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Will those fields ever be clear and dry?

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It’s not all that often it gets scary on a soccer field.

All these years and I’ve only seen a couple of people carried off for medical attention, only one ambulance, a couple of serious-looking knee injuries when people fell down on a plant-and-turn without contact from another player.

There was the incident a couple of summers ago when someone’s grandmother watching an adjacent game decided the best route to the washroom was walking with a cane directly through 22 very large and fast 15-year-olds. I was going downfield with the striker carrying the ball when she suddenly had her eyes pretty near pop out of her head, and threw on the brakes; I turned, gasped, whistled, and everyone froze as the spectator ambled through our match.

So a while back I’m about to whistle in play for the second-half kickoff when I see a baby on the sideline. Like, literally on the sideline, a tiny toddler who I bet had not been walking more than a few weeks was standing on the line, mom sitting in the stands a few feet away. And I have to go over and point out to the mother the obvious dangers from the ball and the players, and ask her to remove the baby from the field.

So she puts the baby in a snuggly, and sits in the first row of the bleachers, maybe three feet away from the play.

The adults who are sitting there texting, they’re pretty much on their own. If they can’t figure out that burying your face in your phone isn’t an invitation to get a ball drilled into your head or have two thundering bodies collide and crash into your lap...

But speaking as a father, I would never have put our kids in that situation when they were tiny.

Sigh.

An adult soccer player I know proposed an idea one day after yet another bout of complaining to me about referees: she thinks players should be able to give referees a yellow card based on their performance.

In this case, she’d probably show the yellow card to the ref while he/she was getting out of his/her car prior to the match, but, still...

Among things I’d never seen on a soccer field that happened recently... back in the day when I was coaching, we sometimes would go for goal on the kickoff in indoor soccer, but it never worked. I saw it recently, player kicking off went for goal, carried right over the keeper, astounding everyone in the place.

Seguing smoothly...

No, coach, I am not eating Rice Krispies on the pitch during the match. That’s just my knee.

And moving along...

Player comes off after the match, walking with her mom, says to me, "Can I borrow a dollar? I’ll pay you back, promise."

And the mom laughs, and I say to her, "Only a dollar?" Had her child said, "May I borrow", I might have coughed up a loonie on grammatical principle.

And as my mind wanders...

To the father who called me a jerk: sir, your child is playing at a skilled, competitive level, and three seasons in should know how to make a throw-in. Do you think that when you go to a tournament in Minneapolis, they’ll have do-overs if a player jumps in the air with both feet, or twists herself into a pretzel throwing the ball in a direction directly opposite to the way she’s facing?

Harumph...

I keep running into people in the education system who are involved in soccer. There’s one principal who plays whom I see occasionally, and just this month I interviewed a student and a mother who recognized me from doing their matches. Despite that, they still talked to me nicely. I interviewed an educator — no hints, the story hasn’t run yet, don’t want to hand it to other media — who said he reads my blog and remembers me doing some of his son’s matches. Now that his son is getting beyond youth age, the dad is thinking that gosh, yes, maybe he would like to try being a referee. He says he knows what he’s getting himself into.

Seguing again...

It’s (theoretically) only a few weeks until outdoor season, and the municipal election is not until October, but it’s never too early for candidates — and especially incumbents, who have the power to act now — to promise to have clean toilets at every outdoor soccer pitch. Biffies are fine, as long as they’re clean, and stable in a heavy wind, and don’t turn into saunas in the sun.

And in case the sun has come down before you’ve left the park, and a vampire comes at you, you can always push the port-a-pottie over and crush the vampire... biffy the vampire slayer...

But at my age, I can’t keep my attention on one topic for very long...

I was at UW back in the day when a horde of dignitaries turned the sod for the new indoor complex, and I was surprised when told that they wouldn’t be encroaching onto the roadway of either or both of Spence and Young streets, even though they said the indoor surface could open up into a full-sized field; the site just didn’t look that big to me. And now that construction is coming along nicely — given, of course, that all construction projects are on time and on budget — I can see that they were right, that it is quite a big place.

If the snow ever melts...

Guess I’d better get my soccer bag ready for outdoor season. Sugarfudgeheckdarn, this bag was really, really heavy to lug around all winter, I’m amazed my shoulders still work — how much can a whistle and a pair of cleats weigh?

Sifting through... oh, OK, here’s a water bottle, a really big water bottle, a really big full water bottle. I guess that weighs a gram or two. Yeah, OK, so they have water fountains at UM, but, you know, maybe the pipes might freeze there... oh, here’s a second water bottle, again really big and again full. Guess those grams are adding up... and this level-60 sun block, that’s big too, and that’s full, must have thought back in October that you never know when ultraviolet rays will be vicious out in the parking lot at 7:20 a.m. arriving for those Saturday and Sunday matches... can’t be much else in here — oh, right, here’s this ginormous can of bug spray, and it’s full too. Don’t get sarcastic with me, you never know when the bugs will mutate and morph and adapt to winter, and hatch up inside the complex...

Finally...

The Chief Peguis Trail extension happened long after I left the city hall bureau, but I gotta say it’s great for getting to soccer pitches in the northeast from my office, be it outdoor fields in Transcona or indoor fields at Gateway and Skylight, or even the one night I went out to Tyndall.

Zip across Mountain to Main, and then take the extension to Gateway or Lagimodiere in three or four minutes.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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