An unexpected celebrity encounter turned Luke Kennedy’s Thursday-night soccer match into something special.
When our Eastern Suburbs, over-35, six-a-side soccer competition kicked off this year there were rumours a former professional footballer had signed up for another team. Perhaps, we wondered, it would be silver-fox, Craig Foster, on loan from SBS? Or maybe the charismatic Mark Bosnic, looking to direct traffic from in goals?
As it transpired the whispers were in relation to former AFL star, Adam Goodes.
I knew Goodes lived in the eastern suburbs and had sighted his towering frame at bars a couple of times over the years, but I found it hard to believe this leaping Swan would be willing to have a Thursday-night kick about with the likes of us?
Over-35s competition soccer is a haven for those who refuse to relinquish past glories, and also the delusional few (that would be me) who still believe perhaps their finest sporting moment is still to come. Truth be told, it’s far preferable to the gym as a way of staying fit and it also allows you to stay immersed in a culture which offers so much on and off the field.
Our team plays under the name, ‘Real Bondi’. As the double meaning suggests, we aspire to the lofty heights of Real Madrid while endeavouring to be authentic, unpretentious representatives of a beachside suburb more synonymous with celebrity and reality TV. We’re made up of Dutch, English, French, Mexicans, Asians, Africans, Muslims, Jews, Italians, Chileans, surfies and skaters. We’re the complete cultural melting pot, a perfect advertisement for the power of soccer to unify rather than divide.
Still, despite our diversity, on the pitch we must all bow to the Dutch who preach ‘Total Football’; none of us ever play quite well enough to satisfy the Dutch and perhaps that’s why we keep trying.
I digress. On a recent, rainy Thursday night our motley crew trotted on to the pitch against The Waverley Old Boys FC to be confronted by a towering Adam Goodes.
Adam bloody Goodes! – 6’2″, 100kg and more than 450 goals for the Swans.
And who do you think was assigned to mark him?
Me: 5’7″, 75kg with two goals for Real Bondi.
In Good Company
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little starstruck when the kick-off whistle blew and I found myself standing in the shadow cast by an Australian sporting legend.
Goodesy seemed well aware his celebrity status could temporarily render opposition useless. Within the first minute he’d skipped past me, taken the ball and cannoned in a goal with legs honed for belting footballs of any kind.
It was obvious Adam still possessed an uncanny athleticism. Even if he wasn’t at peak fitness he could still cover a short distance at frighteningly quick speeds. His goal snapped me out of my star-struck stupor and I suddenly became aware it was my job to stop Goodes at all costs. Adopting my most stoic countenance I reminded myself I was now in the company of all those AFL defenders who had been tasked with containing Goodes throughout his career.
It soon emerged there was another issue. Goodes was also the player who would cover me every time I had the slightest sniff of the ball.
When I received a pass from our goalkeeper it seemed I had all the time in the world. Goodes was yards away, sucking in breaths from his most recent attacking raid. However, as soon as I touched the ball he was on me. With three strides of those long, fast, twitching legs he could be almost anywhere in the field. In a panic I kicked the ball away, lest Goodsey strip me of possession and bring forth the wrath of Jesse, our Dutch goalkeeper, who has slim tolerance for defensive errors.
Sensing their chance to capitalise on the physical inequality between Goodes and myself, the opposition started to seek him out with every advance. Meanwhile, I was now determined I’d be neither dumbstruck nor intimidated. Goodes was just another opponent, albeit a much bigger, stronger and faster one. When the ball came zipping towards him, I charged in, bitterly intent on beating him to the pass. Sadly my ambition far exceeded my agility and instead of winning the race, I went barrelling full-bore into the robust, former AFL player.
Perhaps it was my overzealous approach, or maybe it was Goodesy’s artful appreciation of the rules, but somehow he landed flat on his arse with me standing over him in a state of shock.
The referee was clear on his interpretation of events and swiftly delivered a free kick to the opposition. Goodesy was called on to take the free and subsequently rocketed the ball past our nervous, crotch-grabbing wall of defenders. Their egos were bruised by the goal but they were grateful their nether regions remained intact.
Midway into the second half it was all tied up at six apiece. Goodesy had been responsible for several of their net-rattlers, while our goals had all come off the divine foot of Ruud, our bear-like, Dutch striker who moves like a ballet dancer despite his considerable bulk.
It’s safe to say our tactics were often pretty simple: kick it to Ruud and let him do the rest.
With the scores sewn up there was still much work to do in defence. With precious few minutes on the clock a lofted ball came screaming towards Goodes.
In his AFL days he would simply have stuck out the big paws and plucked it from above the smaller figure who’d been welded to him for the last 40 minutes. However, somehow I found the courage to make a leap of faith and managed to put my bald noggin between Adam and the ball.
Watching with delight as the ball pinged to relatively safely, I heard a self-assured voice utter, “Oh, that was a good header.”
Goodesy had paid me a compliment! Surely this was my finest sporting moment – a nod from one of the greats. It mattered little that his real expertise was in another code.
In the final moments Ruud whipped in a free-kick to take us one ahead and close to the top of the table…small glory perhaps, but such things still mean a lot to middle-aged men on a windy Thursday night – particularly when you’ve just squared up against the likes of Adam Goodes.
When the final whistle blew, Adam was the first to shake hands with every opposition player. In retirement he could be content to sit on commentary panels and pass judgement on those striving to follow in his footsteps. To come back and play at an amateur level in a game that’s not your specialty surely requires a certain strength of character and a pure love of sport for the right reasons: the camaraderie, the challenge to get the best out of yourself and the thrill of a hard fought win.
Bravo Goodesy. I can’t wait for round two.