The Corner Kick.

The Corner Kick.

 

“F*** off you daft bastard,” Jim Collier felt the hairy arms of his opponent grasp him across the chest as he wrestled him away, and battled his way across the crowded penalty area.   He was desperately trying to get into the correct position to head in the equalizer when the ball came across.

With five minutes to go and 1 -2 down against their local rivals this was no time to stand on ceremony; when that ball was delivered he needed to be on the corner of the six yard box.   This ploy had been worked on at several training sessions during the week.

      Jim’s job was to arch his run from the far post area and arrive at his designated position as the ball arrived, but how the hell could he get there with this hairy gorilla clinging on to him?   It seemed that these days the referees’ turned a blind eye to all the shenanigans that went on inside penalty areas.   Now in the twilight of his playing career, he would never have had to put up with the grabbing and pushing at corner kicks when he had started out; the referees in those days would not have put up with this nonsense; they would have sorted it out by awarding penalties; no messing!   These modern referees appeared to have gone soft and very rarely punished players who fouled at corners.

“I hope ‘Ding Dong’ can shake off his bad patch and get a decent delivery in this time”, he muttered to himself, as he watched his teammate, Freddy Bell; saunter across towards the corner flag.   “As for the Bosnian, I hope to Christ that he remembers what to do.   You never know with these bloody foreigners, they nod their heads as if they understand what you are saying, but often do the complete fucking opposite.”

During the fifteen years that Jim had played in the Premier League he had witnessed many changes, the massive influx of foreign players, being the most salient.   Although he recognised that the game had benefited substantially from their presence, there was a part of him which regretted the lack of opportunities afforded British youngsters to come through to top level.   They were often held back from being given a chance in the first team because of the imported players being there.

     Jim was fully aware of the importance of getting at least a point out of this game.   Beside the fact that it was a derby and that local pride was at stake for supporters and players alike, the club was in dire straits near the bottom end of the Premier League.  Relegation would prove financially disastrous for all concerned.

On the personal front, he had recently been through a messy divorce, after twelve years of marriage.   His ex-wife, Celia, had gained the custody of their two children plus their luxury home and other financial benefits, therefore, the settlement had dug deep into his retirement ‘nest egg’.    To make things worse for him, he was out of contract at the end of the season, but fortunately, the Club’s Chief Executive had promised him an extension to his current deal, just as long as they avoided relegation.

Therefore, for Jim, more than the result of this one game was at stake, however, if he could find the back of the net off this corner kick, then it would go some way to alleviating his worries…

The short stocky frame of Fred Bell trotted over to deliver, what could be the last throw of the dice for his team, he knew that time was running out, but didn’t make haste to reach the corner flag.

“Make it a good one Freddy,” a female voice pierced through the hubbub of bellowing supporters enveloping that particular corner of the pitch.   There was a more than a hint of desperation in her plea, reflecting the feelings of the thousands of home fans who could feel this game ebbing away from them.

“No worries,” he answered, waving back in her direction, but knowing that his words would not be heard above the roar reverberating around that part of the stadium.   He pulled his bright yellow shirt out of the front of his black shorts, using it as a towel to cover his face and wipe the sweat from across his brow.   He wanted to be totally calm when he delivered what could be their last chance of gaining an equaliser.   They had practiced their set plays all week; corners being high on their priority list.   Of the three variations which they had worked on he had already made his mind on which he was going to deliver, he would make the designated disguised signal once he had arrived at the corner flag.

     Fred had by no means played well and considered him-self fortunate not to have been subbed off earlier in the game.   He had been reprieved mainly because two of his teammates had been injured during an earlier phase.   The Boss would probably have reasoned that a goal from a set play looked like the only way that they would score and with Fred being the dead ball specialist, the Boss would have been reluctant to take him off.

Hitting a stationary ‘dead’ ball was a large part of Fred’s success in the game.   Obviously, at Premiership level you had to possess all the techniques and skills to make a major contribution to the team.    However, over the years he had specialized in accurately striking the ball from free kicks and corners; this making him a valuable asset.   Unlike many of his teammates and peers, Fred continued to take an interest in the psychology of football performance; during his earlier days at the club he had spent time with the Sports Psychologist learning the various methods of visualisation.  This he found particularly effective at ‘closed skill’ situations such as taking corners and free kicks.   Already, in his mind, he could see himself hitting the ball on to a spot about two yards in from the corner of the six yard box, the place where Jim Collier would be arriving.

The Bosnian International Senad Stilic occupied the very spot which Fred had in his minds eye, however, Stilic had an opponent keeping him company, but, at the right moment he would relinquish his place and allow Jim Collier to arrive and fill it.

     Senad felt his opponent tugging on his shirt as he stood motionless waiting for Fred to deliver the cross from the corner flag.   As with many players from the Balkans, his genetic inheritance ensured that he stood well over six feet tall, thus gaining him an advantage when it came to aerial dominance.   He actually fancied his own chances of getting a strike on goal from the corner, thus saving the day for his team, but he put the thought to the back of his mind when he reminded himself that big Jim Collier wouldn’t take kindly to him if things went wrong.

Having been born just prior to the Yugoslav wars, which involved bitter ethnic conflicts, leaving general chaos in its aftermath, he had profited from this conflict in an ironic way.   Many youngsters from his generation, bereft of the privileges enjoyed by their West European peers, played street football for as many hours as their over stressed seniors would safely allow.   This environment not only sharpened Senad’s blossoming football skills but also provided a mental toughness which would benefit him for a life in professional football.   His further development evolved through the ranks of his home town team Rudar FC of Kakanj, from where his performances in the lower leagues brought his talents to the notice of one of the larger Bosnian Clubs; Olimpic from Sarejevo.   At Olimpic he made rapid progress, culminating with his selection to the National team of Bosnia, and in the process alerting several big clubs in Italy and Germany, but in the end the glamour of the EPL drew him to England.

The club’s Coaches had spent several hours during the week working with Jim, Fred and Senad on scoring from corners.   They had gone over and over on the timing of the runs from Senad and Jim but most importantly, the pinpoint delivery from Fred.   The three of them had worked firstly in drills, then, by gradually adding opponents, they made the exercise more realistic.   The three of them felt confident that they could pull off a strike on goal from one of their corner kick routines; the big question was, whether or not the ball would go into the net?

      Fred placed the ball carefully on the outside rim of the corner crescent, making sure it was within the legal limits, knowing full well that the nosy, eagle eyed, line official would be checking him out.     His positioning of the ball, on the perimeter of the crescent, allowed him the best angle to execute the perfect out-swinger, this was designed to land precisely on an area at the corner of the six yard box where Jim Collier was due to arrive.  Fred took a brief moment to visualise his technique before approaching the ball at the correct angle, and with the inside of his right foot he struck it slightly off centre, with an upward trajectory.    The ball veered away from the goal line and headed towards the edge of the six yard box where big Jim was expected…

The penalty area was a cauldron of activity with players of both teams scampering around searching for a small advantage which would allow the defenders to clear the ball away from danger, or for the attackers to find the space to stick it in the net.

      Jim Collier freed himself from the clutches of his marker by pushing him fiercely in the chest, and in the process gained the half yard necessary to slalom his way across the edge of the six yard box avoiding the other skirmishing players who were scrapping out their own personal battles.   He caught a fleeting glance of the sizable frame of Senad Stilic grappling with his Ghanaian marker and trying to free up enough space for him to attack….

Senad Stilic had positioned himself directly the corner had been awarded thus inviting an opposing defender to mark him.   His marker, the Ghanaian Reuben Adjei, stood several inches smaller than him, however, his robust physique suggesting that it could be difficult to escape him.   As Fred prepared to take the corner the Ghanaian almost wrapped his arms around Senad.

“Piss off shorty,” he retorted sarcastically in his broken English, “you’ll need a ladder to reach me.”   Adjei stared sombrely back at him, his dark eyes giving no indication as to what was going on in his mind, but he still hung onto Senad both of them obscured from the Referees view due to the heaving, congested, overcrowded penalty area.

     Senad looked towards the corner and spotted Fred’s head go down in the process of striking the ball.   This was his signal!

“Zbogom budala,” he yelled the insult in his own language as he released himself from the Ghanaian’s grasping arms and clawed himself away leaving Adjei in hot pursuit, but more importantly the space for Jim to covet.

The ball arrowed away from Freddy Bell’s right foot and curved towards the six yard box, Senad Stilic had bolted from his place, leaving a small gap, but large enough for the hurtling figure of Jim Collier to fill.   Collier leaped like a salmon, jack-knifed his body to thrust his forehead toward the flying missile.   With a slight twist of his neck the ball rocketed off his head and zipped past the despairing defenders, leaving the goalkeeper clawing at fresh air as flew inside the top corner of the near post and smacked into the back of the net.

The stadium erupted with the roar of a breaking thunderstorm as thousands of home supporters hugged and embraced each other in a frenzy of delight.

    Jim Collier untangled himself from the melee of contesting players and ran, arms aloft, towards the corner flag hotly pursued by his jubilant teammates, tumbling him to the ground and climbing all over him, overflowing with elation and relief….

Epilogue. 

Jim’s goal was enough to gain a point in the club’s battle against relegation, and possibly earn him an extension to his contract, but more importantly, there was a sense of belief throughout the club that a corner had been turned and that things were on the mend.  It was as if a veil of mist had been lifted and a stream of sunlight had begun to infiltrate the whole spirit of the club; things were going to get better…

As is often the case in football, the success of one incident, the corner kick, was the catalyst which would spark a revival of the clubs fortunes and provided the means to further future success.

 

 

Based on true incidents; characters names are fictional.

MT