Friendships forged can often be just for the moment, a reason or in this case a lifetime…
I was reminded in the most wonderful way last weekend, when I caught up with a few of the guys who I used to play football with. Even though i hadn’t seen them in sometime (years for some) we picked up right where we left off.
So let’s wind the clock back a little to give you some context…
In 1995 I was playing in my final season before retirement when the coaching job came up for Team Canada. There was to be an international game in London, England at the end of the season and up until that point I had been coaching the Canadian team so it was a natural fit for me to have one last go around.
It was an amazing experience to coach at that level, but more importantly to win against an exceptionally strong team like England playing on their home turf was even better. Out team was on fire that day – great to play in front of a big and vocal crowd but then to beat the favorites…wow, now that was something!
The team that went to England comprised of players from all of the eight clubs in the competition, so it was both an honor and thrill to coach these guys as many of them were exceptional athletes.
I remember celebrating after the game, and trust me there were lots of shenanigans, a ton of drinking games and the like over the course of the next few days as we thoroughly enjoyed our victory. It was on one of these lazy, alcohol fueled afternoon sojourns that the idea of forming a new club came up in conversation. An instant powerhouse in the competition if you will…, definitely an interesting concept but little more than idle conversation at this point.
I think we all came away with a feeling of “now wouldn’t that be something special”, but then didn’t really do much about it.
Fast forward to the early new year when a few of us got together for drinks one night and the topic came up again, the more we talked about it the more it made sense.
Once we’d made up our minds it was a bit of whirlwind to get everything organized for the start of the season in May, but we pulled it off.
A few of the guys from the squad decided not to leave their home clubs but in the end that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm or recruiting because as the season drew near we had a solid team with a mix of older, established players as well as a few imports from Australia as well as some really promising young players new to the game – so very moldable which is perfect for a coach.
We had a few of “big personalities” on the team ( yes, you Tino, Tinks and Zisso…to name but a few), having as much fun off the field as on.
Although we won more than we lost that first year, we didn’t make the final four spots and so missed out on a chance to play for the Championship but it didn’t matter, we had become one large, and rather boisterous and tightly knit family in the blink of an eye.
The highlight was of course our end of season trip to NYC, which began with a Friday morning flight to La Guardia, but I have to tell you that prior to leaving the airport in Toronto we raided the duty free pretty severely. 🙂
I had broken my thumb in the final game of the season and was in a cast from my elbow to my finger tips so a little less mobile than what I’d been used to, but clearly it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for New York City.
There were a few classic things that happened over the weekend – firstly Tinks left his camera in the limo after the trip in from the airport, then later in the weekend he had his football confiscated in Central Park cos’ he missed the “no ball games” sign, but the pièce de résistance was when he fell asleep we decided to shave a large Nike swoosh into the hair on his back (Yikes…I know right!)
We got up to all sorts of cool adventures that weekend, we even got into some great night clubs, laughed our asses off non-stop and even carried sleeping teammates back to the hotel from an after hours bar.
One cool memory that sticks in my mind was when a handful of us rollerbladed through Central Park on Sunday morning. It was a beautiful blue sky day in early Oct, you know the kind, yeah the ones that make you feel happy to be alive! And after we’d finished a loop or two of the park we came out on West Drive at 59th street and proceeded to weave in and out of traffic to get to the subway stop at 59th and Lexington Ave. Insane, especially as I had a cast on my arm, but fun times non-the-less!
Although I think the best experience was saved for our dinner on Saturday night before we headed out for a night on the town, Tino is one of the most fun loving and genuine guys you’ll ever meet and of course being Italian had decided he was going to show us Little Italy. He knew exactly what he was looking for when he strode up to tiny family run place and got us a bunch of tables outside.
We were loud, and I’d gather rather obnoxious so we had a visit from Big Mike, the owner. Now if Mike wasn’t Mafioso then I’m not Australia. He was intimidating in a understated way, but fortunately he took a shine to us and soon he was sitting with us chatting, of course he brought us drinks which made him a firm favourite right out of the gate.
In fact we tried to buy him a drink but the server wouldn’t dare, as all he could say is “no one buys big Mike a drink” before skulking off…check please! 🙂
Yeah to say it was a memorable trip would be an understatement…and here we are 21 years later still hanging out and chatting as if we’d seen each other at lunch time.
Mates for life!