Molinari, warm up!

“Molinari, warm up!” is a true story, even though it happened some twenty years ago it still makes me laugh.

I have played, or I should say tried to play, football for about ten years. I started when I was seven, never been enthusiastic about this business, but since almost all my friends were already playing I decided to join myself.

Right from the very first days I have been playing I knew that I would never be able to make it to the top, I could barely control the ball and had no idea how to shoot and pass properly, not to mention the lack of coordination. After all I have never really liked football, neither playing nor watching, especially watching. I still cannot figure out why people would spend money and voluntarily stare for 90 minutes at 22 mannequins running after a ball.

Anyway, back to my football non-career; as one may expect I have always been the worst player in the team and I definitely spent most of the time on the bench than on the football field, at least during “official” matches, believe it or not I have been a substitute even during some training matches. The number printed on my uniform was always the 16, back then the numbers ranged from 1 (the goalkeeper) to 16 (the last of the substitutes, me).

The last two year I even got an upgrade, sometimes I ended up on the stand, I wasn’t even worth the bench any more. Frankly, I was better off on the stand, at least I didn’t have to watch the entire match.

There were very limited number of circumstances where I could end up on the field and play: either every one else was sick or injured, or the team was winning (or losing) by three or four goals.

One day, I don’t recall exactly year and month but it was cold and rainy, we (they) were playing a match away, near the city of Livorno. It had been raining all night at by looking at the field the day before as well, it was like playing in a pond.

Kick off, the match begins and they start to run after the ball, I am sitting in my usual position at the very corner of the bench so that I can lean against the side and relax. Ten minutes into the first half Andrea calls for the coach while rubbing his thigh, he seems to have pain in the leg and ask to be substituted. The coach panicked, he knows exactly what this means, me. The other two players sitting on the bench are not suitable for Andrea’s role (a defender) and they will probably turn out to be more useful to strengthen the median later in the match.

The coach urges Andrea to strive and to keep playing as much as he can stand. He agreed and run back to his position, and then the unthinkable happens, the coach turns toward the bench and says: Molinari, warm up!

It was more or less 15 minutes after the kick off, 25 + 40 minutes left to play. I have always been fond of muddy and harsh fields, it was more difficult for the other players to play at their best and I myself didn’t look as bad as I did under normal conditions. I started to warm up straight away and became excited for my chance to play. I started running along the side of the field, stopped for stretching, then I resumed the running and then stretching again, and so on. After every stretching session I increased the tempo to the point that I was literally running more than the players on the field. During all of this I always kept an eye on the coach and waited for him to call the referee and ask for a substitution, it never happened and first half was over.

The teams went in to the changing rooms for the break, I stayed out and kept warming up even though I had been already running a stretching for a good 25 minutes. During the entire break I never stop warming up, alternating sprints, stretching together with some exercises with the ball. I wonder what the bystanders thought when seeing me running up and down on an empty field and shooting the ball on a empty goal.

The referee whistled to indicate the end of the break and both teams exited the changing rooms to retake position on the field. I was a hundred percent sure that Andrea was already showering and that I should have taken his place as left defensive end, so I took position on the field and waited for the match to start, I was wrong.

Imagine what an embarrassment when Andrea got into the field and I needed to rush out toward the bench among the laughter of both teams and the bystanders.

Nonetheless, I didn’t stop my warming and persisted in doing sprints, stretching and all exercises I could think of (I may be wrong but I think I even did some press-up). At this point I wasn’t warm, I was literally boiling, totally drenched in sweat and covered in mud, not even the players were so worn.

Ten or fifteen minutes into the second half, after basically having played a 40 minutes parallel match I thought the coach had changed his mind and wanted to keep Andrea on the field and likely didn’t even notice me while warming up. I sat on the bench and drank some water, all of a sudden the coach turns toward me and says: “Didn’t I tell you to warm up? Why have you stopped?” “Marco, take off your jacket, you are going in!”

He calls the referee and ask for a substitution, Andrea goes out and Marco takes his place.

Now, another person would have taken the coach by the neck and thrashed him several times on the muddy ground. I didn’t, I just took my jacket and walked toward the changing room, I think I heard him shouting at me to come back and that I was not allowed to leave without permission but at that point I wasn’t listening, I was only longing for a well deserved hot shower.

In the end they lost the match, and I was glad.

On the way back home on the bus the coach started his usual analysis of the match and I, as usual, wasn’t paying the slightest attention. That particular day he noticed that instead of listening to him I was staring the void out of the window and guess what, he got mad. He started yelling at me (still I wasn’t even listening) and he even managed to assert that he was also my fault that the team had lost the match.

I think he had a point there, since my warm up was getting so serious, I could have entered the field, take possession of the ball and shoot a few times in the goal.

That was it, one of the funniest and at the same time saddest memory I have about me playing that filthy business (I don’t dare call it a sport).

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