I don’t know how many times I had to go to hospital after a match or training session, I’ve lost count. Goalkeeping is not for the weak of heart. I’ve had my nose broken five times, several concussions, bruised elbows, a tear in my shoulder, dislocated thumb – all that while I was still a teenager.
In fact, having a dislocated thumb was quite funny. Imagine a blown-up latex glove, one of those disposable medical gloves doctors use for examinations. That’s how my swollen left hand looked when I was little over thirteen years old.
How did it happen? Well, on Friday practice I wanted to save a cross from the side, but instead of punching the ball I struck a teammate’s head. My thumb was rammed into my hand, it was a terrible pain, something the goalkeeper has to count on. You can be as careful as you want, but you can never avoid all injuries. You can’t shy away from tackles, because if you do, it will come around and bite you in the ass. But I’ve already talked about this kind of goalkeeping Murphy’s Law, haven’t I?
What to do when you’re playing an important youth league match two days later in České Budějovice and have a badly swollen hand? České Budějovice were on the top of the table, we were three points behind them in second place. We needed to win to catch up with them and win the title.
I can’t make it, I can’t even feel my fingers,” I sobbed when I got home.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to go with the guys, they’ll make it without you,” my dad said, trying to console me.
For two days, I kept my hand in a bucket of ice, but in the meantime my hand had swollen into a giant ball and my fingers were just five little buttons sticking out of it. There was no way I could fit it into a glove.
Even so I went to České Budějovice with the guys. I didn’t want to leave them hanging. My hand was numb, as if it was wooden, but we had to keep that secret from the opponent. I slacked off during warm-up and just pretended I’m doing my utmost, it was hilarious. Back then we had no injections for pain relief, and so the assistant coach stood behind the goal with a cooling spray in hand. This spray was called Kelen and every football club had it in their first-aid kit, from amateur sides in the smallest villages to professional league clubs. When you spray Kelen on the skin where it hurts, it cools it and makes it numb. And you have a snowy film on the skin for a while. But most importantly, the pain goes away. Which was precisely what I needed so that I couldn’t feel my poor swollen hand.
P.S. Next week - Chapter 34
First time in the national team. Well, almost. …