Goal Keeping and the Art of Fighting Bullies
I immediately cringe when I see “anti-bullying” campaigns. The exponential growth in “safe spaces” correlated perfectly with the exponential growth in adult cry-babies should alert everyone to the fact that shielding people from “trauma” only makes them weaker not stronger. And every step taken to shield us from pain fails to grasp the fundamental building blocks of a strong human being - to grow in strength requires exposure to harm. Simple as that. To grow in strength also requires being surrounded with people that foster a spirit of capability, of personal responsibility, of believing in yourself but only when you work hard and commit to your studies, your sports, to any goals you may have and, most importantly, commit to treating everyone with respect until they prove conclusively they don’t deserve it.
Here’s an excerpt from Sweet Dreams of Fanta that sums up the day I realised I wasn’t a weak little freckly chubber, condemned to a life of putting up with being bullied, spat on and laughed at, the day I realised there was more strength in my plump dotted knuckles than I could’ve ever imagined. And I don’t want to condone violence, I just condone to the end that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, that taking the offensive is always wrong but defending yourself is always a noble action, one that ultimately makes your life far richer and more peaceful too.
Before I can really even blink it’s just Tim Jefferies racing straight at me with the ball at his feet and he’s about to strike when Andrew slides in out of nowhere and misses the ball completely but tears Tim’s legs out. The whistle blows.
The ref points to the white dot just opposite the goals as I pass him the ball. All the parents are yelling and screaming on the sideline and our coach is just saying over and over, “Unlucky…unlucky…unlucky.”
The ref places the ball down on the dot and I feel like I’m on SBS. I’ve seen penalty shootouts so many times on TV it’s like I’ve already been playing soccer my whole life. Tim is going to kick the penalty shot and is standing at the line of the box opposite me, ready to line up the shot.
I rub my hands together while I jump up and down on the spot a few times and watch Tim then I slap my thighs and take a few extra big deep breaths. That’s what the goalies do on TV. I feel strong and fast. I’m ready. This is it. This is when I’m going to make Tim look like he does at handball and swimming. Hopeless!
“Come on, Leon!!”
“Knock it in, Timmy!”
“Go Li Li!! You can stop him!!”
I hear Mum’s voice last but then I block out all the screams to stand still and crouch to be ready. I was smart. I watched Tim taking his practice kicks before the game with his coach and every time he kicked the ball just the same, always to the bottom left. I already know this kick will be aimed at my bottom right. I know what he’s going to do. Stupid Tim Jefferies. You’re not so good. I know your tricks. I quickly think back to how he pushed me over in the playground and I know that anytime he ever walks to me in the playground again I will kick my legs out behind as hard as I can like Donna and be ready for his dirty tricks. I’m no dumb dumb. This is it. Bottom right. I see his eyes looking there already. Stupid Tim Jefferies.
“You ready, fatty boom bar?”
He’s trying to hurt me but I don’t move a muscle. I just stare at him and he stares back then down at the ball. The parents all go quiet and the referee blows his whistle. Tim runs at the ball and the moment he kicks it I dive as fast as I can to my right. The ball fires straight to the bottom right corner. I knew it!! But it’s going to sneak underneath me. Oh no. It’s a good, hard kick and going flat just above the ground. It’s past me but I throw my hand down just in time to stop it!! I did it!! I stopped it!!
The ref yells over the noise of the parents. It’s not over. I haven’t stopped a goal yet. The ball rolls away from the goal line but back out onto the field and straight towards Tim who’s only a few steps away. I don’t have time to jump up off the ground but just crawl like Rambo to dive on the ball before Tim gets there. I make it first! And get my chest over the ball like Garry Jack would.
I stopped stupid Tim!! The ball against my chest feels like secret treasure but as I take a breath with my face in the dirt Tim boots me right in the side of the head!!
I hear Ricci yell out from the sideline. That’s it! Tim just kicked me right in the head. I had the ball. I had it by miles. Tim is dead meat. I don’t even feel the pain from his dirty kick right to my head. I’m too angry. I can feel all the muscles in my chest. I’m going to kill him right now. I look up and all the players have run in and the parents are screaming at the ref from the sidelines. I look at Tim and he doesn’t say sorry. He spits down at me again. He’s dead!
The ref blows his whistle but all the players start shoving and the parents have started running on. I don’t care about anything. I just know Tim is dead. I don’t even think. I don’t need to. I’ve imagined this ever since the first day I met filthy Tim. I jump up to my feet so quick that Tim looks all surprised and stupid. I’m right up in his face. The parents are getting closer and everyone is screaming. I step back and see Tim relax but then I throw the ball straight in his stupid face so hard. It hits him right in the nose just perfectly. Right in the block! He shakes his head but I don’t waste any time. I know what to do. I take a two-step run up to get going full pace and tackle him through the middle just like Wayne Pearce would. Just like I should have in the playground so long ago. I smash my right shoulder into his skinny chest and drive him to the ground. He’s starting to cry and doesn’t fight back. He puts his hands with little bony knuckles up over his face with no freckles and cries like a baby.
“You like that, cry baby!!!!”
I’ve won. I get to my knees and push his face to the side to rub it all through the dirt and use one hand to push up off his cheek to get back to standing. I want to kick him in the head too just like he did to me. But all the parents are on top of me now.
Mum and Ricci drag me away and Con, the Dad, looks at me like he has seen a ghost. Tim’s Mum with the beehive hairdo kneels down on the dirt in her fancy clothes and hugs her crying little filthy baby.
“Mummy, Leon just hit me. Ahh, Mummy, Mummy.”
I push Mum and Ricci off me and run straight back over to him and don’t care that everyone thinks I’m the bad kid and not Tim.
“My name’s Liam, you stupid idiot!! How dumb can you be?!”
I want to spit on him too like he always does to me but I can’t. Pop says never to spit. Ever. Mum and Ricci grab me again and pull me back. Tim’s Mum yells straight at Mum and Ricci.
“Control that wretched, fat, stupid son of yours!”
Mum lets go of me and turns back fast as lightning even with her massive tum tum.
“Excuse me! Sorry, would you like to repeat that? I didn’t quite hear what the mother of the brat who just deliberately kicked my son in the head and spat on him had to say.”
Richard lets go of me too now to go hold Mum. I can see that her fists are clenched just like mine when I get so angry. I don’t know anything about Tim’s Mum but she better not mess with mine. She’ll regret it.
“Darling, come on. Come on now.”
Ricci hugs Mum and turns her back to me. Tim keeps crying on the ground and his dumb, beehive Mum doesn’t say another word. The referee is blowing his whistle like a crazy man and waving his arms back and forth over his head non stop and there are so many people on the field that don’t have a soccer uniform on it just looks silly.
The referee points at me.
I shrug back to him as Mum and Ricci hug me and we start the walk to the sideline. I’m crying now and so is Mum. Stupid soccer. Stupid Tim Jefferies. He didn’t score though, did he? Not on my watch!
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the oil trading world of Southeast Asia. His second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a sentimental ride back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, 7year old Fanta addict. Buy them on Amazon or at Desire Books in Manly or anywhere that doesn't purely stock what their corporate overlord Publishing Houses tell them to.