With the final whistle on the San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC faded into memory, I found myself standing in a long line of fans that were slowly filtering onto the Buck Shaw pitch.
Some were anticipating their chance to kick a ball almost the length of the field with nervous movement, while others had the swagger of one envisioning glory. My head filled with ideas on how I would celebrate my successful strike — would it be like Wondo swooping to the corner flag or like Khari flying around the field with outstretched arms?
The thought then jumped into my mind that I should make a running belly-flop of a dive akin to Diego Maradona in the buildup to the 2010 World Cup. Yes, the “emperor penguin sliding into the ocean” celebration is what it would be.
When I received the announcement last week that Earthquakes Season Ticket Holders would get the chance to kick a long distance goal and receive free renewals for the 2012 season, I felt a surge of excitement that matched closely with childhood memories of Christmas morning. In the cleverly named “Boot it like Bingham” contest, fans would be given the chance to shoot on goal from the same place on the field that goalkeeper David Bingham now famously scored from in the friendly with West Bromwich Albion.
Having been in the stadium to see the ball float from the top of one penalty area to the edge of the other and then bounce over the opponent ‘keeper’s head and into the goal, I was amazed at the feat (and feet) of the Quakes rookie goalkeeper. Subsequently watching the video on YouTube countless times, I really wished that I could do that too.
The line of hopeful season ticket holders curled around the corner flag and up the sideline as contestant after contestant moved into position and tried their luck. While still keeping one eye on the action, I stretched my legs on the signboards that line the field, just like the Earthquakes players do before being called by coach Frank Yallop to make a substitution appearance. Guys in line in front and in back of me were joking about not wanting be the first person that evening to slip and fall on their backside while at the same time shanking the ball way off target.
We rallied around the common cause of succeeding at what we quickly realized would be a daunting task by comparing our best strategies. The ball sounded heavy, so it was decided to hit the ball lower and harder. Perhaps topspin was the way to go, so as to get more lift on the ball and more travel toward goal. One fellow even contemplated throwing away conventional kicking strategy and nearly decided to just toe-poke the ball as hard as he could. For every person around me, a different plan of attack was hatched.
Within 24 hours of getting the contest announcement, I was ready to begin practicing for the big opportunity. After finally accepting the extreme difficulty of kicking a ball 90 yards, I collected all the soccer balls I had in the house and headed off for the park across the street with my wife and dog. She promised to shag all my missed attempts on goal, and the dog simply looked forward to chasing me around the field as I repeatedly tried to capture some of that Bingham magic. Later, when we returned home, I watched some videos on the internet on how to kick a soccer ball really, really far. By Monday, I even checked out a book from my local library on the best kicking techniques.
Nothing in the countless years I had been playing recreational league soccer had prepared me for this challenge, but I looked forward to giving it my best shot on Wednesday night.
Now at the front of the line, it was just me and the ball and an incredibly long expanse of grass that doesn’t look nearly as daunting when sitting in the comfort of the stands. David Bingham really kicked a ball that far? I glanced at my phone to read an encouraging text from my wife wishing me good luck and reminding me that I could do it. I flashed instantly on what I’d learned through many decades of playing soccer, and tried to reinforce with a weekend warrior’s crash course training session. I would plant my foot a ball’s length away from the target, lean over the outside of my left foot, swing my right leg like a golf club into the ball, and hit the sweet spot just below my laces. I shuffled forward and visually measured up the distance to the ball. A quick hop to loosen more legs and I began my assault on the target.
Getting ready for Wednesday evening’s Quakes versus ‘Caps game, I eschewed my normal choice of dress shoes and slacks and instead went with some carefully seasoned soccer boots and a comfortable pair of shorts. Instead of dedicating my entire dinner budget to the planned purchase of a box of Kara’s Cupcakes, I made sure to eat a protein bar and chug a sports drink for proper nutrition and hydration. As I drove down Highway 101 to San Jose, I envisioned a successful kick and a perfect follow through, with the flight of the ball carrying across the field and bouncing into the south side net. Minus the bright fuchsia goalkeeping kit, I pictured it all happening just like David Bingham’s kick against the Baggies.
I focused on my feet and the ball as I quickly approached the edge of the penalty area and the waiting Jabulani ball. Five steps away, then four, then three, and I suddenly felt the adrenaline and excitement of the moment. Was I too close or too far away from the ball? Would my plant foot hold steady, unlike Joe Cannon’s on that early second half goal kick earlier in the evening? Past the point of no return, I stepped next to the ball and swung my leg with everything I could muster. I didn’t make the best of connection to the target, and immediately knew that I would need some incredible intervention to get the ball all the way to the goal. I pirouetted in anguish above the space where the ball once stood, and I watched plaintively as my effort drifted past the center line and harmlessly toward the sideline. I laughed to myself at the folly of thinking I could so easily strike a ball 90 yards, while simultaneously ruing the fact that perhaps with just the right touch…
Over 200 Season Ticket Holders accepted the challenge to “Boot it like Bingham” at Buck Shaw Stadium Wednesday night, and despite the attempts of all those vying for the free 2012 season tickets, only one person managed to kick the ball all the way to the endline. Just one ball traveled the required distance, but it ultimately rolled just wide of the target. The crowd that stuck around after the match was abuzz at all the activity, but left the stadium without witnessing a single prize winner.
No worries however, as no one left unhappy after all was said and done, and everyone gained that much more appreciation for the amazing 90-yard goal scored by goalkeeper David Bingham.