I sat there as the heavy rain fell, in pain and feeling so disappointed at not been able to help my team to push for victory.
For months, we had been preparing for this match, doing extra training sessions, eating more healthily and going to social events together so that every player felt a strong bond with their team-mates. We were ready for Varsity.
The annual multi-sport competition between University of the Arts London and Goldsmiths is a big day for both institutions and attracts a lot of interest among their students.
As captain of the UAL women’s football team, I woke for Varsity at 8am with butterflies in my stomach – a feeling of nervousness that I couldn’t shake all morning. I showered quickly, barely ate any breakfast and left for my college where the coach was waiting for us.
Even those players not involved had been asked to come along and support the team, and seeing all the girls talking and laughing made me feel better. I could see everyone was feeling positive and focused for the big game.
However, the 30-minute journey to the Varsity sports ground felt more like two hours, and I began to feel tense again. I tried not to let it show, although my feelings were obvious, and concentrated on my music.
On arrival, our excitement rose even further, and as we got changed, I started talking to motivate the girls, but my mouth was dry and what I was saying didn’t feel like it was enough.
Outside, the rain was pouring down, but we were ready. We left the changing room took to the pitch in silence, and I had never seen the team so focused. I met the Goldsmiths captain, and then the referee – the same one who booked my last year when I got a bit too passionate…
We talk and made our peace. This day should be one to remember and I wanted it to be a good memory.
By now it had started hailing, but the ref signalled the start of the game. Five minutes in, the ball found me outside the box and in a split second I had fired it goalwards. The ball seemed to gain velocity and height as it beat the Goldsmiths ‘keeper and nestled in the net. Everyone was jumping around and hugging me.
My team-mate and best friend said “That’s what we needed, well done, mi capitano.” In that moment, I was so happy but, as my dad always says, it is not how you start but how you finish.
We were playing beautiful football, and I could hear people from UAL’s hockey, men’s football, netball and cheerleading squads chanting and cheering. Even the sun had suddenly come out as we pushed forward, desperate to make up for last year’s Varsity loss.
The second half began and we looked to maintain our momentum. But five minutes in again, I ran for a ball in our box but pulled up with a pain in my right calf. Even one step was painful. Seconds later, I felt the same pain my left leg. It was like I was in movie and someone had shot me as I fell down screaming.
I had never felt this pain before. I look up to see if someone could help me and suddenly I saw my centre-back running over. She grabbed my right leg and tried to stretch it, as if to alleviate cramp, but the pain remained.
I received treatment on the pitch, but to no avail, and was helped to the sidelines. People watching asked me what had happened. “I am okay, I will come back on in a bit,” I replied, but even as I stretched both legs, I felt broken and unable to take a step.
On 60 minutes, Goldsmiths equalised and I felt like I was letting my team down, that they needed my help and I couldn’t give it to them.
With 10 minutes left, they scored again to make it 2-1. Our midfield was disorganised and our defenders seemed to have forgotten everything they had been taught. The spirit so evident in the first half had gone out of the UAL team.
I was so mad at my players because they were not fighting hard like I had showed them. At the same time, I felt that if they weren’t capable of doing that without me, that meant I hadn’t done my job properly.
I was also bitterly frustrated at myself for getting injured because it was my last Varsity game and I had wanted to win it so badly. To make matters worse, not only did we lose our game, but UAL’s other teams also suffered narrow defeats to seal overall victory for Goldsmiths.
Afterwards, and in a more reflective mood, I realised that, yes, I am passionate about football and my team, but it’s a game, and sometimes we win but many others times, we lose.
It is the best way to learn from our experiences, not only sporting ones. It can also help me to approach situations in life. That is ultimately why I am so grateful to be able to play and to have been part of such a wonderful team.
Photos courtesy of UAL Sport.