A Christmas Footy Story

The young girl positioned herself behind the goalposts as usual. She did this at every training session to watch her brothers. On the field the coach barked orders and the players continued another set of sprints, sweat pouring from their brows, but knowing this was the last training session before the Christmas break.

Hannah watched the players. She watched them complete their handpassing drills every training night. She watched the kicking drills. She watched the tackling, the marking, everything. Tonight a tear ran down her cheek when she wished that maybe Santa might one day grant her the chance to play her favourite game. Maybe this Christmas?

As she sat watching, her cheeks still red from her gentle weeping, the coach turned around and faced her. Hannah was unsure why or what had happened. Maybe something was going on behind her. But the coach started motioning for her to come out onto the field.

A startled Hannah was lost for words. Instead she motioned that she couldn’t. But the coach was insistent. Again he waved his arms to invite her on to the field. Hannah started to move, then stopped as she noticed that all the players had stopped training and were watching. Embarrassment overcame her and she remained paralysed with fear.

At this the coach left the group and came over to the goal square. He then spoke in a gentle, reassuring way. “Hannah, your brothers tell me you would love to play footy for Christmas.”

Hannah didn’t know what to say.

The coach motioned again for Hannah to come to him. This time she touched the controls and drove her wheelchair out onto the field and met the coach in the goal square. When she reached the coach, she started in a flood of words “I…I, can’t play footy….I…am paraplegic…I…”

Before she could continue, the coach gently held up a hand and asked. “Hannah, you can handpass can’t you?” Hannah nervously replied “Yes”. The coach added, “and you can mark can’t you?” and with that he handpassed a ball at Hannah, which she caught competently in front of her face. She smiled, and handpassed back.

For a few moments they handpassed to each other, Hannah breaking into fits of giggles and the coach applauding every ball Hannah caught.

By now the rest of the team, led by Hannah’s brothers, had gathered around the scene. Very soon the other players joined in handpassing to Hannah, who marked every ball in sight. This was the most amazing night. Training had never been this good.

For the first time ever, since her first memories of following her brothers to training or going to matches, Hannah felt like she was a part of the team.

The coach marked the ball and stopped the game. A hush came across the group, then the coach spoke. “Hannah, show me how you can kick.”

Hannah went white. On the verge of tears she tried to speak, but nothing came out. She tried again. “But….my legs…I can’t…I..can’t…kick. I can’t…stand. I can’t…walk.”

But the coach, kindly but assuredly, said, “We can help you.”

At that Hannah’s brothers came to her side and lifted her from the wheelchair to her feet. They helped turn her around to face the goals. The coach leaned down and placed the footy at her feet.

Hannah trembled. She looked around at the players who stood by her side, absolutely there for a team mate. Nobody said a word. Her brothers held her steady. The coach looked up into her eyes. “Kick the winning goal, Hannah.”

Slowly and surely Hannah overcame her fears and doubts. She began to believe that she could do this. She had never in her life kicked a football. A dogged determination to succeed took hold and Hannah looked down at the ball. She was just nine metres out from goal, directly in front. As they say, she would have to fall over to miss it. That was her fear. That could happen.

And how could she move her legs? How could she control them?

Hannah looked at the ball again, then glanced quickly around the crowd of players surrounding her. Everyone there was willing her to succeed. She could see it in their eyes.

It was now or never.

Hannah watched the ball -A fundamental skill of kicking. She emptied her mind of all doubt and focused solely on the ball and the target. Another skill she had learned from her brothers. She summoned every bit of strength, power of mind, divine providence and sheer luck that she could muster and asked her foot to kick the ball. At that, her leg swung and her foot made contact with the ball. Leather perfect as Denis Cometti would say.

The ball took off. It leapt about a foot in the air, then fell. It bounced, rolled, bounced, rolled, rolled and rolled…across the line and through for a goal.

At that, everyone cheered wildly. Hannah’s brothers hugged her. The players whooped and high fived each other. Then, to Hannah’s total shock, the siren went. One of the players had run over to the timekeeper’s room and blown the siren. Hannah had kicked the winning goal.

The coach, still kneeling on the ground, looked up at Hannah and said, “I knew you could do it.”

As the players lifted Hannah onto their shoulders to chair her from the field, she thanked the coach, the players, her brothers and family. In her mind she thanked God, and all those people who had helped her through life.

And today she had another thought.

“Thanks, Santa.”

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