In sixty seconds, you could be heralded as a hero, adored by millions. Your face will be etched permanently in memory, your name will be sung like legends in folk songs.
Or you could be forever synonymous with failure. When you are as close as you stand to glory – so bright you cannot comprehend its vision – to sink from this lofty position would result in a fall from grace so swift, you would always carry the mental scars.
You stand in the centre circle. It is your turn.
Your opportunity/curse has arrived.
Instantly, your settings become apparent. It is as if your eyes have opened, after being scrunched closed. Your subconscious, vainly battling with your nerves for one hundred and twenty minutes, can do no more – and your stomach joins in the fun. It gurgles, not as loudly as the ever increasing caterwauling from the imposing stands, but its effects carry far more resonance.
You take your first step toward the penalty spot.
Are the stands higher? The floodlights seem almost heavenly in their height, and the stadium constricts around you. The noise, incessantly pounding its own brand of pollution on your eardrums, grows. With the rising sound, your nerves – cajoled into action by your stomach, or was it the other way around? – shoot cold, hard adrenaline through you. You are not normally aware of this when in ‘normal’ circumstances, but you can feel the tide crash against every muscle and fibre.
Your legs carry you nearer the penalty spot.
The stadia seems to be breathing. In the living terraces of this foreign place, are your family. Everyone you’ve ever known will be watching this very moment. Could this moment hold any more significance? When in this lifetime or beyond, will you be judged by all and sundry – even by your loved ones – thanks to your actions? Invisible weights attach themselves to your shoulders, your legs.The repercussions of what your foot is about to unleash produce a slideshow of contrasting images. Held aloft by teammates. Vitriol aimed at you by previously adoring fans. The trophy that symbolises eternal triumph within your grasp.
Your head in your hands in the dressing room, as your mind tortures you with a spooling playback of the ball you sent off target.
You stand on the penalty spot, with the ball in your hands.
You have no idea, no recollection of how you traversed the arduous journey from the centre of the pitch to where you ominously reside now. The relative safety of the collective stand behind you. They cannot help you now. They can only do what you did before – will the ball into the net.
You place the ball onto the spot.
The opposing goalkeeper stands eleven feet tall, with his limbs seemingly appearing telescopic. The frame of the goal is dwarfed behind him. The cacophony of fans is deafening. Your breathing – that autonomous requirement your body performs permanently – is now laborious to achieve. You are aware of every breath. The faces in the gauntlet in front of you, you can now see every grimace, every clenched fist, every set of hands clasped in prayer. Along with the mysterious weights that drag on your movement, you can feel the wishes of every man, woman and child in the stands. They pull at you, they cloud your thought.
You take steps back, winding up the cogs of fate.
Everything you’ve ever wanted precariously waits for you in just a few seconds. It teeters back and forth, like a shiny jewel on a bird stand. Rocking between your grasp and lost forever.
You look at the goal, you look at the goalkeeper.
The sentry on guard is looking at you. He is peering into your head, via your eyes. The time to decide is upon you. All you have gleaned as a fan and as a professional footballer have told you to choose a corner and stick to it. Now your frenetic brain questions where you focus your eyes. Do you set them on the keeper? Do you look at the baying mob housed so close to you behind the goal? Can you chance a sneak peek at your designated corner? The bombardment of questions your head throws at itself is akin to self-flagellation.
A deep breath.
The gulp of air affords you clarity, and the fugue lifts momentarily. You run up to the ball, and you pull your leg back. The trigger is set, your mind is made.
Fate is set.
Glory or the ignominy of second place is now a mere flick of a boot away. Two contrasting fortunes, two starkly differing paths for your life, separated only by one movement of your limb. The butterfly flaps its wings once, and it can be felt across the world.
Your toes, through the thin covering of leather, feel the ball, and the sphere is set in motion – along with your future.
Headlines, conversations, millions of actions performed by the witnesses of this very moment, hinged on now.