When you round up 30 footballers, all aged 75 or over, give them half a green jersey, half of them a yellow jersey and play a game, two things are in abundance: smiles and old jokes.
On Wednesday afternoon at Hovley Soccer Park in Palm Desert, such a match was staged. It was part of a 70-plus football tournament that featured around 100 men and seven teams. These veteran footballers go to similar tournaments all over the West – Stanford, San Diego, Glendale, Las Vegas – and continue to play the sport they love.
And they always play with a lot of skill and a lot of tenacity. They are not only benevolent old men, happy to be outside. These games are physical, involve a lot of profanity, and are as competitive as any sport you will see.
In Wednesday’s round robin, there was a mid-term break to play a special game. While the league was restricted to players aged 70 and over, this game was restricted to players aged 75 and over. So these young whippers who were only between 70 and 74 had to sit down.
Organizer and player Dick Jover said he had never heard of such a match and wondered if it could be a world record.
“I contacted the Guinness Book folks and they weren’t interested at all,” he said, laughing and shrugging his shoulders.
After the 30 players aged 75 and over were split into two teams (the oldest player was 87) and the jerseys were distributed, the players repositioned the goals. Not closer to each other, but, surprisingly, further apart. While round robin matches are played on half a soccer field, this special match was played on a full regulation field with three officials. The idea was to keep everything as official and in line with FIFA rules as possible.
The whistle sounded, each team had 14 players and a goalie, and off we went. The sense of football was at a very high level, although the speed and power were just whisperings of the roar with which these men were playing in their prime.
While the game was pretty serious (with the exception of a team called Team Viagra), the behind-the-scenes chatter was very comedic. Remember, not only were family and friends watching, but every league player over 70 but under 75 was there too, both rooted and roasting their slightly older peers.
Here is a sample:
“Hey, Jimmy! I want to take a picture of you with the ball, but my camera doesn’t pick up things that move so slowly.”
“You can yell instructions at him as much as you want, he’ll forget them in about 30 seconds. (The guy standing next to him adds) If he hears them first.”
“OK, team photo after. Guys lying on stretchers in front, wheelchairs in the middle and crutches in the back.”
Without being discouraged by the friendly jabs, the fighters played hard, if not fast. And while the game was 80% messy and 20% Messi, there were some obvious strengths. The star of the day was Gabriel Basabe, 82. He was a former professional in Spain and now lives in Canada. The little speedster still had a lot of pizzazz in its gait as it squeezed in and around its heavy counterparts.
Indeed, his persistent ball control paid off in the first half, when he nicely crossed a ball in the foot of Patrick Futvoye for a goal. It turned out to be the only goal of the game, which was dominated by defenses.
A competitor on the sidelines at halftime asked Basabe what vitamins he was taking and could he have some please. He brushed it aside with a laugh. Later, however, in a post-game interview, he told me about his secret of Perpetual Youth.
“Every night before a game you have to eat half a teaspoon of baking soda with half a lemon. That’s it,” he said. “You can’t have food in your stomach for two hours before this too, remember that. It’s a real secret. You can do it. Anyone can do it.”
Note to self: add baking soda to your shopping list.
Scorer Futvoye, when asked to describe his reorientation with his left foot perfectly placed in the side of the goal, again enlisted the help of a member of the Peanut Gallery: “I can describe Patrick’s goal. . He was still, didn’t know what had happened, then the ball hit his foot and went into the goal. “
“No, no. I had to place it,” Futvoye said, defending his honor. “It’s amazing how nimble some guys are still, not me, but it’s a lot of fun there. There’s a camaraderie. We see each other all the time at different tournaments, and we drink and joke together. “
When the final whistle sounded after two 30-minute halves and handshakes and hugs were shared, the exhausted players received a well-deserved round of applause and an even more well-deserved comfortable rest in a comfortable garden chair in the shade. The final stats showed only one goal but also hundreds of smiles, thousands of laughs and another impressive number.
“No injuries, no injuries, it was remarkable,” Jover said. “I guess with these guys maybe it’s not that remarkable because they take care of themselves and they know how to play in themselves.”
Jover considered the game a smash hit, and just as he was explaining how many people were thanking him for the opportunity, a man interrupted us to ask, “Hey Dick, are you going to do it again next year?” I am 74 years old. and I want to play in this game. “
Oh, the exuberance of youth.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Contact him at (760) 778-4627 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter (@shad_powers), Instagram (@ shadp40) and on Facebook.