So, for his story time, last night, we read that volume of Whistle! and he loved it and now says he wants to play when he gets in to Kindergarten, or, literally, "When I get into Tanner's school." Tanner is the son of the owner of a professional team and the owner of an indoor soccer rink, he's part of a five-year-old soccer team that, I think, could run circles around nearly any elementary school team in existence. His whole family's life revolves around soccer in many ways. Not a terrible influence, at all, in my sight. Tanner's sister, Macy and Mikayla often go to a Saturday morning open floor for tykes at 9 am, and they play for fun. Jet's gone a few times, but he's always hung back, but when John and Tanner and Macy and Jet and Peter get together in the backyard Jet will go and kick away, happily.
Anyway, the books definitely gave Jet more incentive to try harder.
I, on the other hand, had several mountains of memories dug up by the books, bone deep, muscle deep memories.
Memories of nearly a decade of playing soccer and loving it fiercely.
... of starting because John had been playing for years on co-ed teams and one of his teams at one game had exactly one woman of the four needed. So just having me on the field was enough to allow his team to at least play. I was supposed to just be a warm body, but having watched years' worth of soccer, I knew the rules and the goal of the game. So when a guy came towards me with the ball, I stepped in and tried to take it away. My fencing reflexes took over, and the next thing I knew, I heard a whistle, and the referee was holding up a yellow card.
I think that the manga captures, exquisitely, that feeling I've had for most of my life of not being a very good soccer player, but loving it and loving playing with people that I got to know deeply because we played together. Weakness and strengths, and the fact that even someone who is brilliant at play cannot win on their own. Heck, even half a team of brilliant players can't win if they ignore other half.
I remember playing this one team where the men just refused to use their women. Half their team was just left out, and I remember stopping the men over and over and over again simply because they refused to pass to the woman that was just standing, wide-open, on the field. By the second half even I was tired of that, and started making jibs each time I marked and stopped their guys. Whenever I cleared the ball I'd just tap the guy on the shoulder and point out the wide open woman and mutter, "Idiot. You should be using her." But it was so engrained, even after half a dozen points of evidence, they'd still try to pass only to the other men. It got so I could even anticipate those passes easily and took the ball away from them even more easily. We won that game 6 to 1 and afterwards I apologized to the ignored woman. She shrugged and confessed that she was looking to join a different team.
So I knew, in many ways, that I made a real difference.
The fierceness of the play in that first full game in the manga reminded me, deeply, of a time when one of my teams was cut down by various illnesses to just eight of us on the field and we played anyway, in pouring rain.
What the manga captures is nearly all of that. That feeling of being merely mortal before the feet of a soccer god like Yura or Sean (the soccer elf, slender, short, FAST and so light on his feet he nearly floated and he had this huge blond mane of hair), on another team, a young Frenchman with speed and power and humility to spare. That feeling of being needed nonetheless and that ones efforts make a difference. That meshing with the other players on the team, knowing them in more detail than I've ever known people outside of work or my family in my life. Plus all the technical realities of the game. Like defenders going for the strong player and leaving the "weak" wide open and the need to use that reality. It even got how I felt after my knee was broken, and the fact that I still haven't faced that the way I want to.
The books have definitely opened up the chasm of my longing to get back into the sport. To feel as strong and assured and real as I did when I was playing. I'm uncertain that I can do it without the rain, in this hard climate where you can really only play in the spring, but maybe the key is to try.