If a boy can handle the ball with his hands, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s doing it right. My coaches have always emphasized that it’s important to keep learning and work hard, because bad habits are hard to break. Quality and precision have to win over quantity.
However, nobody had to tell me not to fool around outside the pitch. Football has always been everything to me. I’d never risk that. If I managed to combine football practice with school and homework, which was not always easy, I considered it to be a good day. It was no longer enough to do the homework quickly during recess; now I was at secondary school and I had to study for exams. I didn’t always have enough time so I got some B’s on my report card.
Girls? Discos? Alcohol? Fooling around? For a long time, I had no idea I was actually in the throngs of puberty. I’m no saint, but forbidden fruit never had any appeal for me. Beer? No more than one. I’d probably choose a sweet cocktail instead, but not many of those either, I wanted to be ready for next day’s work. Cigarettes? I tried one and I didn’t like it.
The only change that I did notice were the girls who started noticing me. I was taller than most guys so I noticed girls looking at me more. I admit, it wasn’t exactly unpleasant, but I had no time for dating. Even if something was in the air, it fizzled out quickly. We’d arrange a date, I would forget about it – maybe even on purpose – and run to my football practice, and that was it.
We were playing in the junior league with Plzeň, I was in the second year of secondary schools and had a head full of dreams. “You need to hold on, you’re almost there,” I’d repeat to myself at night, when I turned off the lights and lay in my bed. I’d close my eyes and imagine playing as a goalkeeper for the national team at the Under-16 European Championship.
I wasn’t a little boy anymore. I was beginning to understand why my coaches were relying on me. I was regularly invited to join the national team, which was a great experience. We had the same shirts and the same prestige as the senior national team, the guys I admired: Srníček, Novotný, Němec, Siegl, Kuka, Šmicer, Bejbl…
When you’re wearing the shirt with the symbol of the little lion on your chest, you somehow feel more elegant, more distinguished. When the national team met, there was no shouting from the coaches, no “Run, run! You’re young, so show us what you’ve got.” None of that. We talked about tactics, about our opponents, about motivation, about future.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!