29 January 2019
Saturday Night Sounds
It was July 10th and 6 year-old Marcus Williams had just kicked his new soccer ball for its first time. After waiting weeks, Marcus had diligently saved enough coins from the street, chores, and innocent stealing to purchase the sacred relic. Choosing the color white was probably a poor decision aesthetically, because in seconds dirt and sand tainted the hexagonal faces. Children, teens, and parents from the neighborhood could hear the beauty of a ball against a foot, rolling in the dirt, and in minutes a game of street soccer had begun. This area of Georgia was relentless in its heat, humidity, and lack of anything civil. For this small community, soccer made the rules. Blacks and Latinos excitedly queued up for their turn to take part in a game in which Marcus would receive the ball and majestically maneuver through players, rolling the ball on the soles of his feet in a confusing but perfected routine to confuse his friends.
In a very different setting to Marcus Williams, Alexander Arnold was finishing his breakfast and tying his new 200$ cleats as his parent’s helped put the equipment in the car. Today was the first game of Alex’s exclusive private soccer club. They were running 15 minutes late so Alex kissed his grandparents goodbye, and sprinted towards the door, almost knocking over a old Romanesque Stamnos pot engraved with redstone calligraphy. Following a half-hour drive to the exclusive soccer pitches, Alex’s father parked his Tesla and directed his 6 year-old son to the field where the game would be held. Alex greeted his friends and began warming up by getting comfortable with the ball. He delicately but meticulously hit the ball with the laces of his cleats as it traveled far enough for Alex to maintain control over its path, repeated this notion for 5 minutes, concluded his ball control warm up and proceeded to dash between lines to get the blood flowing. It was 3:00 pm and the referee had called the match. The relentless attack of the opposition meant Alex, a defender, had to be relied upon for numerous occasions. His speed, aerial abilities, and lack of fear made him the ideal defender which parent’s often feared for the safety of their children. Alex slid and battled for every ball, turf pellets invaded the inner lining of his black socks, his skin burned red from turf burns, but this was necessary for anyone who wants to succeed as a defender. It means putting your body and safety on the line. Alex truly loved the game, partly due to his father’s influence being a former semi-pro player for a team in Florida. With his guidance, Alex was able to have access to the most expensive programs to help pave the path to becoming a pro soccer player.
March 19, 2006 was the final game of the Atlanta Firebirds U20’s record breaking season. Coach Albright and his staff lead the young-men to a 25-3 season, and were about to face off second place in the finals.
“So you’re gonna be in today,” Alex asked Marcus as they tied their expensive cleats, “This is your big chance to make the starting team next year”.
Marcus didn’t respond. Yes, he knew what was riding on this. Everyone was going to be watching this game and this could mean signing for a first-division senior team. Alex noticed Marcus’s concentrated face.
“Good, you’re nervous, like coach says, pressure makes diamonds. See you out there”
Not long after his 10th birthday, Marcus had played his first game for an established club. The neighborhood he had grown up with, entertained by his aggression and defensive abilities, was secretly saving loose change and dollars to afford a season with a local team. Since then, Marcus’s star performances awarded him scholarships, interest from colleges, and spots on teams.
The game was about the start, and the team made its way onto the field, taking their positions. Marcus and Alex were the center back duo. After the whistle blew and the ball was moving, the rest is forever embedded in club history. Newspapers were overflowing of the humiliations Albright’s team had bestowed upon his respected rivals. The ball constantly ruffled the back of the net, while Marcus and Alex neutralized the pacy attack of the other team. Marcus and Alex’s chemistry was something else and after lifting the trophy, both were approached by a black male dressed in slim, dead-black pants, vivid colored shirt, and bright rose gold watch. This was the head defensive coordinator for the senior team. He was stunned by the telepathic communication of the center back duo seemed to have and told them to call him after celebrating.
Fast-forwarding a couple of months and Alex and Marcus were officially signed for their senior team from the U20’s. This was the big shot and the mainstage of domestic soccer. Both were motivated to leave their mark and compete for bench or even starting positions, even though that was an extremely and far in between occurrence for a teenager. The recent memory of receiving the call form the senior team defensive coordinator still flooded Marcus and Alex’s minds. The adrenaline which rushed through their body when the phone vibrated and screeched its sound, paired with the joyful screams and waves of tears, had left a life-long memory in these young men. Alex’s love and enjoyment of the game fueled his motivation, but Marcus was motivated by the same as well as for the financial stability he hopes will repay the community which entrusted so much faith into him.
“5 minutes boys,” yelled the old man.
The first training session was here and the senior team was looking to continue the momentum set from their title-winning season the year before. As champions, the team now was invited to play in more competitions, so the club had to reinforce its roster to accomodate for the increase in games, which is how Marcus and Alex got here.
Head Coach Simon Fitzgerald gathered his expanded squad of players for their first practice on the lush green training grounds.
“Gentlemen, a new season is ahead of us, but it’s going to be much more of a challenge to top what we did last year. We must approach this season differently,” stated Fitzgerald, “All eyes are on us, we’re the team to beat so we must improve physically and mentally most of all.”
After emphasizing the rigor and burden of more games, the team began its practice and simple drills to kickstart the season.
About 2 months of pre-season training, the Atlanta Firebirds were about to play its first game of the season against the Toronto Mustangs. Alex nor Marcus made the starting 18, so they watched at home. Despite the team winning their first game, both of the young defenders sought to improve, but for the majority of the season they stayed at home and trained with the team. At about the halfway point Fitzgerald began to lighten up to the idea of adding Marcus to the bench following impressive displays at training and practice games.
“Marcus, please see me in my office before practice,” said coach one night over the phone.
“Did I anger one of the starters, show up late, leave something behind,” pondered Marcus, “Am I being dropped from the senior team?”.
Marcus drove to practice with both his hands glued on the wheel, his skin stitched to the steering wheel’s chestnut brown leather; this was his first conference privately with Fitzgerald.
“Please have a seat Marcus,” invited Fitzgerald.
Marcus stiffly directed his limbs into the room. He tried to appear normal and collected, but Marcus’s dripping palms, rickety hands, and subtle body adjustments gave it all to the experienced coach.
“Nothing bad Marcus, actually, I just wanted to quickly let you know to keep up what you’ve been doing. We might give you some playing time soon so stay at it.”
Throughout the second half of the season, Marcus got to play during the last 10 minutes of easier games while Alex stayed in the reserves. Despite the seemingly lack of time on the field, this was a rare sight for someone of Marcus’s age. After his debut, social media filled the city and country of the athletic potential within Marcus Williams. While shopping, eating, biking, constant streams of fans and citizens queued for a picture of a player who embodies the American dream; playing in front of tens of thousands of people coming from little. Eventually, agency companies began to approach Marcus and Jay Hudson was the lucky winner.
“We’re going to do big things Marcus,” assured Mr. Hudson, “I have companies lining up to meet with you for some branding deals”
Marcus, overwhelmed with all the moving parts, simply nodded and let Mr. Hudson deal with everything. He trusted the agent to make all the right choices for him, but what Marcus didn’t know was Mr. Hudson was a very greedy and money-driven man. In weeks Marcus was on billboards, commercials, and clothing. Now, instead of going to practice in his old, worn out, dull clothes, he flaunted his newly come money and bought designer clothes to display.
Meanwhile, Alex stayed the same, practicing and patiently working hard. He frequently visited his family and dedicated entire afternoons with them. Despite his childhood riches, Alex never forgot where he came from and routinely thanked his family for the support and for his success. Alternatively, Marcus’s small town threw parties whenever he showed up. His loved ones would go weeks or even months without seeing the prodigy’s face. One day Marcus finally showed up home after a 2 month break.
“Marcus why don’t you come over again next weekend, it your father’s birthday,” questioned Mom.
“I’m busy, Mr. Hudson has some new sponsors for me,” replied Marcus
“Mijo, I think you need to spend more time with us. We all miss you and the family wants to hear about what’s going on in your life”.
Mom was right. Marcus would routinely make excuses to not make the long journey and instead send cash through the mail to keep them afloat.
“The reason I’m not always here is for y’all,” said Marcus with an ascending tone, “How about y’all be grateful I’m even giving you a dollar and let me work”.
Marcus voice had grown that neighbors were looking outside their crackled windows and doors. Mom stayed quiet while Marcus rambled about all the things he’s been burdened with in attempt to send more money home; countless hours spent reading scripts, training, conferences, it all was taking a toll on Marcus.
A week later Alex got called to Fitzgerald’s office for the same reason as Marcus. Both routinely and saw time on the field and put up impressive performances. Despite this, the team was struggling. It got knocked out of the Champions League and its starting roster was being plagued with long-term injuries and bad performances.
It truly was an honor for Marcus Williams and Alexander Arnold to even play for a second on the field. Their home ground the Allianz Field, was renowned as one of the biggest housing crowds in the league. 70,000 + fans religiously packed the stadium every home game. Each time either defender took to the pitch, emotions overwhelmed them in reminiscence of their childhood and of all the people who have helped them along the way. Walking out of the ominous tunnel, to then be blinded by the stadium’s lights was special for them. What impacted the most, however, was the sounds which traveled through the air for the whole game. Articulated chants ruled the atmosphere which served to motivate players, the colosseum-like design meant anyone on the field was bombarded with joyful screams and indignant boos. Sound waves swarmed the player’s ears like a tsunami. But, in spite of that, any soccer player can tell you the sounds of your own fans brings a feeling of tranquility and calmness. The muffled and sometimes indistinguishable barrage of sounds psychologically means everything to the home team. It’s the feeling that instead of it being 11 against 11 its 70,011 vs 11. Marcus and Alex couldn’t get enough of the rush.
The league leaders, Metropolitan Meteors, were set to face the Tampa Bay Warriors in the domestic league final. On day of the final the streets of Atlanta were filled with red and black. The yellow lines which separated street lanes were indistinguishable as the loyal fans swarmed the streets, lifting creative posters, player masks, and flags. Months of training, games, and hard work had lead up to this. Despite Marcus’s focus being devoted more to his agent and to sponsorships, he managed to make the team, while Alex had to sit on the bench. The piercing and up-roaring chorus of the fans saturated the fans. For one last time this season Marcus tied up his cleats and sat in reminiscence of this season. Yes, this was the final of the cup and the biggest game he has played in so far in his career, but this also marked the birthday of his father who was the one who started the saving campaign for Marcus. At home, the aging parent waited for the expected phone call from his recently successful son, but it never came. The national anthem began to play, Marcus lined up with his teammates and took to the pitch.
“Yeah, I’m gonna check in on him right now,” said the old man.
Marcus’s eyes pried open and was blinded again by lights and sounds similar to the stadium, but he was lying down on bland blue sheets. He was in a room still wearing his uniform which was stained green. Doctors rushed to Marcus and gasped to see him finally move and gain consciousness.
“He’s up!” cried the old man with his head peeking out the door, “Hey Marcus, I’m Dr. Romero. You’ve been in an induced coma, just relax man”.
It had been 2 years since the cup final.