Thumbs gripped by paralysis, my digits seizing the controller with pensive fortification. How had it come to this? Perspiration began to pour from my forehead like a faucet as I had to face the prospect of saving a penalty. Every synapses in my brain felt ruptured by intervention of anxiety, coercing any salient manoeuvre that would avert the inevitable outcome. The expedient team and I had successfully collaborated to retain our current, though slender 1-0 advantage under intense scrutiny from our opponents. Any attempt at increasing the deficit had long since dissipated after 2 reckless challenges from an impetuous, though talented midfielder, left us barren in any offensive capacity, departing with a bitter 60 mins left of time to endure. And we had endured a torrent of assaults that only intensified with the dismissal of one of our more prominent acquisitions. No strategic thesis could help us now, with the continued assault gathering momentum, speculative shots from our alienated forwards providing the only form of resistance. The momentum was with them and they validated it with impunity. 20 mins remaining and though my defence had remained stern and diligent despite the increased activity, a few cursory shots had attracted my immediate attention. Though these moments of exposure were perennial, we as a unit held firm hoping that the slow elapse of time would grant us with the win we had worked so hard to achieve.
There was no room for a lapse in concentration with the obligatory interval providing a jilted examination of our dire situation, with many (myself included) merely imparting exacerbated groans of frustration at our lack of penetrative ardour and our opponents equivalent potency to retain possession. This brief moment bestowed a remedial reprieve allowing us to clarify that we were still leading. 10 mins left, their versatility and significant ascension were beginning to show distinct signs of lethargy, unfortunately so were we. Though the ceramic features of our simulated squid divulged no overt signs that their rigorous tenacity had inadvertently reduced their stamina, you could almost see past the expressionless façade and observe the exhaustion. The intense resistance that had subdued our opponents to almost exclusive speculative attempts was verging on collapse. Their growing perforation had started yielding results too as I parried 2 very accurate shots, and punched one modest cross back out. Their attack patterns were varied and wholly effective, becoming almost evanescent in their movements as though it was simply a matter of time before that spherical object rippled the back of the net like a drop in a puddle.
But the last bastion of this rugged defence had yet to be penetrated, with myself residing with apprehensive appraisal to determine the appropriate stance so as not to concede a goal cheaply. 90 mins were up! But there was an additional 5 mins to compensate for injuries. “Come on ref!” Still they persisted, asserting their rigorous proficiency with the ball by prodding vulnerable areas of our deterrence, applying the necessary pressure to pierce our resilient garrison. Embedded deep in our half, they utilised the vacant space on the left hand side, with one prestigious player weaving in and out of wayward tackles, scurrying past built up traffic in our defence and preparing to unleash a punctuated shot. Fired with venomous accuracy, dipping with accuracy that’s destined to bulge the back of the net. Instinctively (or perhaps with more luck than intent) I parried the shot, but I was left stranded by the resulting save with little time to reposition myself for further incursions. A clearance was necessary to achieve the desired result, but it fell fortuitously to the feet of the oncoming recipient. The defender, who I had been conversing with during the match had at this stage 2 choices: either concede the inevitable goal or concede a potential goal. He accurately chose the latter.
So here I am, the last activity of the match and it was down to me to save the culminating penalty. Suddenly my superfluous vision narrowed focused purely on the task, any auxiliary sounds became muffled by the audited pronouncement of my heart thumping rhythmically. *Thump thump. Thump thump.* My respiration became regulated as if all my remaining energy was being siphoned to intervene with the ball. The whistle blew and in that brief second before the ball was struck I knew its precise trajectory. I dived left, he struck down the middle with such power and precision you’d be forgiven for thinking it was fired by a gun. Conceding a penalty is generally considered a formality, whether that’s simulated or otherwise; but that didn’t revoke the catatonic feeling of failure after such enduring perseverance. The squad, despite the clear indications of disappointment, didn’t berate me, nor blame one another for the last gasp deficiency. There was no errant provocation merely acceptance of neutrality to a game we should have resoundingly lost. Our comparable opponents were skilled, ruthless and efficient in their endeavours, yet still failed to capitalise on our inductive limitations. The whistle had blown, and though a line of communication was lost between me and our temporary members, our provisional nuptial had probably been the most intimate, exhilarating and most humbling on-line interaction I have ever experienced with anonymous collaborators, and possibly the most invigorating game of football I’ve ever played!…….Now imagine if we’d won?