* ‘Goalkeepers aren’t remembered for 100 brilliant saves but for one bad miss’ – Unknown*
My first love is always football. Being a 90’s kid, we grew up idolizing Ronaldo and Rivaldo from Brazil or Zinedine Zidane from France, even English footballer David Beckham. Though my hero was always Jose Luis Chilavert. The Paraguayan goalkeeper, who is a living legend in his country. The 2nd highest goal scorer as a goalkeeper. Yes! He not only saved goals but scored some.
Every rainy and winter season we used to have colonial football tournament. Where all we youngsters were taking parts from nearby colonies. We were ‘lane 5, Srinagar colony’ and our strict competitors were ‘lane 8’.
It also happened to be the lane where one of my best friend Ajay lived. He was truly a gifted player, with his awesome dribbling, dodging, ball control and shooting skills he already won this the trophy twice. He was their main striker. We were friends but in fields we were bitter rivals. I wasn’t too bad myself but he always got the better of me.
One fine day in the morning, just before few days of the next tournament Ajay came to me. After some small talks he said “I got a big favor to ask you”. “Ask for anything”, I replied.
“You know, I happened to like a girl in my physics tuition, so I followed her the other day and found she lives in lane 5. Do you know anything about her? Are you people friends?”
“Tell me more about her”, I asked curiously.
When he described her, I recall her being a neighbor but I never spoke to her or know her by any means. Her family moved in around a year back or so.
“I guess I know her”, I lied. “So what you want from me”, I was acting all innocent.
“I really really like her, if you could introduce us or something..” I could see he was almost begging to me and that was so against his aggressive nature.
“Alright, I can do that, but what do I get in return?”
“What do you want?”
“Well let’s see. How about not scoring a goal against our team, I mean not even a single one.”
“Impossible. Everybody will know it’s a got up case. Beside people know we are friends. I don’t score goals against you and people will know something fishy is going on”.
“You can pretend you are hurt, limp a little. Shoot the ball away from the goalpost, every player gets into bad patches every now and then, why you should be any exception?”
I could see his dilemma, his love for football and his teenage romantic heart.
“Alright, I will do it for you. But you have to promise you won’t let me down. And when you introduce me, make sure I make a good impression on her”
“Done deal”, I was grinning to myself.
Ajay kept his words and didn’t score a single goal on our first match against ‘lane 8’
Next few days as per my devious plan, I was ignoring him by all possible means, not returning his calls, avoiding him, asking mom not tell him I am at home etc etc.
We were doing really well in the tournament as the other teams were no so good and all set to get in to semi finals.
Just about two days before semis, once I returned from school, I found Ajay sitting on the drawing-room couch of my house.
“Hey there”, I greeted him with weak voice.
He got up and walked to me.
“I know why you did that”, I could see the fire in his eyes.
“I thought you are my friend”, I won’t lie, I felt kind of ashamed.
“I heard you people are in semis, well good luck, I will see you there”
“We are not playing you, we are playing ‘lane 2’ in semis”, I replied with feeble voice again
“Oh no, you are not, you are playing against us. One of the organizers of the tournament is a good friend of my dad and he owes him a favor. So you see, he made some last-minute arrangements.” He spoke those words so calmly and yet threateningly
“Be ready for half a dozen” he hissed.
Well I knew if he says half a dozen goals against us, he means it.
I immediately called our team captain and he called a team meeting.
“Bravo, you outsmarted yourself this time”, as the meeting started captain took a shot at me.
“I know I messed up, but I have a plan to stop Ajay”
“Yeah, let’s hear another of your crappy ideas”, captain was visibly angry.
“I don’t want to play as a goalkeeper in this match, make me the central defender. I have a plan”, I dropped the bomb, I knew I am the first goalkeeper, yet…
“That’s true”, captain blurted, “If he sees you under that goalpost he might want to make it a dozen”
“Exactly my point, also I know all his tricks, as a defender I can stop him.”
“What about our replacement goalkeeper, who would that be?” captain asked in an impatient voice.
“Don’t worry, I have that covered”. I told him.
When our match started, it was cloudy and cold, mid of July. We are about to play in 7-2-1 formation with 7 guys in defending position to stop Ajay. We all knew this was his game of vengeance.
When the game started, Ajay was playing in the fit of rage. He has been fouled twice by our players but seemed like nothing can stop him that day. I was shouting my lungs out to our player to contain him by any means necessary; even I hard tackled him few times.
“You will pay for this”, he hissed with his teeth clenched. We were wrestling to get the ball possession.
“Listen to me, I have something to tell you”, I hissed back while pulling his t-shirt in hope of somehow to get the possession back.
I found a way to kick the ball out of sideline. As the game started again, Ajay dodged three of our defenders and was charging at me like a mad bull. I looked back; behind me it was only the goalkeeper under the post and none other defender can be seen.
There’s no friend in battle field. I thought and I too ran at Ajay with all my might, thinking either I will tackle him down or he will knock me down. He dribbled and came in front of me, then he dodged me almost by a feet, I fell down, lying halfway on the grass, was watching hopelessly as Ajay was running like an express train at our goalpost. The young and new goalkeeper was watching with awe at us.
And then it happened. Almost a yard before the goalpost with the lanky, childlike goalkeeper standing clueless, he watched the football flying off 6 inches above the goalpost.
Ajay’s team mates were upset and angry, started hurling abuses at him for missing an easy chance but by then he started limping.
I smiled. Two days back when I offered the new goalkeeper position to our two years junior, apparently a non-member of our team, he was overjoyed and grabbed it with both hands.
“No way Ajay will score a goal against the brother of the girl he likes so much. Not at least when our goalkeeper’s sister is cheering her brother from sideline”, I told my captain when he was pulling me back on my feet in the ground.