It’s hard to feel much sympathy for someone who earns more in a week than I do in a year, especially when they ‘earn’ it by playing a game I love.
I’m the sort of person who delights when professional footballers shank one into the stands with an accompanying cry of “whaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy”.
Maybe it’s petty-minded jealousy.
Maybe it’s a satisfying reminder that all the money in the world can’t protect you from making a hash of things.
Or maybe it’s simply because, when all’s said and done, it really is only a game.
Either way, even I felt genuinely sorry for Liverpool’s calamitous keeper, Loris Karius.
Not because he threw the ball against Benzema’s foot for Real Madrid’s opener or that he let Bale’s shot slip through his hands.
Sh*t happens all the time and at least it guarantees him a place on ‘Football’s funniest moments- volume 267’.
What tugged on the heart-strings was the fact that on the biggest stage of his career, his individual errors had let others down – the club, the fans and his team mates. Social media erupted and spewed out some frankly offensive abuse. But perhaps even worse, and despite the weight of culpability evidently causing him such distress, his team mates seemed wholly unforgiving and reluctant to offer him support.
“You’ll never walk alone” (apparently).
But Karius’ path is one we’ve all walked, whether in sport or other parts of life. Everyone has the occasional howler and in a show of solidarity with the German keeper, I thought I’d offer up a couple of my own…
It was at Sloughbottom Park on an April morning, that my Sunday league team played out the last fixture of the season. The club was due to fold in the summer and I had decided that dodgy knees and a sense of apathy about finding a new team, would bring my playing days to an end.
There was no guard of honour or poster boards held aloft by fans to spell out my name like Wes received. But like the Irish magician, I felt genuinely emotional and determined to go out in style.
I don’t remember much about the game but trailing 1-0 and heading into injury time, we were awarded a penalty.
I was the designated taker and had a perfect record from the spot – this was my moment.
There was nothing smart about my approach to penalties. I just used to hit them as hard as I could towards the bottom left corner. Simple but effective.
For reasons I still don’t understand, as I started my run-up, a bizarre internal dialogue played out in my head;
“Go on, stick it top right”
“What? But I always put it bottom left. Why would you say that?”
“Hey, you’re the penalty-taker, it was just a suggestion.”
What followed was neither one thing nor the other. Caught in a cloud of confusion, I hit the lamest side-footed effort straight down the middle.
(Afterwards I maintained it was a deliberate Panenka attempt, but that was a lie.)
The keeper, who I knew well, had guessed my intentions and had already launched himself to his right towards my favoured spot. However, such was the lack of power on the shot, he had time to get up on his knees and palm the ball tamely back towards me.
With the keeper kneeling on the line looking like a religious man seeking penance, and the goal at my mercy, I took aim and from no more than four yards out, I skied the ball over the bar.
For those that know the park, it also cleared the fence at the top end and landed in someone’s garden, at which point the referee decided it was an opportune moment to call full-time time on both the game and my playing days.
Cricket is another sport that provided me with ample opportunities for personal embarrassment.
At university, I played for a local village side in Sussex. I was a batsman – although I use the term solely in relation to where I appeared on the batting order rather than to suggest any particular ability.
As one of the younger, more mobile members of the team, whenever we took to the field, I would inevitably be placed somewhere out on the boundary and stand there generally getting bored.
On one occasion, I had done absolutely nothing for the best part of an hour, aside from occasionally being asked to move 30 yards to one side or another as the captain tinkered with his field placings.
With no mobile phone to entertain me, I decided to have a crafty cigarette to pass the time.
(In my defence, it was a Marlboro light or “sportsmen’s fags” as I called them).
No sooner had I lit up, then I heard the dreaded cry of “Cookie – catch it!”.
Hauled out of my daydream, I sprung to life, stuck the cigarette in my mouth and got my hands into something resembling a catching position as my eyes scanned for the ball.
The benefit of fielding in the deep, is it doesn’t require cat-like reflexes. The disadvantage is that you have plenty of time waiting for the small dot in the sky to complete its trajectory towards you.
Plenty of time to think “what if I drop it?”.
Plenty of time for the smoke from my cigarette to collect and circle beneath the peak of my cap, creating a swirling haze and stinging my eyes.
I’ll never know how far away my hands were from catching the ball.
Squinting through the smoke, I was vaguely aware of the projectile fizzing towards my head before I heard the sound of leather on bone and felt a sharp stab of pain on the top of my head. Like Dion Dublin in his prime, the ball bounced off my head but instead of falling into the path of an on-rushing Darren Huckerby, it looped over the boundary rope behind me for six.
For good measure, the batsman that I ‘dropped’, went on to make a match-winning innings.
Now, I appreciate that neither of these moments compare to having your humiliation play out in front of millions in the Champions League Final, but strip away all of the hype and media fuss and it’s still just a game of football.
Having shared my own bloopers, I’d love to hear your own ‘magic moments’ and sporting lowlights.
Over to you.