THUNDER BAY – SPORTS – One is invited to imagine a young writer–as an English major–an eager grad student out of London University in England, taking up his first post as a sports journalist for a town’s local newspaper. On the shore of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. A geographical landmark, which initially drew him to our region.
His name is Willie. Last name: Shakespeare. So he’s Willie Shakespeare and simply adoring being a young man working in a new land within Canada connected to the Queen and the ancient Rule Britannia motto he observes, presently, from a very measurable distance.
Yet on this evening –his first weeks in Ontario on our very special O Canada Day–he slipped into a local market prior to his night shift to pick up vegetables to toss into a salad with luncheon meats enough to fix cold cut sandwiches to tide him over for the evening.
It was there where the staff shared kind overtures particularly wanting Willie to know they would cheer England in a semi-playoff World Cup Women’s Championship match versus Japan being staged in Edmonton. To begin in only a few hours. These greeters were particularly poignant to him, as the English had ousted Canada 2-1 only last week. Priming all of the British Isles for their team’s first entry into a World Cup advancing this far in over ten years,
Willie was rolling with an inspirational mode, attached to his evening’s work, as the main byline writer for this night. Which would likely provide enough space to accommodate a handful of sports clips into the next morning’s pages.
There were the Blue Jays playing baseball at home hosting the Red Sox of Boston. As well incoming clusters of scores and results from tennis back home at Wimbledon. In his mind Willie was gearing up for another flurry of Tennis scores (at Wimby, near London) to come in soon.
Willie was reminded of how much he’d once gained, in his craft, from a protégée in Britain. A benign editor who provided Willie with an original apprenticeship with the Times of London.
Willie would recall the senior editor’s advice, “if events unfold where you might compose an Op-Ed essay permitting you a chance to expand on a theme, to connect further with your readership, do not let it go by.”
One of this fellow’s opinion pieces was the result of England’s David Beckham being sent off with a red card in a World Cup Match versus Argentina in 1998. Sad as the particulars were that Beckham blunder held court with soccer scribes for years in its aftermath. His editor was one who continually cherished a journalist’s place in the annals of significant sports happenings. And a story he composed was later given an award in sports journalism.
So as Willie spent time at his desk watching wire stories with clusters of feeds with scores arriving from a multitude of venues; Willie’s heart kept searching updates on England’s women’s plight.
Though nothing could swerve his imagination from imagining England’s Women winning this semi-final. He was quite aware the second half was racing to its conclusion. The score knotted at 1-1. Both goals coming after sequences where defending players went to the quick of things a little irrationally. Resulting in penalty cards. Penalty kicks. Both Japan and England as two noble nations, in this incredibly awesome tug of war, would pot goals with their ensuing free kicks.
Overall it became a match ever onwards, reaching a paramount strata of equal-tide. Dashes for either side so lovely in their build up. So heart rendering when defensive plays dismantled either team’s gritty offence and energy going one way. Before a similar breakdown was witnessed as the other team claim the ball and headed back their way.
At last…as the night’s work was dove-tailing into its final resolve, results in baseball at the Air Canada Centre were amassed with other Major League scores chronicling a running Scoreboard page posting what was the latest. Juxtaposed with the All-England Tennis at Wimbledon.
Then right out of history’s anecdotes being forged in Alberta there were highlights of a final goal in the Women’s match. What was revealed were cumulative moments that so defied any practical prediction any observer might have dreamed of ever seeing.
Here was England’s defender Laura Bassett in a desperate attempt to clear a feverishly rolling ball as she ran back –only a half step ahead of a Japanese striker right with her–Bassett stretched out and kicked the ball toward her own goal and England’s keeper Karen Bardsley.
Anyone who has played soccer understands the ploy. Put the ball back–and out — over your goals chalk line bringing on a whistle. A respite for exhausted players in weather that felt absolutely wicked. Becoming tropically hot beneath a mid day’s glaring sun. A ball ‘put back’ would likely guarantee a re-grouping of England’s Lionesses in preparing to weather a Japanese corner kick.
Alas, in a stroke of cruel fate the ball Bassett had lifted back to her goal was about to glance off the crossbar. Then immediately ricochet straight down onto the field of play. As It did the ball hit cleanly once inside the dimensions of the goalie’s crease and in-and-out of the British goal. The ball was in!
Bassett’s clever thinking to avoid an opponent’s possession of the ball had floundered in a devastating blow of reality. Bassett had scored a goal on her own side. It was the final minute of regulation play. Soon the last whistle. England’s run to glory was ending. With a pain staking sharpness it was like a cruel knifing.
Bassett’s ‘own goal’ seemed so unwarranted in this gut wrenching climax. It would end an otherwise beautifully contested Championship game.
“It is almost criminal,” said an English player about to cover her face with a towel as tears rolled down her cheek.
But this was the stark-ness of a grand match in Edmonton’s finale. Japan had won. They were after all one of the foremost teams in the world. However, They were given the game. They would be immortalized as 2-1 conquerors.
But what a blotched paragraph in their Welsh coach Sampson’s miraculous chapters written with such amazing patterns of poignant wins on this road to soccer’s Olympus.
The Coach of Japan said, “It seems to happen this way. Where there seem to always be places where England will fall. It happens often with their nation.”
Players on both teams were riveted to Bassett’s fate. England’s demise was a monstrous haemorrhaging within the rip tides of play.
Why this ending? Particularly after playing with such sterling fortitude throughout their gallant run all through their passages in this tourney. Rising very profoundly being, earlier, ranked as No. 10 while taking a top-notch world team to this lengthy draw over 92 minutes of play.
With what had transpired, Japan celebrated in muted tones.
Willie Shakespeare kept making entries in his Sports writer’s notebook. His entries he hoped to be woven into an Op-Ed piece he was mulling over in his mind. He was quickly setting down guideline reactions to what had eliminated England. A rather maverick contingent of girls who had moulded a Nation with a freshness in their passion for a game. Their own game. Invented well beyond a century ago.
Willie blazed his pen across blank pages in tracing the tracks of the tears the British girls were shedding in the earliest hours of their suffering.
Within a very short time he had composed:
*** “fair is foul…foul is fair…” somehow the delicate experience, inside the annals of all this, just said that…for there was a fairness all over the pitch…before a more blessed final, winning goal would have–otherwise–hailed the day. A clearer route to Japan punching its ticket to the World Championship this weekend versus the USA.
***on the–extremely irreverent–and totally unintended ball driven into England’s goal,
Willie paused several times before scribbling, “out out, damn spot.”
Why couldn’t that have been the way?
***in terms of fortitude and stamina for England’s rising collective of young athletes in their prime, Willie jotted, “screw your courage (all) to the sticking place…”
***lastly he noted, “to be all…and end all…” that will be your Fate. England you must show them your pride in their momentous weeks as ambassadors of your sport inside a Commonwealth country on the other side of the Atlantic.
As Willie moved to turn off his little travelling radio there was a tune he knew that was almost ending now. It was Johnny Rivers singing his version of The Tracks Of MY Tears.
Willie couldn’t help thinking, for the moment, enough had been said and certainly would be written of these drastic memories. Where the crushing revelation, the outright exasperated
blow on this soccer stage, was almost like a Mack truck colliding with a girl–call her Elizabeth after England’s Queen Elizabeth. No just call her Beth. “That’s it,” Willie said out loud. “Me essay will be titled: MacBeth.”
“Nuf ced,” he conceded to himself in his Cockney accent.
As he turned putting out the last lights, in his Sports department’s cubicle, Willie knew this very contemporary English sporting history was now an ongoing saga that would merit the world’s analysis over time.
He also felt his creativity, following a good night’s sleep, would be capable of moulding one of his first essays linking both Japan’s drama of victory with the aching British hearts crushed in defeat.
The amazing tipsy-turvy grit inside the beautiful minds of its main players to connect his town’s the paper–and its readers–would be what so many British crusades in soccer had epitomized over time. Absolute grace under torrents of resilient pressure.