It’s five hours past noon on a Sunday evening. The temperature is cooler than usual for a Middle Eastern winter. 17 degrees Celsius and a cool wind in the air. It’s fine to be wearing normal football clothes; jersey and shorts.
I look out across what used to be a premier field in the area now remaining as a large unmarked field with collapsed goals, imaginary nets and small asteroid craters directly in front of the goal where the goalkeeper usually stands. Children have opted to play and dig in that area and scarred the land there. I even see children hanging off the back posts that used to suspend the nets. Dangerous as the remaining structure could collapse but it has turned into a playground.
There are two games happening on the field using the width. There’s one on the near side where the players are aged 9-15. A big open space in the middle and a game on the far side for adults.
I had come down to the field with my brother to join a game that would be happening at the centre of the field but after 10 minutes of waiting, there were too few players to have a game so we joined the far side game with the other adults on the field. The players were very welcoming and warm and we split up into two teams of 10 with no goalkeepers. This was no ordinary football match.
No referee. No goalposts. The goals being used are construction cones or a standing building brick. The goals have been set to a little less than a metre wide to keep the game competitive. An imaginary crossbar at knee height also exists.
Healthy competition is the best phrase to describe it. Everyone is hungry to play. Just that. To play. No serious foul play, no violent conduct. Any of that and they are cast out. Halfway through the game, the captain of my team is tripped recklessly. His opponent wasn’t going for the ball and the captain stops dribbling and in fury throws the ball at the player. There is no second warning for him because everyone knows that anymore behaviour like that and he won’t be playing in the group anymore. Much like a caution, dismissal and suspensions but returning to the game later requires a sincere apology.
We play late into the evening when the sun has set and the Azaan could be heard from the nearby mosques. There is no stopwatch to manage this game. Simply equal satisfaction that everyone has enjoyed the game.
This is the beautiful game. This is football.