlingly empty, a far cry from the mesh of bodies, water wings and squealing children of the pool back home. I was the only one in the pool for a good fifteen minutes, which was awkward at first as I felt the judgemental gaze of the lifeguards on my flappy, flaily back, but I soon settled into a rhythm, doing that weird variant of breaststroke I do with two kicks per arm stroke.

Then a grand total of three people trickled into the pool, and I had a small revelation. I feared the guy to my left with the swimming cap, and the ginger bloke to my right with the goggles, as they clearly knew what they were doing, being all kitted up as they were. But upon closer inspection, one was painfully slow and the other could barely kick his legs. But this isn’t to dismiss them entirely, far from it. While they excelled at technique and form, I was pretty quick; while I struggled with keeping my head above the water, they were slow in drawing each stroke to a conclusion. Each of us had strengths and weaknesses, and I honestly learned a lot from staring and the bobbing heads of randomers in the pool.

It hurt more than I would have wanted – I only picked swimming because it will theoretically keep me in shape without damaging my legs any more – and I didn’t swim as far as I would have liked, but it was still a great thing to do. I missed swimming, and I’ve found a pretty cool gym.

A good Saturday, all things considered.


I still want to do all the things

Hello once again,

I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, a somewhat ironic statement considering churning out a 400-word blog post apparently takes me upwards of a week these days.

For instance, this summer I want to, in no particular order, finally finish my novel, get a job, massively expand The Game Shelf, complete literally all of my third-year uni work before September, save money, buy about £400 worth of clothes, get bigger and stronger for football, get more toned and agile for karate, get thinner and curvier to fit into dresses, see my parents, not move home and beat the entirety of Skyrim for my dissertation. One of those things is worth a summer project, and it’s insane to expect myself to do all of those, especially considering some of them are mutually exclusive.

But here’s the thing: I refuse to appreciate the idiocy of such a to-do list, and refuse to prioritise the things on it. I won’t cut anything from the list because that would be accepting that some tasks, and by extension some people, are less important than others. Of course, some are more important than others, but I’m not mentally tough enough to dismiss, say, the getting stronger for football thing, because it’ll make life harder for my teammates.

I’ll just shoot for everything and complete nothing in the time-honoured style.

Which sounds like I’m barreling towards disaster – in the past this has led to tragedy after tragedy – but I’m fairly relaxed about getting all of these done. Just maybe not this summer.

I’ve been seeing the end of my degree as the end of my life for too long now, and that’s not really a helpful perspective; when I graduate I won’t be some shrivelled, physically and mentally exhausted shell, but a 21-year-old with a solid CV and a thousand and one interests. While university provides a framework for a lot of these interests to take shape – classes help me make friends, sports clubs help me keep fit, societies and magazines help me write – the removal of uni won’t remove those things altogether. There’s a pretty good dodgeball club in London I could play for when I graduate, for instance, and I can’t be the only person who like writing about games in this city.

So I won’t get a great body, loads of money and flexible groins all in one Summer. But I won’t have to.

I missed playing football

Afternoon folks,

I’ve not played football – American football, that is, which I’ll be hereafter referring to as ‘football’ because it annoys me endlessly that one word in that phrase ought to be capitalised, but the other oughtn’t – in a month, maybe longer. I’ve been injured and sad and busy and had a thousand other problems, so I’ve not had a chance to be strong-armed to the face repeatedly by large people; and I’ve missed it.

I think it’s easy to overthink things, and I do this a lot. Football became, in many ways, a chore: playing the damn game means you have to lug loads of kit around with you; you get cold and muddy and need to spend three hours showering afterwards; you worry that you’ll forget your assignments and let a receiver burn you for an 80-yard touchdown. And while these are all valid concerns – particularly when compared with sports like dodgeball which only require trainers and some reflexes – they don’t subtract from the fact that the game is just really good fun.

I often worry that I’m not doing things that are important enough, and I get stressed out when I’m not working on a project with a clear end goal; it’s not enough for me to like games, I need to write about them in a way that can be gloated about on a CV too. I see quite a few of my sports in this way, dodgeball as a way to actually stretch myself socially, karate as a chance to be the society president and have actual responsibility, and without such a lofty goal for football, it’s easy to forget why I’m playing in the first place.

It’s not like there aren’t goals for football – we have our big game against King’s next weekend – but a lot of these are communal, or would involve me in support roles. And, honestly, I struggle to not be at the centre of things. I grew up studying in an environment that made me think I was the best, and many of the projects I start myself put me in a position of absolute authority almost by default. I know this is narcissistic and cynical and hugely unfair on my friends, but these are the kinds of thoughts I’ve been relapsing into recently, which have stopped me from enjoying football; I’d reason that if I individually wasn’t winning, there’d be no point.

But this is, of course, nonsense, and it’s a pattern of thoughts I’ve been trying to cut out of my life, not just my fledging football career.

So I’m looking forward to next week’s game; not because I want to single-handedly win the damn thing (gods know I’m nowhere near good enough to do it anyway), but because I want my team to do well.

And it’s a frakking great game.


I’m too old for this


I play dodgeball, and one of my signature moves, if you like, is to drop to the floor and flatten myself against it to avoid oncoming throws. It works very well, especially against high throws, and I’m agile enough to be able to pull it off fairly regularly.

But I’m starting to suffer as a result of it.

When I started playing eighteen or so months ago, I could crash to the floor and bounce back up several times a game, and be no worse off; but a year and a half of being punched in the face at karate, slammed at American football, grabbed at handball, and having had my knees, ankles and hips slowly ravaged by walks and runs, I’m no longer as resilient as I was. Now, I’ll slam to the ground and make my hip sore, or collapse awkwardly over an ankle and it’ll bug me for the next week.

I know there are steps I can take to combat this – stopping the body-slam dodges, applying creams and apothecatic mixtures to my body, wearing braces and bandages – but I don’t really have the time or the interest in taking these steps. It won’t take much effort to strap up an ankle before playing, but I like darting out the door in my normal clothes fifteen minutes before a session starts, playing in a t-shirt then wandering back home and settling into an essay without showering or eating. It’s how I’ve always approached sports – although I’ve had to abandon the no-shower principle since starting to roll around in the mud of Regent’s Park for the sake of my American football team – and until I’m horrifically injured, I honestly don’t see myself making a change.

In the past I’ve always relied on my body to be naturally good at things, which may be a somewhat ironic statement coming from a type one diabetic with Osgood-Schlatter syndrome and dodgy eyes. I’ve always been able to bounce back from injuries and fatigues to play and train day-in day-out, and I’ve had a good enough metabolism to be able to eat my body weight in chips every other day and not put on weight. But as my metabolism starts to melt away and my body starts to break down – both of which have happened, by the way – I’ll need to start caring about my body and take steps to look after it.

I’ll add it to the list of summer projects.