Heart racing, feet pounding. Sweat trickling down in rivulets, staining the player’s top a darker shade of red. It’s the 89th minute of the match.
The referee’s glancing at his watch, the away fans are howling for the final whistle from the stands. The home fans anxiously check the scoreboard every few seconds, as if they could change the scoreline by sheer willpower.
The flashing score, however, remains stubbornly unmoved. 1-0 to the away side. It’s enough to take them through to the next round.
Suddenly, seconds away from the final whistle, an errant pass in midfield. The home striker pounces, cajoling one final effort out of his flagging body. He steps over the ball, and, with an outrageous shimmy, evades the fatigued, desperate lunges of two defenders.
Suddenly, space opens up. The home crowd rises as one, shrieking and roaring. The distant voice of the announcer registers clearly over the baying crowd.
“It’s Bolt, the new No.9! He’s one-on-one in the City goal!”
It’s his chance to win it for the Mariners… And win it he does! Goal!
A brilliant chip leaves the keeper totally stranded as Usain Bolt writes his name into Mariners folklore.
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Take names out of the equation and you’re left with the dream of every young kid who plays the beautiful game. Football unites spectators, players and coaches alike through its ability to inspire. We see parts of ourselves in our teams, a vehicle for our pride. It gives us a license to dream.
Yet Bolt isn’t being given this opportunity.
In his world, he is the No.9 in the story above. He’s through on goal and one-on-one, having secured an indefinite training stint with the Central Coast. Yet, in this alternate reality, the baying crowd falls silent. Worse, it mocks his effort. Jeers.
The striker is affected by this. He slows and flags. You almost see the confidence and belief drain from him. The two defenders recover and steal the ball away. The final whistle blows, and his goal of becoming a professional is further away than ever. The striker has missed his chance.
Why is there so much hate for Bolt? Why are we trying to kill off an athlete’s dreams? It’s obvious the Olympic champion isn’t in this for the money – his salary will be but a fraction of his earnings from advertising.
So why is there such vehement criticism?
It comes down to jealousy. Some cannot accept Bolt’s success in the world of football. It’s ridiculous, we think. How can a man be so lucky? He waltzes in and gets to trial with a club, just like that! Meanwhile, we sweat and grind while still not getting our foot in the door. It’s totally unfair!
We realise how the doors that are closed to the average Joe are open to him, and we don’t like that.
Yet this is not Bolt’s fault. His fame is what it is, why should it make him a soft target?
Of course, trying to rid our envy is easier said than done. Personally, I’ve felt it more than I ever wanted to. As an 18-year-old student footballer, I live and breathe the game. I go for the back pages as a morning ritual and fall asleep thinking of different football formations!
The story above was my dream, too. And, watching youngsters break through today, I still feel envy at what might have been.
But football, and sport by extension, is not just about personal glory. It’s about striving to reach limits and breaking them. It’s about giving more when your body says, “There’s nothing more to give.”
It’s having the will to finish that last set of push ups and training sprints, even though you can’t take any more.
It’s about encouraging others when they dare to dream.
So I hope that Bolt signs that contract, chases his dream, and never looks back.
And if he does, that we’ll be clapping and cheering him on, every step of the way.