Not many soccer fans in my hometown know about Queen’s Park, one of the oldest clubs in Scotland and the only amateur side in the country’s professional leagues. However, they do make perfect examples of following the Scottish club’s old mantra, “ludere causa lundendi” (for the love of the game), during Sunday League soccer, despite ironically playing in the jerseys of rich mega-clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Like my hometown, Wesleyan has never been short of soccer lovers who embody such mantras. And that’s why there is club soccer to play every week and intramural leagues every fall. I mean, what else would you be doing on a Sunday? Laying in bed? Reading a book? No.
Playing in club soccer at Wesleyan reminds me of the old days of Sunday League soccer: the amateur competition that has few regulations but the same enthusiasm. For me, they are so similar yet different, and now I can finally share my story without raising some eyebrows among adult readers, hoping that some details will resonate with readers who share a similar childhood.
It was a weird experience. For example, while hockey also played a large part in my early years with two practices per week at a brand new ice rink, what I usually got for soccer practices were only muddy pitches and talky “managers” who were usually one of my teammates. The toughest part, however, was my age. Being younger than most of my teammates, I had to fight for a position while being extremely careful not to get injured. Fortunately, if I was at the game early enough (like seven o’clock), I always had a chance to play if one of the adults didn’t show up. It was a beautiful spectacle.
If there’s one surefire thing soccer does, it’s that it turns you into an idiot on a weekly basis who puts everything aside just so you can spend an hour running on the pitch. A cold, damp, overcast morning? Be there. A summer afternoon with blazing heat? Be there. From facing fierce opponents who play like All-Stars, to half your team being hungover from the night before, your Sundays would not be the same without this kind of soccer.
Forget about the prizes, because there aren’t any. Forget about your papers, because deadlines are still a few hours away. Forget about the silly mistakes, because they are happening all over the place. Breathe, relax, enjoy the game. That’s it.
For some people, there is something magical about the moment when they made a crucial save, dribbled past players, or sliced through the d-line with one deadly pass. All of a sudden, it is as if they’ve stepped onto the pristine grass of Wembley Stadium and there are tens of thousands of fans cheering for them instead of three. But even if you aren’t one of them and you play terribly, you’ll still find your time well-spent, as playing with freedom can be a stress release for everyone.
Moreover, you’ll get to find certain types of friendship over time. You may think of the game as a terrible powder keg, but that is actually not totally fair. Some relationships do survive and get built as both sides survive through the scorching sun and cold January frost. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some wonderful human beings by playing for teams of all ages. My friendship with a graduate in agriculture and a software engineer continued even after we all “retired” from Sunday League soccer.
But be careful about one thing and one thing only: everything about the game should stay on the pitch. Once the day is over, forget about it, please. Everyone you know – your mom, your mate, your cat – is sick to death of hearing about how you almost scored a hat trick last weekend and that your team was only inches away from lifting the trophy (if there is one at all). So all you want to do is enjoy the game when you still can, and show off your talent when you still can.
After all, there are a number of ways to help make your club soccer experience as enjoyable as it can possibly be. No matter how busy you might’ve become or how much weight you’ve put on, the rule of thumb remains the same: get out of bed, eat the right food, learn the names, warm up well, and play like a grown-up. Last but not the least, you should always remember: even when you lost 10-0, you are “obviously the better team.”
Henry Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.