There are a few feelings that most of the people will never have the chance to experience on their own skin. Entering a stadium surrounded by the overwhelming roar of 60,000 people is one of them.
This particular moment is something really hard to describe. I felt stuck, somewhere in between the crushing fear and all the adrenaline that is ready to kick in for the match. Those moments, when teams enter the field and start reaching their positions, seems to go by in slow motion. My heartbeat was pounding as loud as the crowd, and so was the sound of my heavy breathing. I looked at the other men on the field, and I could tell that they were feeling the same way, as I did, just like a racing horse waiting for the signal to unleash all its power.
It does not matter how many times you do this, there is no getting used to the unsettling calm before the storm. Everything around us on the field is a big, noisy blur. The voice on the loud speakers, the flashing billboard with all the sponsor logos moving from side to side, the chants of the crowds…everything is so present, yet so distant when you find yourself right into the eye of the hurricane.
Then, just like an alarm suddenly waking you up from a deep R.E.M. sleep…the kick-off.
Everything is now gone: the crowd, the music, the billboards…. the only thing that matters is movement.
Being a goalkeeper requires thinking forward and being able to anticipate everything that happens on the playing field. My eyes are constantly focused on the ball and on every single player on the field. I try to read muscle movements, fear levels and motivation. Each one of the athletes playing for the opposite team is like an open book, even more so than my own teammates.
The game keeps getting closer and closer, and I can feel the tension rising. A moment ago, the ball entered the penalty area, and now it is suddenly flying towards the net as fiercely as a cannonball. This is a crucial fraction of a second; I must not let the fear get the best of me. While my natural protection instinct urges me to close my eyes and cover my face, my training tells me to look straight and jump. I can feel the ball hitting on my elbow, and I know that I managed to deviate the hit, but not for long. The ball bounced back close by and the skilled opponent striker set out to take advantage of a breach in our team’s defense. I am still on the ground, rushing to get into position again, just as the striker’s powerful shot bring the ball on trajectory again. There is no time to think this through, so…I just dive.