I can't go anywhere around here without intruding on a soccer game. (An American that calls it football is almost certainly battling a current of pretentiousness – watch for them to blink.) All the little alleyways that sprout off the main arteries crisscrossing the medina have an active game in progress, day and night. Often, these are the really young kids, the under-ten set. I imagine mama has set their boundaries: full freedom in the twisting veins, out-of-bounds at the main thoroughfares where the flow gets heavy with chaos and potential trouble.
There is no choice but to interrupt the game - shit is narrow. First priority is protecting Josie’s pregnant belly as the game stops for nothing, no injury stoppage, no extra time. She's been clipped before, so have I. I don't blame them, if they stopped for every passerby it wouldn't be much of a game. I think sometimes they aim for us. Hell, I wouldn't have been above it at that age, or ten years on. Softening the blow is the lack of a quality pumped-up ball. We walk right through the impact, melon-sized red plastic ball pinging off us without any visible reaction, so as not to give them any satisfaction. We try and cloak ourselves with the aura of a local, flavoring our composed walkthrough with an air of indifference, like all the other expats and tourists trying to level-step.
I've grown comfortable with the boys in my alley - familiar. I'll approach nonchalantly and then pounce on the ball if it is in my vicinity. Once I've gotten possession, I'll wave over a defender, with taunting if I have to, and try to dribble around with something impressive - nutmegging is all I really got. They humored me at first, but my limited skill-set was quickly sussed by superior football IQ's. Now, when I get the ball, they just stand paralyzed until I've had my fun. A peaceful demonstration.
The teenagers play on the beach. The "fields" are more elaborately drawn out than I've seen in other places, etched to an almost-permanent depth. They use "real" goals - futeca-sized. One end line almost reaches the opposite end line of the adjoining pitch – it’s tough to get down to the water. Reputations are at stake. There's lots of arguing. They all have six-pack abs.
The adults play in sunken concrete arenas that temporarily split the cornice/boardwalk into two. There are fans. Pace is fast. Skill level is high.
But yesterday I watched the most fascinating game. The venue was a huge asphalt slab just outside the Bab Marrakech entrance to the medina, which I have to cut across to get to la plage. What caught my eye on the approach, partially obscured by a car, was the way a striker made one deft nudge with the outside of his foot toward the center of the field, lowered a shoulder, and struck the ball without raising his head. At a target goal that was about a meter wide and constructed of piled-up shirts. Amazing focus and court sense/field vision. And so fluid. Though I have some history with soccer, most recently coaching a varsity high school squad in New Zealand, I don't claim to be an expert, but I do have hours of World Cup play still fresh in my memory. Robben, Van Persie, Benzema, Neymar, Messi - that's what it looked like - that polished. His shot was like a rocket, but careened wide. He gaped to the sky in disbelief, hands on cheeks, opportunity blown - I guess it was a "good look." As he jogged back up the field and into position with that efficient soccer-shuffle gait meant to preserve energy for the next explosive attack, he chastised his buddy for getting him the ball too late. There wasn't a player on the court older than nine.