The end is set to arrive in benign fashion
So there he was, The Offsider, glad to see a new NAKFA Sevens twilight football championship kick off on Wednesday evenings last week.
It was something like the 16th time the annual event had been run since becoming established on the Far North sporting calendar back in 2003 (the year he had arrived to take over the role of local sportsbuster, only to be told no senior football was played in the area). Over the past decade and a half, he had often farmed the tournament out to others wanting to use it as a fundraiser — to set up a team, take some kids overseas, etc — but it had come home to roost for the past two seasons.
No worries there, but of some concern had been a drop in interest. For the first 14 years, demand had been sky-high and there simply hadn’t been enough room for everyone. But for those past two seasons, he’d literally had to bail folk up in order to try and get enough teams for both the social and serious divisions.
Maybe it had just reached plain old saturation point, but he wondered if that spell of apathy could be blamed on the Rise of the Device, with more and more people turning instead to social media and online gaming for diversion rather than the traditional pastimes.
Think a benign interpretation of The Terminator series where the Skynet corporation unintentionally allows artificial intelligence to develop to the point it actually turns on mankind.
The Offsider was one of those middle-aged latecomers to the party who’d been sucked into the abyss of social media over the past year, but that had only served to make him more determined to lay the gauntlet down to the local community.
He wasn’t alone. Two men from completely different backgrounds in two separate interviews on the wireless the other day spoke of the same thing. One, an Irish singer-songwriter, spoke of the disingenuous manner in which Facebook could be so alienating, for example with a user posting something, only to return the next day and end up crestfallen because it had received no likes. “Imagine if I was a 14-year-old kid,” the muso pondered.
Admittedly, kids in Kaitaia appear in no immediate danger of losing opportunities to be outdoors. For starters, there’s touch on Tuesday, athletics on Wednesdays, mini-mod league and social netball on Thursdays and mini-ball on Fridays. It’s the same for towns all over the Far North thanks to the determined efforts by various facilitators wanting to keep the old ways alive.
The thing with the NAKFA was that unless you had a maximum eight teams in each division, it risked becoming lopsided. You only needed one team to not turn up on any given night — because of school prizegiving, end-of-year camp, Christmas work party, etc — to throw the draw into confusion and make your average anxiety-ridden wretch feel like throwing in the towel.
Old Mate’s response was . . . it didn’t matter. He just wanted to see the event go ahead so he could enjoy a kickaround alongside some good friends in a relaxed environment. Which harkened back to one of the main reasons the Football Sevens had been established in the first place: to resemble the kickaround casually arranged in the village green on a Sunday where the team that won wasn’t the one which scored the most goals but that which strung the most passes together.
Those butterflies The Offsider felt before every night of every NAKFA tournament — the fear that no one would turn up — could be disregarded by imagining two fictional characters whispering in his ear; like Kevin Costner’s character from Field of Dreams being told, “Build it [a baseball pitch] and they will come,”, and MAD magazine mascot Alfred E Neumann, grinning stupidly and asking, “What, me worry?”
Anyway, opening night last week did prove alarmingly quiet, with most drifting off before the final round but for two teams, who’d both been defaulted but decided to stay on and play each other in a match with nothing at stake. As he packed up, the laughter that came from the field and darkness fell will happily haunt The Offsider right up until the dawn of the impending apocalypse.
"Those butterflies The Offsider felt before every night of every NAKFA tournament — the fear that no one would turn up . . . "
■ The Offsider is Age sportsbuster, Francis Malley. Respond at firstname.lastname@example.org