‘Hey! What are you doing out there?! You’re letting him skin you all over! Wake up Ganz!’
Ganz breathed rapidly and watched his sweat drip on the cold locker room floor. ‘Stupid Laurence’ muttered Ganz.
Ganz looked up at the cherry red face of his coach. The mismatched navy suit and gaudy purple scarf covered Ganz’s vision.
‘Ganz! Are you listening to me?’ The coach threw a water bottle across the room. ‘You’re the captain for God’s sake! You know how Laurie plays!’
‘Laurie.’s Ganz muttered. ‘Fucking bastard!’ Across him a scrawny young man shook his head.
‘What is it Kite? You want to say something? Say it!’
‘It’s your fault that we are one goal down! You are supposed to mark Kite! But…’
‘But what eh!?!’
‘But you let him score without even a scratch!’
The image of the deliberate feint and the contemptuous smirk played in Ganz’s mind. He saw all too often in his football career. In his prime he would have pummeled Laurence to the ground but his legs were giving in. ‘Fuck you kid! What do you know?’ Ganz threw the wet towel around his neck and stood. ‘Fuck all of you! Get back on the pitch and score the fucking goal!’
‘And what about you?’ Kite stood face to face with his captain.
‘My job.’ Ganz pushed Kite away and walked out of the room toward the tunnel.
The coach straightened his posture and smiled. He turned over to his assistant. ‘We have to shake things up.’
‘He really fired them up eh boss.’ The assistant revealed a notebook with some figures.
‘Ganz is a good captain. Too bad this is his last game.’
Ganz stood in front of his team. The purple jerseys stood in line like jittery eggplants in a field. He continuously beat his chest trying to get his heart pumping. ‘Forty five more minutes.’ Ganz thought about what he said. He had only forty five minutes. The final forty five minutes of his playing career. ‘I have to win this.’
A lanky man wearing a light blue number seven jersey patted Ganz’s back. ‘Gon’t beat yourself up old man. You’re getting slow and well I’m just too good.’
‘I still got enough to kick you around Laurie.’ Ganz kicked the air lightly. ‘Or have you forgotten?’
Ganz turned to Laurie and looked him in the eye. ‘See you on the pitch.’
The referees called in the players and ran out the tunnel. Their yellow and black uniforms made them look like falling leaves on the lush green field.
Ganz jogged on the field and commenced his good luck ritual. He bent low, touched the field with the tips of his fingers and lightly kissed his clenched fist. This was the last time he would perform his good luck ritual. Every second counted for him.
The team dispersed on the field. Two players dropped deep into the pitch and stood close to Ganz.
Ganz scanned the area infront of him. The defense lined up with five, three in midfield and two in offense. He realized that the coach wanted to defend. ‘He’s bloody giving up!’ thought Ganz. ‘Hey!’ Ganz pointed at the two side players. ‘You two! What are you doing? Your panzy asses can’t stay here!’
‘Captain!’ Screamed the player on the right. ‘The gaffer wanted us to help you out.’
‘What did you say?’
‘Are you going to listen to me or to the gaffer?’
‘Shut up and go up!’
The players knew better than to argue with Ganz and jogged to join the midfield.
‘Good lads.’ Ganz looked straight at the opposition. His sight created a beeline toward Laurie. ‘Time to dance.’
The coach smoothed over his pressed suit and tightened the scarf around his neck. He made sure that the club logo was visible for the cameras.
‘Boss you think Ganz should play?’
The coach raised an eyebrow at his assistant.
‘He looked like a bit player in the first half. And now he moved the guys back up.’
‘Ganz will do the job.’ The coach squeezed the shoulder of his assistant. ‘He does his best work under pressure.’
‘But boss if we lose then we head to the playoffs. And we have never won the playoffs.’
The coach smiled. ‘Either way Ganz will fight to the death.’
The referee looked over to his assistants and blew the whistle.
The blue team strikers passed the ball back to the wingers. Number eleven on the left broke through the blue side midfielder and ran down the flank unopposed. Laurie dropped back slightly and let his marker chase after number eleven.
‘Hey what are you doing!?!?’ Ganz screamed.
Laurie ran through the center and raised his hand. Number cut inside and released a low short pass to Laurie.
Ganz stood his ground. ‘This is it.’
Laurie engaged in a silky run. He drifted in and out of the center pitch drawing the defenders away from their marks. Number eight popped at the right and Lauie performed a one two pass.
‘Oye! What the hell are you doing?’
Laurie had the ball and two defenders were trailing him. He picked up speed and was one on one with Ganz. He noticed that the goalkeeper was out of his line. He thought about taking a shot but then decided against it. He wanted another go at embarrassing Ganz.
A purple jersey blitzed back. He had passed his two trailing team mates and closed down on Laurie.
Laurie looked to his right. The purple jersey was within sliding distance. Laurie deftly dinked the ball and it bounced off the defenders leg. Laurie turned around the player and regained control of the ball. He sprinted at full speed toward Ganz.
‘Not this time!’ Ganz ran toward Laurie.
Laurie was now in the opposition box. He creates some space between him and the ball.
Thud! Ganz clattered Laurie on the ground. He extended his arm at Laurie and pulled him up after the referee called for the physiotherapist.
‘Ouch that had to hurt.’
‘Not as much as the first goal.’
Ganz growled. ‘Well see who gets the last laugh.’
The coach sighed. ‘That was close.’
‘Ganz is really up for this. But Laurie knows how to handle Ganz.’
The coach mind went back to the time he first signed Laurie and Ganz roughed him up. ‘Ganz always called him a pansy.’
‘Ganz calls everyone a pansy.’
The two men laughed.
‘But boss why did you sell Laurie? He could have brought us up to the top.’
The coach shook his head. He knew that his assistant was right but the board forced him to sell. ‘We have other great potentials.’
‘Not like Laurie.’
‘We have Ganz.’
‘He is on fire isn’t he?’
‘He is a bull! Laurie better watch out.’
Laurie limped toward the sidelines.
‘Lie down Laurie.’ A man in a track suit knelt on the ground and pulled out a spray from his bag.
Laurie tilted his head as the cool mist sprayed at his knee.
‘Laurie, you should not even be playing we can sub you.’
Laurie pushed himself up and stretched his leg. ‘My knee is fine.’
‘I’m not talking about that.’ He pointed at his chest. ‘That could stop any minute!’
Laurie turned and stared at Ganz. ‘The most I can do is give him the game of his life.’
‘And what about your life? The doctor told you to hold off until they get more tests done.’
‘I owe him this.’
‘What is so special about him?’
‘He was my mentor.’
Ganz looked at the scoreboard. ‘Tie game.’
The assistant referee flashed a digital board indicating five minutes of extra time.
Ganz wheezed and massaged his thighs. ‘Five minutes. Five minutes until the end.’
Laurie received the ball from his team mate number eleven. He dribbled past two purple jersey players.
‘Oye!’ Ganz screamed.
Kite ran in from Laurie’s left and stole the ball.
‘You buggers push up! Support Kite!’ Ganz screamed at his defenders.
‘Captain you will be left alone.’
‘Less talking and more running!’ Ganz pushed their backs. ‘Make me proud.’
Kite ran with the ball through the center, three blue jerseys streaked across him. He passed back to the deep lying midfielder. The midfielder held the ball for a minute. Blue jerseys were circling around him. ‘Crud!’
‘Here! Pass back!’ The defender with number four ran with all he could. His lungs struggled to bring in oxygen and he could feel the stitches on his side. He received the ball from the midfielder and pumped it across the field.
‘Oye what are you doing?’ The midfielder screamed at the defender.
‘Look up you wanker!’
The midfielder turned and watched as Kite cleanly controlled the ball on the left flank. ‘Go! Go!’
Kite controlled the ball with the perfect mixture of guile and skill. ‘We have to win…I have to win!’
The referee blew his whistle and pointed toward the blue team.
‘Corner!’ Ganz ran up the field and called the goalkeeper. ‘Get up here! We have no time!’
The blue players surrounded the referee and screamed at him.
Laurie walked to the goalpost. ‘It’s almost over.’ His leg ached and he struggled to bend his knee. But this was not as painful as chest. A searing pain spread from his heard to his whole body. He looked over the sidelines to Tim. ‘Just one more minute.’ He mumbled.
Kite ran over to the corner flag. He set the ball down and took three deep breaths. Three breaths that would either decide glory or failure. He looked at the packed box. Ganz was running in late with the goalkeeper. This was it. He knew that his kick had to be perfect.
The ball curled toward the sideline barely passing it and flew in outward to the far post.
Laurie launched at the ball. He tried to jump but his knee jerked slightly and he barely left the ground.
Ganz sprung his knees with full force. This was the last move he would ever make in professional football. He spread his legs as his body suspended in mid air. He leaned his waist forward against the opposing body and snapped his neck at the incoming ball.
The referee blew his whistle and waved at the sidelines.
Ganz looked at the scoreboard. ‘It’s in! It’s in!’ He was surrounded by his team mates as they congratulated him. He fell on the ground and heaved. ‘It’s over!’ He turned his head and saw Laurie lying on the ground. ‘Shit!’ He stood up and ran to Laurie. He shook Laurie’s body. ‘Wake up!’ He slapped Laurie’s face lightly. ‘Wake up dammit!’ He stood up and pulled on Laurie’s arm. ‘Come on! Get up!’
The physios rand across the field with a stretcher.
‘You are not taking this away form me!’ Ganz kicked Laurie’s chest. ‘Get the bloody hell up!’ He kicked harder. ‘Get up you pansy!’
The physios knelt beside Laurie. Tim placed his fingers on Laurie’s wrist.
The purple team led by Kite pulled Ganz away. ‘Relax captain.’
‘How can I relax when the wanker is faking it!’
‘Captain!’ Kite blocked Ganz.
‘Wake up Laurie! Wake the bloody hell up!’ Ganz screamed.
Tim looked up at Ganz. ‘He can’t…’
‘What do you mean he can’t?’
‘Because he is dead.’