Are your eyes painted on?!

The frost twinkled in the early-morning sunshine of a fine, crisp, winter Saturday morning as I made my now customary weekly drive from Antwerp out to the suburbs. To be precise - a small village with the strange name of 's Gravenwezel located about 20 minutes north of Antwerp.

In a previous life, I would have seen 09:00 on a Saturday morning as “lying-in-my-bed-being-lazy time” or on some occasions, it would still constitute part of my Friday night out but yet, for the past couple of months I have found myself doing this trip on an increasingly regular basis.

Indeed, irrespective of the weather, or regardless of the excessiveness of the night before, I’ll more often than not find myself out in the suburbs combating the early nature of the hour by shouting myself hoarse at a bunch of six-year old kids.

So what is the reason for me sacrificing my comfortable bed at such an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning?

Well, it probably comes as no surprise to those that know me that the reason is of course football-related.

But bear with me; for this is not just about any football, this is football in its purest form – junior football. The under 7’s of FC ‘s Gravenwezel to be exact.

Now before you jump to any conclusions, I am not some sort of closet pervert that gets his kicks out of watching small boys run around in shorts.

In fact, the eldest son of dear friends of mine plays in the team and when he was a bit younger, I used to spend a lot of time playing football in their garden with him. I like to think I taught him everything he knows but of course that couldn’t be further from the truth. He is a great wee player in his own right – a bit timid on the ball perhaps but certainly one of the team’s most skilful players.

It has to be said the team that they have put together is really quite a special collection of kids, having only suffered one defeat this season – and that a closely fought 6-5 defeat.

There is a lot of talent in the team and if they can stay together for a few years I can see the team developing into a force to be reckoned with. Their coach is a great guy and their parents are really enthusiastic – the only thing that could happen is that the guys start to find an interest in other things - girls for instance - and what a slippery slope that would be, eh?

I have to say the first time I was asked, I balked at the idea, much more preferring the notion of being tucked in my bed until the pm of the Saturday.

However, my friends, not to be undone and being of a resourceful nature, invited me over to their place for the Friday evening and we went out for drinks, and let me stay overnight.

So, it came to pass at some God-forsaken hour on the Saturday morning that their youngest son came into my bedroom and bounced up and down on the bed, screaming and shouting until I was forced to get up.

There was no getting out of that one.

And I have to admit, I haven’t looked back since, I think missing only one game over the past two months.

Make no mistake – this is not just two teams playing each other every week. This is a whole other world that up until that point I hadn’t known even existed. There are something like 500 members affiliated with FC ‘s Gravenwezel, male and female, representing teams of all age groups, right up to veteran stage.

The facilities are impressive as well, with four pitches, changing rooms, floodlights, and last but not least the club house. And some of the away matches have been in even more impressive surroundings.

As I walked to the football pitch (thankfully just out the back of my friends’ expansive back garden), slowly coming to terms with being awake, I was struck by all the hustle and bustle going on around me. Proud parents, energetic kids, enthusiastic coaches, referees – there are four matches going on at any time. The place is a hive of activity.

A veritable cacophony of noise, coaches barking orders, mothers cheering their kids on, children shouting, referees whistling, fathers giving encouragement and me – the Irish football hooligan shouting at the referee.

Lord knows what they made of me at the first game.

Of course I toned it down compared to going to watch Liverpool but after my initial
“Auch Referee!! Are your eyes painted on??!!” I did receive some strange looks.

Needless to say it did not take long for me to sober up, although the post-game beers that went on long into the afternoon as the kids continued playing football, made sure that sobriety only visited for the shortest of time.

Since that first day, I have gone back as often as I can and it is always a great social event. I was even invited to the parent’s New Year party last Friday - and me – the only one without any children of his own.

As I stood in the club house, swapping football stories with the coach and fathers and flirting with the mothers, I wondered just who enjoyed the football more – the kids or the parents?

I suppose when you think of it – it doesn’t matter. The whole environment is a pleasant experience and one that has become as big a part of my social life as I perhaps used to spend chasing women.

And since I’ve officially retired from that caper, I hope my friend’s son continues playing football for years to come!

For tomorrow’s game, I get a lie in – kick off is only at 11:30 – which is probably just as well, because tonight I’m going to a transvestite show.

As you do.

At least I’m staying at my friend’s again. You can’t be too careful.


Jenny Okanagan said…
Very entertaining as always, BIB-master.
I'm always a bit surprised at the lack of comments, however.
Perhaps the comments are made to the BIB-master in person or in personal emails (since we all know who he is, after all!) but it would be nice to see comments posted for all to read. Especially on some of the more *ahem* inflammatory topics...
Come on people, speak up! Don't leave old BIB-boy swinging alone in the breeze! Love the blogs or hate them, you must have an opinion. You can even be anonymous if you're shy....
ollie said…
Dear BIB-master, aka Jonny,

What a lyric way to describe such a social event as youngster's footie on a saturday morning !!
But then again, you have to be there to understand the importance of the event, for the kids, of course, but even more perhaps, for the parents, for whom footie-saturday is now a 'Holy Day'... Thx Jonathan, just for being there, and enlighten us with your lyric skills and footie-talents, your enthusiasm with the kids, your 'flirting' with the mothers, thx for you, being our friend, and wanting to have a pint with us...
For many to come.
C U soon, I hope.
The 'coach'