My time as a soccer player may be over. The MRI is in, and my left knee, to put it bluntly, is finally shot. In truth I haven’t been able to walk straight in over six weeks, and the pain has been intense at times. If I want to preserve my long-term ability to bike and maybe run, and if I want to avoid an early knee replacement — it just might be time to hang them up.
I’m 41 now, and I’ve been an avocational footballer since my early youth. As a young bookish fellow, I never truly excelled on the pitch, though I always stuck in with a certain amount of abandon and was able to find traction in various Canadian youth clubs until I turned fifteen or so. My “career” revived at nineteen in the UK when I was drafted on to a college team. I soon found my home at the center of the backline. I adored equally the precise pass and the drama of the perfectly-timed tackle. I loved the game for its structure and shape. Its tactics.
In my 20s and 30s I played recreationally on many teams, with friends and strangers, with skilled ex-college players and rank beginners. I myself was never spectacularly skilled nor particularly quick, but I could hold my own to a degree with most opponents. After a time, I became a member and then a mentor at my club, Rain City Soccer, one of the world’s largest LGBT clubs. I played frequently — sometimes four or more times each week — well into my 40th year, and despite the need for a small surgery to clean up a shattered meniscus, I was holding up pretty well.
But then came the last few months. The constant inflammation and limping. The pain. And then the MRI — “grade IV cartilage loss”, “bone contusion”, “possible degeneration”. Surgical interventions, assuming they’d even work, would take me off the pitch for months if not years. Would I even want to risk whatever fragile knee I had left on football?
The answer is looking more and more like no.
I may end up leaving the game as a player, but I will never leave the game. I’ll remain a student, acolyte and afflicted fan forever. But there’s something I’ll deeply miss about playing.
My city’s fields seem to function like variants of Ray Oldenberg’s third places. For me, they are spaces that we hold in common — spaces of friendship, health, emotion, relaxation, excitement, peace and encounter. They are places of great cultural diversity. And even in the dark part of winter, when it’s raining and barely above freezing, they are places to which I’d always go with joy.
So — joy and gratitude. It’s been a great run, and a good life with this game. I suspect it might soon be time to switch gears a bit, and focus on being a fan, a mentor and supporter. Carry on!