With an athletic background peppered with false starts and late-in-life realisations and regrets, at the age of 47, against my better judgment, I joined Malmö’s Irish football club.
My prior organised sports experience consisted of three years bench-warming on a little league baseball team and a year and a half of high school rowing. Although I played street sports, my real interest remained comedy. Every kid at school could name their sporting hero and favourite team, and I could only name comedian Steven Martin and SNL.
Why does Malmö have an Irish football team? For the same reason Stockholm, Copenhagen or Seoul does. The Irish emigrate and take their sport.
In January 2013, a co-worker who is Malmö’s GAA football team’s coach, Michael Lynch, encouraged me to give it a try.
I showed up to training knowing little about pitch athletics and a general fear of sports instilled from my past failures. I cringe at the crack of a bat or the sight of balls flying.
So all I brought was the wisdom of age, the cumulative sum of my athletic failures, my brief endurance sports experience and my working class schlepping mentality.
My impulse to bail was stronger than my impulse to succeed.
I make my way into a men’s locker room filled with BO and sports talk.
Even though I celebrated all of Philadelphia’s sporting victories of the 1970s and 80s with the masses in the street, I still have no locker room sports talk and feel the same uncomfortable anxiety as I do when I pass an athletics field.
I fear not only being hit by the ball, but also catching it, or worse throwing it back. This exposes my lack of skills as sports talk reflects my lack of manliness.
In short, for all my Philly street sports playing, I am ball-challenged and sphere-phobic.
In the locker room, I try not to make eye contact as I scan the room for Michael – in the hope he might explain the presence of this 40-something, chunky American.
This moment recalled my experience as a tall eleven-year-old encouraged to try out for a basketball team. At the time Converse All-Star basketball shoes were all the rage. Yet I could only afford cheap Kmart sneakers referred to as BoBos.
While waiting for my lift to my first basketball training session, I stared down at my shoes. The hesitation offered a reprieve. Deciding to spare myself the indignity, I made my way home.
I know I would have ridden the bench and suffered brutal teasing and mocking. Perhaps my height might have saved me, but I doubt it. Yet this experience of retreat hung with me forever.
True, 90 per cent of success is showing up. Yet for me, the key isn’t just getting to the door, it’s pushing through my own pattern of defeat in order to get through that door.
As I enter the sports hall, I also enter the belly of the beast that is my mid-life crisis.