I don’t need to repeat that I gave everything to football. I left home at six in the morning to go to voluntary practice at half past six, then I headed to school, then had another practice after school. I came home just before dinner. It was dark when I left and dark again when I returned. First tram number 2 to the terminal, then number 4 also to the terminal.
I could have skipped the morning practice, but I didn’t want to do that. I kept going there not only for my own benefit, but mainly because of Mr Žaloudek, who came to coach us at the Skvrňany elementary school.
Josef Žaloudek. The coach who trained Pavel Nedvěd! And he came to teach us, boys ten years younger than Pavel, too.
The training sessions were voluntary, if you wanted to come, you came, but nobody was forced to attend. Mr Žaloudek was there for us, young footballers aged eleven to fifteen, for one hour before school.
My alarm went off at 5:45. Riiiiing! I jumped out of bed, out of my pyjamas, brushed my teeth, grabbed my lunch, hauled my school backpack on my shoulders and off I went. The radio hadn’t even marked 6 am yet and I was out of the door. I lived my life in a hurry, but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. This is what helped me get this far. Self-discipline, drill, enthusiasm and will to train, my love for the game and Pepík Žaloudek, as his friends used to call him.
At half past six I was eagerly hopping from foot to foot in front of the gym. Mr Žaloudek himself brought the key and opened the door. I quickly changed into my sports clothes, worked hard for sixty minutes, played a spot of footie with the guys at the end of the practice, then showered and ran off to class.
Mr Žaloudek never treated as children, just some kids who came to kick the ball around. The fact that we turned up meant, without us having to say it out loud, that we want to grow, learn, study football. And so he treated us as very young professionals who want to improve their skills. He didn’t stand behind us with a whip, didn’t keep correcting us while we were doing exercises, didn’t scold us. If we did get a little bit out of hand, he just calmly reminded us: “If you want to fool around, go ahead, but I warn you, it’s not going to help you at all.”
I have to admit, sometimes he used saucier words, you’d have to know him. He always made short work of everything. Once he spotted a guy who was just messing around instead of doing exercise, and he started yelling at him: “What do you think you’re doing, you twat? Fuck this shit! Don’t even bother coming here next time.”
He had a splendid Plzeň accent, so it sounded more like “Wha’ d’you think you doin’, you twat?” I still hear that voice in my memories.
He hated slackers, but he treated us as equals. That was his life-long attitude.
When it came to goalkeepers, he only supervised us, he didn’t have to be with us the whole time, he just told us what exercises to do. We had our own little closet next to the gym, a small room with those mattresses that were used during gym classes when we were doing jumps. Imagine four walls, a space full of sports equipment and mats, and some very sweaty guys with gloves. Someone might think it wasn’t so pleasant in there, but we learned a lot. We threw the ball against the wall and learned to jump and save it, falling into wonderfully soft mats. We learned how to land from the fall, tested the flexibility of our bodies, learned how to leap, how to bounce, trained our reflexes. It was a great learning experience!
P.S. Next week - Chapter 38
I was lucky my mom was a seamstress. Let me explain why. …
Something hurts? Well, off to the goal with you! …