The Final Stretch I: Casting Out into the Unknown

Teammates, coaches, I’ve been doing some thinking about it, and I’ve decided that this year will be my last as a football player.
Throughout the year, I’ve had multiple niggling injuries, none bad enough to miss a game, but still annoying. Also, my parents are concerned about me being a small player in the U16s next season. As well as that, it’s been starting to get a little tiresome rocking up for training twice a week.
Since I started Auskick six years ago, I’ve made a load of friends and had some of the best times of my life. I’m so much better at footy than I was when I started as a tiny eight year old, and I couldn’t have done it without my coaches and teammates. Thanks all of you.
I’m still playing out the season, and I’ll try to have as much to do with [the club] as I can in 2017, but I thought you all should know. (Don’t make me say this out loud, I’ll tear up.)

On Sunday night, I announced that I was retiring from junior football, when I posted the above to Facebook.

The reaction from my teammates was mostly one of surprise. “Why are you retiring?”, they all asked, and I had to go through my explanation again. Some thought they weren’t good enough reasons, and that I should stay on, but most understood what I was doing.

It took until Tuesday night training before the magnitude of what was going on hit me. This week was going to be my last home game.

I’d been spending winter weekends at the recreation reserve since 2010. Starting on early Saturday morning Auskick, when it was cold and muddy, and your fingers gradually turned blue, paining you every time you handpassed. The small matches at the end of sessions, when you had 18 players chasing the ball, and two or three standing in their positions.

Then, when I turned 10, I graduated to junior football. This was harder. We had to do a lot more running, all across the ground, and the coaches insisted on doing things like unselfish handpasses and shepherding. I distinctly remember shepherding one of the midfielders on my team as they kicked into the forward line and getting a high five from the coach (yes, the coaches were on the ground in those days).

Then there was probably the best game I ever played. This was an away game, but it sticks in the mind. I took the first mark of my career in the first term, and got loads of the ball. I was off in the second term (punishment for an incident at training involving pushups, an innocent bystander, and a blood nose), but got plenty of the pill in the third term and in the fourth,  and kicked my first goal.

I had the ball, halfway between the goal line and the 50-metre line. Seeing the goals in sight, I went for the kick, and it climbed over the fingers of three separate defenders through for a six-pointer. I won five dollars that match.

Then Under 12s, playing for premiership points. I don’t remember much of my first season, but in the second, we lost one game for the entire home and away season. We then lost a qualifying final, before playing off against a team that has pushed us earlier in the year in the prelim. We lost by a point (typical for a Bulldogs fan), and the team was torn up. (On the bright side, I did get what was, at the time, the best potato cake I had ever had).

2015, my fourth season and my first of Under 14s. Ending the year with a 1-14 record, half of the losses by upwards of 100.

There were highlights in that year as well. A particular memory was of a bitterly cold, wet, and muddy day, where there were about eight marks taken for the entire match. We wore jumpers under our jumpers, we had to soak our hands in a bucket of warm water at each break, we were allowed inside at half time. One opposition player grabbed the ball and slid five metres on his back through the mud, one that caused much mirth. We lost 0-100, but we stood in the showers after the break and didn’t care.

I played my 50th game that year, and got chaired off the ground. It felt great.

This year, right now, we’re sixth on the ladder with a 5-4 record, one game and percentage clear of seventh. The top six make the finals, and we have two weeks to go.

If we win one game, we will probably make the finals. If we win two, we definitely will.

I play my last home game today. It’ll be emotional, but I need to write the final chapter of my footballing story.

To be continued next week

About

I write about sports, mostly Australian football and cricket. Particularly focused on the statistical side of the game.

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says:

    A tough decision, Nick. Consider donning a whistle?

  2. Cat from the Country says:

    Well done Nick.
    Courageous decision. All the best for whatever happens next

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Don’t rule out playing seniors down the track Nick.

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