Throughout the year at my school, the teachers take on the student-prefects in various sports. At stake are what we call “Free-Dress Days,” meaning no uniforms for students if the prefects win, jeans and T-shirts for the teachers if they win.
Over the years, I’ve mostly shied away from playing in these games due to my medical condition: I’m allergic to humiliation.
I leave it to the fleeter of foot and thicker of skin to carry the side for the teachers, while I, meanwhile, do what I’m good at: taking photos and generally lurking.
But a series of events took place last week that compelled me to join my colleagues in a game of soccer against the much more able-bodied students.
It started with a speech that morning by one of our prefects. Her theme was “The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.” She concluded by announcing that she would be hanging a poster on which she encouraged students and teachers to write the best non-things in their lives.
Later, as I passed the poster, I saw the usual non-things: love, friendship, music, money. (There’s always a wise guy.) What could I add? I wondered.
I thought about missed opportunities, those things we avoid or put off because of fear, laziness, or lack of self-confidence. The best thing in life is having no regrets. So that’s what I wrote: “NO REGRETS.”
At the end of the afternoon, I ran across another of the prefects heading to the soccer field. “You playing, sir?” he asked.
“Nahhh. I’ll just take pictures.”
“You should play, sir. I’ll take pictures,” he said.
As I walked away, I thought, why shouldn’t I play? I’m in reasonable shape, if by “reasonable” you mean “upright.” Did I really want to look back on these times and think, “Why didn’t I play soccer when I could?” NO REGRETS!
So I drove home, changed, drove back and bounded onto the field. Actually, I sheepishly skulked onto the field, but in my heart I was bounding.
The thing is, I’ve always secretly cheered for the students to win these contests. Morale-wise, they need the free-dress day more than the teachers. So it’s always somewhat bothered me that the teachers take these games so seriously. They really want to win. I’ve also joked that maybe I should play to ensure the prefects do win har-har!
But once I got on the field, I was okay. Winded, but okay. This was fun, and I started to get into it. I wanted to win balls. I wanted to push those prefects out of the way. I wanted to send the ball sailing across the field. I did none of those things, but the important thing is I wanted to!
Mostly, though, I wanted the teachers to win!
I went on for my second shift early in the second half, with the teachers leading 1-0. We could almost taste those jeans and T-shirts, which is a weird thing to taste.
Maybe it was because I wasn’t quite sure what position I was playing (midback? halfback? paddywack?) but I felt less comfortable on the field. Next thing I knew, I found myself dancing around near the defence, with the prefects charging our net. I ran to intervene. A prefect launched the ball. It was going in! The keeper dove. He wasn’t going to make it. I’m almost positive he wasn’t going to make it. I lunged. I stuck a foot out. I deflected the ball. It went right into my own net.
Two hundred students gasped, then howled, then cheered, while one grown man lay crumpled on the ground in shame.
I was only trying to help.
My first game in seven years and I scored on my own team. On the plus side, it was the first goal I’ve ever scored in my life.
The prefects went on to win 4-2. Thank goodness they didn’t win by 1.
“Nice goal, sir!” “Thank you, sir!”
Well, I always said the prefects should win har-har.
Later on, one of my colleagues tried to console me. “It happens,” she said. “I remember there was a professional player, I think it was a World Cup final or something, and he put the winning goal in his own net.” She paused. “When he went back to his country, they’d killed him.”
At the end of the day, I walked back to the big poster in the hallway where I had written “NO REGRETS.” I took one of the markers, crossed out the “NO” and wrote “SOME.” Signed, Mr. Murray.