My break from football was best thing I did but I’m hooked on the drug again

Aly Keita of Ostersunds FK celebrates and shows the emotion attached to being a footballer.
Aly Keita of Ostersunds FK celebrates and shows the emotion attached to being a footballer.
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The past two months here in Sweden seemed to have flown by. I’m sure the clocks still move at the same rate here as they do back home but the seven-week cushion between moving to Östersund and the beginning of our season feels as if I’ve been travelling to work in a DeLorean.

Perhaps it’s my new red Michael J Fox-style body warmer that’s giving me that Back to the Future feel about my time here so far but we’re already two games in and right in the thick of proceedings.

In association with John Hogg.

In association with John Hogg.

I remember an interview with David Bowie where he explained that the older you get, units of time become a smaller fraction of your life and thereby seem to pass more quickly. That’s how I translated it anyway. I may be wrong but it made utter sense to me.

The six weeks holidays as a kid seemed to last a lifetime, yet seven weeks in Sweden as a 42-year-old go by like a long weekend.

One thing that has definitely been moving more quickly since I moved here is me and that’s down to my new set of wheels. Yes, 37 years since I last owned one, I bought myself a bike.

I’m living about 2km away from our stadium and I was not enjoying the brisk walks to work in temperatures with a minus in double figures and I couldn’t really justify the need for a car to myself. Not at the moment.

Even if it is futile to try to slow down the sands of time deep in to middle age, I can at least put the breaks on the spread of my waistband.

Not that it’s some kind of impressive mountain bike with all the gear, mind. If you imagine the kind of bike Miss Marple might have had before the osteoporosis put paid to her biking days, then you get the idea. It’s just missing the basket. In any case, it’s my bike and I won’t have any word said against it.

I’m not sure I need the knee and elbow pads to go with my helmet but you can never be too safe. Not that I have any traffic worries.

There were three cars in front of me at a junction the other morning and somebody wound their window down and apologized for the traffic jam. Two cars is a queue, but three is rush hour in Östersund.

‘But what about the actual football?’ I hear three of you ask. Well, it’s been a steady start, thanks for asking. That first game away to the champions AIK in front of 30,000 home fans ended in an hard-fought 0-0 draw, which was followed by a slightly fortuitous but maybe just about deserved 3-2 win at home to Falkenberg, which included a penalty save by Aly Keita.

Its always good to get off to that kind of start and get the first win, first clean sheet, and first penalty save of the season in the first two games.

Being back on the bench in these games has only confirmed what I have always feared; football fulfils me.

It’s difficult to admit because I know that there will be a time in the future when I will have to go through the whole grieving process again but for now, I’m just loving every moment day to day.

And the moment I truly realised I’d made the right decision to come here? It was the 80th minute of that first league game. As a player on the pitch, you’re deep into the game and whatever time is left, your focus on the game is true.

As substitute and a coach though, unless the game is comfortably won, I hate those last stages of a game. The feeling, it’s just something that’s deep in the pit of your stomach, like when you’re on a rollercoaster and you’re right at the top, just about to plunge down over the precipice.

It’s the anticipation, the excitement, but also a sense helplessness, that it’s out of your hands. It’s so intense, it’s almost overwhelming. At 0-0 you’re 10 minutes away from a decent away draw but with every attack you sense nicking a winner and every ball thrown into your own box could spell disaster.

It’s like no other feeling I know. At least when I was sub, I could go and warm up to expend a bit of that pent-up emotion – but I can’t do that now.

You know what though, I don’t ever want that feeling to go. The break I had from coaching was the best thing I did, for the new experiences that the world outside of full-time football gave me but also to help me appreciate the experience much more this time around.

I’ve come close to addiction with a few things in my life but if they ever invent a pill that gives me the same feeling of a football match at 0-0 with 10 minutes to go, man, am I going to be in trouble.