Cuba's digital destination
The first tell comes from the smoke wafting out of the Cuban dug out, they weren’t making tea, simply having a pre-game fag. While technically true that they boast half a dozen ex-national team players I am not convinced that they played in a pre or post-Revolutionary team! They are the super veterans of Cuban football.
The game starts and, after the first two minutes, I realize that it probably is a good thing they are one pace short of a competitive rumble since I am not the 17 year old of my imagination. While the mind retains the memory of football rituals the body tends to rebel at will. And then on minute four a long diagonal ball from the right penetrates the Cuban defense and it is back down memory lane. As if in slow motion, (actually it is in slow motion, as their center back is 70 years old!), I latch onto the ball, one touch into the area and bury it into the left corner. It is not that the goalkeeper had no chance; but his odds would have been better if he could see the ball!
I would like to say the crowd went wild, but despite our best efforts at promoting the event from an extensive social-media platform it was still difficult to count more than 20 spectators including the family dog. My goal caused something akin to a mild bemusement – geriatric opponents or not, England 1, Cuba 0 flashes across the scoreboard (of my mind).
And 5 minutes later it is two as a long cross from the right gets lost in the morning mist by the Cuban goalkeeper and there is only one person flying in with a diving header at the back post. There is the slight downside of ending up in a liquid pool of mud and water – but for God and Country. The British Ambassador comes in at center forward and takes a chance to make it 3-0.
At half-time it is 4-0 and the talk becomes of whether it would be diplomatic for the Cubans to score. Opinion is divided; perhaps we could give them a half-yard, let the old play-masters stroke the ball around rather than elbowing them in the head and taking their legs away in true British style (I am mostly joking). In fact any concession turns out to be unnecessary as their average age is brought down 10 years through the introduction of a sprightly 40 year old who pulls one goal back (and should have had more). He looks no older than 20, I wish.
Time seems to be running out…there are not going to be many more opportunities to score a hat-trick at an international level and suddenly there it is – the Cuban goalkeeper is grasping at thin air and the ball is safely nestled on my belly at the goal-line before I bundle it over the line. 5-1. The game speeds up with the introduction of our own ringer – 11-year-old Nathan Baker who shows the rest of us what youth can do. A brilliant goal from our Japanese midfielder who seems to have way too much energy brings the scoring to a conclusion, final score *England 6 Cuba 1.
When the game is done, speeches made, hands shaken and drinks toasted it is time to head home but not before I am subject to a discrete approach. ‘Would you like to join our team?’…the gist I gather is that, while normally I would be considered too young for the super veterans, given my less than peak physical condition it would be unlikely that opposing teams would object (at least until I reveal my blistering pace).
I tell my courter that he should speak to my agent and am now eagerly waiting to see whether I might receive that signing on bonus after all…anything…
*Truth be told the British/English team included expatriates living in Havana from Switzerland, France, Italy and Japan amongst others as well as a couple of Cuban teachers at the International School.