One of the things about going to live in Scotland for a year was that I would get the chance to be fully immersed in a football (soccer) culture. If you know me, you know that I have a huge passion for the beautiful game, having played it, watched it, and coached it for over 35 years. Football rules here in Scotland; it is the lead story on any media that revolves around sport and it is the topic of discussion when you put more than two males together. As I drive to school, I listen to TalkSport which is a radio station that does essentially what the name implies, yet 80% of the talk is football. On TV, I have Sky Sports News (the ESPN News equivalent) and again the coverage on it is overwhelmingly football.
I am also greatly enjoying the opportunity to play on a regular basis and Friday is my football day. Every Friday, I play during my 50 minute lunch period. A group of 5 to 10 staff members will play in the gymnasium for about 20-25 minutes, followed by a quick shower, and finish the teaching day. Twenty-five minutes does not sound like much, but with small sided games indoors, the pace is very quick and everyone gets winded quickly. It is quite fun and I have enjoyed the time getting to know other staff members besides the members of the Maths department.
Also on Friday, I play with a group of men that my exchange partner Graeme Cromb used to play with. They usually gather at Queen Anne’s high school (sometimes other places depending on the number of participants) on a turf field. Each week, Craig (the organizer) sends out texts to see who is going to play, people reply, and then the teams get set. We usually play 8 v8, but the sides have been larger and smaller. The ages of players range from the early 20’s to mid 50’s but that is just a guess. The talent level is quite good with most of the players’ touches on the ball and moves being better than mine. I am able to compensate some with my hustle and my “box to box” mentality, but playing here has definitely reminded me that my skills on the ball are lacking. Some games I leave the pitch feeling like I am this stupid American that just picked up the game and other times I feel like I have contributed extremely well, but I would not trade the fun playing at all. By the time I return to the house after the Friday evening game I am knackered (very tired), but I continue to do it every chance I get.
Last night, I went to left the house to play and the weather was typically Scottish for winter. There was a light rain and the temperature was around 34°. As we played, the temperature dropped some and it started snowing but it did not accumulate and we just played on. I was a little cold at first but once I got running around, I hardly noticed the cold even though I was wearing a long underwear top with a t-shirt over that as well as playing in shorts. It probably helped that I played quite well last night, scoring a couple of goals and getting a couple of assists.
All in all, I love being immersed in a football culture and for me personally, it is one of the highlights of the year abroad.