As I reported in an earlier blog a couple of days ago, I have just had my 80th birthday. A week or so prior, one of my friends called to ask what I was doing and “how about we get a couple of the Allies together and go to dinner”.
The Allies, for those of you not familiar with my background, was a very competitive adult women’s soccer team that was formed more than 25 years ago. I had both the luxury and frustration of coaching them for many of their years. The original team when we first put the team together prior to 1983 was named after the Redstone Ranch who sponsored the team in its early days. The original idea was to try to raise the competitive level of soccer in Austin with a team that could compete against both the Houston and Dallas teams at all levels. As the team evolved over the years, it changed the name to the “Austin Allies” later dropping Austin from the name to become the “Allies”.
The players were constantly changing and the team went through several reiterations of itself before settling on a group of highly talented and dedicated players willing to work hard, train hard and play even harder. There were a couple of players that came over from Sweden to play for us for a couple of years and we often had really good players that would come in and guest play for us in the major tournaments. The team was made up of players from different nationalities and we didn’t care what nationality that was or how young or old they were as long as they could play”the beautiful game”. This group stuck together for many years and indeed a few of the players are still playing. The team has maintained its name and for the past several years, has competed in the Austin Women’s Soccer League having recruited a bunch of new and younger players as the time went on. A far cry from when they competed in the Over 30 division of the local men’s soccer league in order to have stronger weekly competition that the then current local women’s teams could provide.
Many of this original group were the ones planning this little get together of “just a couple of friends”. Knowing Suzanne, the player who had called me originally, I kinda suspected that she and the rest of them, were not going to be satisfied with just a couple of them showing up and when I walked into Flores Mexican Restaurant on William Cannon, there were more than 15 or so of them there. It was great to be greeted by so many smiling faces and lots of hugs and kisses and just a few tears, including my own. My friends George and Gloria and later her daughter all showed up to add to the excitement. Gloria told me later that they had been a part of the organization of this party with it originally going to be at her house.
With the greetings out-of-the-way, the stories started to flow as some of the girls recounted the things they remembered most about some of our travels and the games we had played in. It was difficult to spend time with everyone and I know that I missed a few people and I apologise for that. Most of them are married with kids and all of them look really good and it was not hard to believe that they had been and in some cases, still are, super athletes in their younger days. At least 3 of the ladies have daughters of their own getting ready to enter college and hoping for soccer scholarships. They are that good as their mothers skills have been handed down to them.
As with all social get together of this kind, the stories came thick and fast of the many places we had been for tournaments and the magical moments that had occurred at some of them, not all of which were on the playing field. Stories like the time we won the Texas State Cup when we beat our local rivals, a team called Thunder coached by Ray Iddendun in penalty kicks after our full back, “Pecker” had tied the game up in the dying minutes of overtime sending the game into those penalty kicks. Our goalkeeper, Lisa saved 2 of Thunders first 3 kicks with the other one going wide. We made all 3 of ours to win. Much different than when we went to Corpus Christi for a tournament and it went to 12 kicks each side before we won.
Or when we played a team from Florida in one of the National Championships who had a very large, very tall and very talented center forward that our team had nicknamed “The House”and Suzanne, who at the time probably weighed 100 pounds soaking wet, had the very difficult task of trying to contain her.
A special mention must be made of one tournament we went to that another of our players had flown in separately to join us. We all partied the night before the last days worth of games and one of our group, had a little too much to drink. She played the next day with a hangover and I swear that the other girls had to point her in the direction of the goal that we were trying score in. She managed to get through the game with regular intervals to throw up on the pitch much to the other teams disgust. We won the game and maybe the throwing up gave us the edge as the other team didn’t want to get near her. We took her to the airport as she was flying home on a separate flight and the last we saw of her was her forlorn looking figure as she made her still hungover way to catch her return flight. When we returned to practice the following week, the big story was Laurie’s hangover and it took a while for her to live it down.
The stories went on and on and then someone mentioned “the van”. For the uninformed, the van was a big Blue Ford converted van that we used to drive to many of these fairly local games and tournaments. Places like Beaumont, Corpus Christi, New Orleans and such. There would be as many as 7-8 young women all crowded together and me, the only male as the driver. Well, I might just as well have been made of stone or maybe, not even have existed, when the ladies got wound up especially if someone had brought beer. The things I heard would have made their mothers blush or even worse, be shocked that their darling daughter could talk about such things and in such a descriptive way. They would have been more shocked to know that in many of the stories, they were recounting actual things that had happened either to them or with them. Me, I just sat there and smiled occasionally at any particular juicy piece came out. I have always said that I can do one of two things. Either write a bestseller entitled, The Van, You Wouldn’t Believe What I Just Heard… or I could just plain blackmail the girls for me to keep quiet. It was all good fun and passed many miles of otherwise tedious journeys which by the way were never straight through as with all of that beer, it required many pit stops sometimes with only a solitary tree or a bush in sight.
There was a lot of picture-taking with the new fangled cell phones and funny hats and glasses which I noticed that I was the only one wearing. Whats up with that? There were presents and a cake that luckily only had a dozen or so candles and not the required number of 80, which I managed to blow out at one time.
As the evening wound down and after enjoying the very good Mexican Food from Flores Restaurant, the girls began to leave in one’s and two’s all coming to say goodbye and kiss me on the cheek and give me a hug. Some whispered thanks in my ear and I had to fight hard to keep the tears from flowing as did they. Finally, those remaining gathered together for a last group photo rich with the memories of days gone by and years lost in time. We all have our own memories of those wonderful times with such a talented group of young ladies. It must be said that my own marriage had ended in the early days of this team and having the friendship of all of these ladies helped me get through those difficult times.
As a team, the ladies and I travelled to many tournaments at the State and National level managing to reach the National Finals twice only to lose both of them. There were many successes over about a 10 year period. I coached those ladies until the year 2000 when I decided to move on to coaching youth. I have to say, that it was just not the same. Different challenges, different ages, some successes but not the same camaraderie that had developed with the Allies and no Blue Van.
When we are young, time is something we do not even think about. As we grow older, it becomes more important because we realize that it is slowly running out. All of us that gathered together this evening to recount those memories of times gone by are all a lot richer for having been a part of them. These are memories that I cherish and will carry with me to my grave.
Thank you ladies for allowing me to be a part of your lives.
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After the wins & losses fade away, coaching is all about having a positive impact on your players – you obviously did that, Frank! Congratulations!
Thanks, they were a great bunch of ladies to work with…