By W.T. tuqMairtin, an excerpt from the novel “Povs In Kyrum”
We jogged over to the farthest of the four full-field pitches. In the wingers group was Dehm Bæsknuh (the wingers coach), then Oadvee, Mae’dohs, Gorseithoo, and komAhnsesh from the first team, plus Dohbee’ae, tewkKyoo’ihf and Ahr’pahn’ro from the reservers and myself. We were joined by 4 trainers. It wasn’t lost on me that this was a collection of people that included at least 5 individuals who had been capped by the Kyrum National Team — Bæsknuh having been an occasional starter in Kyrum’s famous 17,894 World Cup winning squad.
The trainers went to work immediately, setting up a square approximately 10 yards by 10 yards. Bæsknuh clapped his hands, “Ok, let’s do it. Dance in and out.” One player each got on a corner. Oadvee went to the center. A trainer kicked a ball to Dohbee’ae on a corner. She immediately one-touched it into the center to Oadvee, then Oadvee passed it to a corner following his pass. Dohbee’ae then moved into the center spot. Bæsknuh yelled, “That’s it. Pass and move. Pass and move.” He made a whistle call at me and pointed me to a corner, “Just rotate in, laddie.”
We did this movement for about 10 minutes, then one of the trainers stepped into the square to press us and try and win the ball off us. I was holding up, connecting clean, crisp passes. The collective rhythm and flow felt great. The fresh mountain air, scent of the cut pitch and fragrance of the garden felt calming and inspiring to breathe in.
Finally, Bæsknuh motioned and an additional trainer stepped in to press. As they did, the other two remaining trainers took up positions a bit aways from the square — one down the touchline, the other in the center of the pitch. Bæsknuh pointed at them and said “Exit to Meer’roll and Ed’dehvehr on the call. Though be in shape to receive the ball back.”
As we passed and moved, the two trainers pressing us, we shuffled our positioning a some to survive the pressing. Bæsknuh barked, “Pass… pass… pass.” The ball rolled to me, then he called, ”Exit!” Shit I thought. My pass to the center of the field was cut off and my back was to the trainer down the touchline. I received the ball and rolled it under my right foot, pivoting my body around. It was a smooth, suave turn. I released it down the touchline. Sure enough, the trainer received it and immediately returned it back… but not right back to me, to the position in the square where I had originally received my pass from. The space was vacant, I was supposed to be running there. Mae’dohs was running towards my own space in the center of the square. All this transpired in about 1-2 seconds. Sharp. Sharp. Sharp. That was the difference between me and the pros. I froze.
Fortunately Bæsknuh piped in to provide guidance, “Complete the triangle! Triangles and squares, sometimes circles, but always complete the triangle.” Somehow in the impulse of the moment, the instruction just made sense. From my earliest days of playing I always looked to create and counterbalance triangles. In the speed of play of the moment and once we changed the flow of the drill I lost my natural impulse. Bæsknuh’s prompt reminded me. I ran into the space just in time, stretching to contain the pass on my right boot. One of the trainers was closing me down, so after controlling the ball, I flicked a backheel pass into the corner behind me. The players and trainers let out an ah in either surprise or delight.
I stood there panting, nervously catching my breath. I’d almost been the first to fuck it up. I must admit, the ahing made me feel special. I talked to myself internally, “Come on Jhol, focus, stay in the game. Feel the rhythm. Ahgae. Ahgae. Ahgae.”
I squared up. Another pass was headed my way. The two pressing trainers were closing me down. Bæsknuh yelled, “Exit!” Damnit! My only option was to make a hard pivot and hoof the ball to the center. Bæsknuh waved his arms up, “Stop! Stop! Stop! Pause.” Everyone froze. He walked towards me, “Your decision here,” he grabbed one of the trainers about to close me down by the arm and walked her back about four steps, “your decision should’ve been made here. Look at your hips right now. You won’t complete this pass. It will be a very difficult pass for a central player to control.”
Normally, I would have felt low on myself, but there was something about Bæsknuh’s matter-of-fact tone. His manner was demonstrative. It was teaching. The way he walked back through time in the play, something about that was helpful. He got into my head and utilized my own perspective.
Bæsknuh then took it as an opportunity to give context to the drill. “Now yous all might be wonderin’ why we have a bunch of wingers starting off with a drill typically used for tuning up central midfielders. That’s because from now until the final whistle against Glawnjheur yous will be playing as central midfielders, just stationed out on the wings. We’re more interested in spreading the play across the field. Keeping Glawnjheur stretched. They tend to play across the field and stretch teams laterally, but they use the wings regularly to go forward — move from wings to forwards either diagonally or direct down the line to a wide-moving forward. We’re gonna use our wings to block their advancement down the touchline, then dump the ball central, and from the center use our center mids to hit our forwards moving into the channels. Of course in these movements, as we advance, you all will move up the touchline to provide wide support for the forwards. But you have to understand, as we’ve demonstrated here — you are primarily support for the internal structure of the team. Outside passing posts.”
Throughout Bæsknuh’s entire spiel he signed with his hands. Not body language, but the actual Kyeurmic signing. I picked up the few words I knew. It was a way of offering multiple modalities to learn. In between the signs he pointed at the parts of the field and trotted into those areas.
“Alright, back and at it.” Bæsknuh snapped us back into the groove. He gave me a positive nod and a smile. I took the ball and passed it on. We got back into our groove. Did that for just a little longer, then Bæsknuh had us rotate in as the pressers, with some of the trainers being the passers. By the end I felt tuned up on my passing, focus, rhythm, and movement.
After that we broke into what they called mixed-squads, and it was us essentially blending in with the other parts of the formation. So as wingers we worked with coordinating our passing, movements, and pressing with the defense, the center mids, and forwards. As we rotated, the other pods rotated too, so while we worked with the forwards, the center mids and defense worked together. It was an interesting approach. We built up modularly until we brought the whole team unit together at the end of training. Later, Kældurn told me that was the point in fact, to build up in iterations, small understandable fluency, until the whole unit worked. He said Koolaen had used this approach for a long time and for each game it allowed them to gradually build a unified strategy of play and to give the players and the pods the attention they need to understand and build on the execution. By working in the mixed-squads it allowed each pod to then appreciate the focus and needs of the other pods.
Another attentive element — while we trained Aer’loy’ee, Lo’o’toag, and another person, Dwah’ahlai, moved around, watched players and occasionally would talk to them. They’d either assess someone physically and give them suggestions, show them how to orient, position, or stretch their body. Or, Dwah’ahlai focused more on psychological and emotional aspects.
Aer’loy’ee at one point asked me in Mehthurnic, “how you holding up?” She knew I was hungover. And she reminded me I needed to keep my hamstrings loose and drink regular small amounts of water — that my hamstrings being a large area of muscle were very susceptible to dehydration given my “overindulgence the night before”.
Dwah’ahlai took me aside at one point when we were working with the forwards. I’d attempted to take on a trainer down the line playing in a wingback position. The ball got caught between us and we battled a dirty, messy duel. She won the ball, but fortunately it pinged out to tewkKyoo’ihf who collected it and reshuffled it along. Dwah’ahlai walked up to me gently, she softly patted me on the shoulder, “Myeurnawn.” She leaned towards me easily, “Don’t be a hero. Be a helper.” She pointed at and touched my heart, then gestured to her eyes and gestured around, out towards the field and the other players. “Be a helper.” Again, she drew the movement from my heart to the eyes and outward. “How many passes can you complete today? Tell me at the end of training.” That was all she said and moved on as gently as she had walked up.
I’d known playing as a defensive midfielder the past few years that in that position that is a key responsibility of the role; to help your team. But, something about Dwah’ahlai’s direction and presence resonated deeply with me. It is one of those moments that stays with you. A paradigm shift. The difference between the Pov and the Kroon — the Pov lives to justify their self, the Kroon, to justify their society, to help others. I recognized in that moment how much I yearned to be the latter, both in football and in life. I believe a key to the success and dominance of Kyeurmic football is their learning to play to help each other.
We’d been out there training in our pods and the mixed-squads for a little past an hour. Froy’yees stood with a few coaches in the center between the four fields. He had the drone pipes and gave out a loud tritone riff. Across the fields all the players and trainers stopped and looked his way. He raised his arm. Everyone migrated towards him.
Still holding the pipes at his side, with his devilish boyish grin, he spoke to the group, “It’s match time Koolaenatho! You know the rules. Two 30-minute halves. 100% intensity. Whoever wins rides bikes back into town. If you lose you walk, or run — your choosing,” he smiled and winked at them. “Now the first team has a record of 10-5-5 this season, and the reserves, the inverse of that of course. Ah’moan (Dahl’ai) will you do the honor of reading out and leading out the first team and Roo’oolda (Mehrnoath) please do the honor with the reserves. Now, let’s play some beautiful football, you wild ass banshees! Remember to create time, stop time, control time. Ahgae! Ahgae! Ahgae!” Froy’yees wildly patted the players closest to him with his one free arm and ushered and pushed them onwards. The players clapped in a unified, building rhythm, gathering pace as they neared the end, belting out Koolaen, Koolaen, Koolaen!
The starting eleven lined up with Ah’moan Dahl’ai. The reserves with illa Mehrnoath. I milled about amongst the trainers. Froy’yees found me. “Myeurnawn, let’s let you have some fun with the pros. Starting winger for the reserves, first half – right side.” He pulled me close with his free hands, the drone pipes squeezed against us, “As Dwah’ahlai said earlier — helper, not a hero.” He let go of my top and patted me on my arm. “Kick some ass old man! Do it for the rest of us oldies. Be a kid again.” He pushed me on.
I walked towards the reserves. Dohbee’ae, tewkKyoo’ihf, and Ahr’pahn’ro from the wingers pod was there, so too were veteran Koolaen substitutes Stahdyoad and Hoamsheet. Mehrnoath greeted me then introduced me to the team, “Jhol Myeurnawn welcome. Thanks for joining us. Everyone, this is Myeurnawn. Football writer from Povrai. Played at Nawntloo as a youth with Amelle. He’ll be starting winger, first half on the right side.” Mehrnoath turned back at me, “Now Myeurnawn, we do just 30 minute halves, but the intensity is all out. We’ll ask you to give everything you’ve got. That doesn’t mean run out of control crazy, but when you do run and make bursts, be prepared to give it all from the deepest parts of the lungs and heart. You know the feeling I’m talking about — where the flow of blood unifies with emotions and that energy carries you forth in rhythm and passion.”
I smiled. She was hypnotizing me. I did know the feeling. My admittedly tired body began to feel new, uplifted, “I know what you speak of, illa Mehrnoath .” I nodded, then made eye contact with others, looking around. The rest of the team looked at me. We all nodded and smiled in agreement.
Mehrnoath continued, “Tactics this week mirror what Glawnjheur do. Possession game, use full width, patience and timing, look for quick lateral switches and counterattack overloads down the wings. Wait for my counterattack call, hoolaekoy.” She looked around the team, looking us in the eyes, “Any questions?”
“Two pivots back or a single?” a youth player I was unfamiliar with asked.
“Ah yes, thank you Dawnyo. I have forgotten a standard. We’ll start with two pivots. We’ll go with a 3-4-3. We want those central four to hold a steady, anchored line, spread across the field. That should let us get the attacking wingers higher up and allow the central forward to have more space, alternating between the role of forward and attacking midfielder. Now, let’s line up and I’ll bring you on the field.”
We organized ourselves to the left of the halfway line, a few feet off the pitch. Mehrnoath stood in front of us on the field. She directed us into order in the line by traditional Kyeurmic numbers that reflect the positions. I was in the number 7 spot — indeed, the first half right wing. Dahl’ai was still talking with the first team squad. I looked around while half-consciously shuffling and stretching my feet and legs with my internal rhythm, with that excited buzz, ready to play. Many of the players were doing the same.
Up to that point just a few locals and villagers had been out watching the training, but as we lined up, throngs of a couple hundred people rounded the bend by the club house and started making their way towards our field. Typical Kroons, they brought drums and flutes and played a menagerie of folk, battle, and temple music. It was both lively and stoic. Noticeably, many of the crowd wore red tunics. A slightly smaller amount, about a quarter of them wore Koolaenic yellow.
Mehrnoath shouted out to a trainer, “Bring the shirts for the Reserves!” A young trainer jogged out to her with a perfectly folded stack of red shirts. Ah, I realized the red tunic folks were fans of the reserves. I was curious why they outnumbered the yellows.
I leaned into Dohbee’ae beside me, “Why more reds than yellows?”
“More locals on the reserve squad.” She pointed around, “And all these folks gathered here are mostly locals. You’re with the homegrown babes today, Myeurnawn.”
That felt like more my style and I was even more excited and inspired upon hearing this. Here I was experiencing home field advantage on a mountaintop in Kyrum.
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