The try line opened up in front of me. I was just 10 metres from glory and my first ever try in rugby league, plus a chance to send my team into the final of the Sydney Metropolitan U/6 round robin tournament.
I fixed my eyes on the prize and tucked the ball under my right arm. I gritted my teeth and charged for the try line when I saw a shape emerge from my left. It grew in size as it approached with zest and I knew it was aiming to cut me down. Through pure instinct I stuck out my left arm and produced a fend which belied my size and strength and sent the opposing halfback tumbling to the ground.
The elusive prize was still within my grasp and with growing confidence and eagerness I tore towards the opposition line as fast as my skinny little legs could carry me. I was nearing the line and the white chalk shone more brightly against the scuffed green grass and stud-marked mud. I was adamant that nothing would stop me from claiming the four points and the resultant hero status.
My eyes bulged with excitement until I felt another presence looming up on me. This one approached from behind on my right and I knew it had to be the opposing team’s speedster who had scored two of their tries with his blistering pace. Through intuition alone I anticipated his lunging tackle and stepped deftly off my left foot to leave him grasping at air. The try was still on.
No more than five metres separated me from victory and I lowered my head and charged towards the intersection of the try line and the touch line, as I knew this was the only way to evade the approaching cover defence. 4, 3, 2 metres and I had to keep charging and commit to the corner. The ball was cradled firmly within my arm and I made my final push. Smothered by two opposing players I crashed into the corner and was trampled into the mud, legs buckled under the two tacklers and arm outstretched to plant the ball over the try line with downward pressure. I had face planted and eaten dust and mud and grass and chalk and I knew I would be sore all over for days. I didn’t care. I was elated. I had scored the winning try which would propel my team into the grand final and a chance for metropolitan glory at the tender age of 5, when winning any game felt like winning a world cup.
I heard a muffle of screams and whoops and claps and groans as both teams reacted to my victorious lunge. I felt my team mates simultaneously jump on me and drag me off the ground and all pain subsided in a rush of joy and adrenaline.
On the way up from the ground, it happened.
I caught a glimpse of the linesman.
I knew I was close to the corner. That was deliberate. That was my only chance to score. I knew I had made it. I was sure I had landed within the field of play. I was pretty certain I had made it. I was confident. Surely it was a try.
Or was it?
As I regained my feet and was revelling in the adulation of my teammates and supporters, I saw it. Through flailing arms and back slaps and high fives I saw the flag. The linesman’s flag left his side and slowly, in a painstaking, slow motion arc, rose from the his hip up to his chest, beyond his chest, to his shoulder. Up, up it went. Up, up higher. Not Up, Up Cronulla, but up, up above his head until it was a mere extension if his outstretched arm.
The try had been disallowed. In the commotion, we had not heard the final whistle. We had lost. Elation turned to despair. The knock-out comp had knocked us out. It was all over.
Do you have a favourite football team, or a favourite team from any sport for that matter? Do you follow that team passionately and devotedly?
Is there a particular player in that team you really don’t like?
Do you call for the head of a player who you blame for costing your team the game, or the championship?
What if you could literally take the head of that player?
You might consider this practice extreme, barbaric, excessively cruel and impossible. But it happened. Many years ago, admittedly, but it was regular practice.
Sacrificing a player after a football match was apparently common practice among the Mayan people of Honduras. At least, it was according to a friendly guide at Copan Ruins, an ancient Mayan city in western Honduras.
As we passed through the area which served as the ‘football field’ the guide claimed that a player would be sacrificed after every game of the sport which shared some features of modern day football and was a popular form of entertainment among the Mayan people of that era.
I sought clarification but he was drawn away by a fellow visitor to explain another aspect of the ruins. Thus, I don’t know why, or how, the player was sacrificed. Was it a player on the winning team, the losing team? Either way, it was strong motivation.
The last football game I attended, a Rugby League game in Australia, featured my beloved Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights. It was actually the first game of the new season and I was full of enthusiasm for my team after some wise recruiting during the off-season. The Sharkies lost, however, due largely to a few disastrous handling errors from one of our players.