‘Umm… I don’t want to start an argument,’ frowned the man next to him, clad in opposition colours, who’d also raised a victorious salute into the air at the end of the game, ‘but if you look at the scoreboard, your team has only one goal beside its name while we have twenty-three.’
‘Ahh…’ said the first man, as they sat back in their seats while enthusiastic celebrations continued around them. ‘There’s winning and there’s winning.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Let me explain. See that man in the striped jersey? He’s our new coach. No one else wanted the job. We hadn’t won a game in years, didn’t even put a score on the board all last season. But he put his hand up, said he could make a difference.’
‘I guess one goal is something after a whole season without any,’ shrugged the second man.
‘Oh, yes, it is, but there’s so much more than that. Look around. Our fans equal yours in numbers, don’t you think?’
The second man glanced around the stands, then nodded.
‘The fans had deserted and our players were only the ones none of the other teams wanted. They’d all lost confidence. Hardly anyone turned up to the games; only a few of the players’ relatives and a couple of die-hards. Me, for one. It was depressing but our new coach said he’d make our football club fun again, bring out the true spirit of the game. He invited all the old fans to training nights, organised barbeques and let the kids join in. He had the older, experienced players mentor the younger players. The older guys were reborn and felt useful again and the young guys, who just needed some guidance, blossomed.
‘And now today, first game of the season and we’ve scored our first goal. That’s a win in my book. Look at the pride on the players’ faces. Look at the excited fans. United, proud and looking forward to the future. That’s what the game’s about. That’s winning.’
‘You could be right,’ said the second man. ‘I reckon you guys did win today.’
At season’s end, the team still hadn’t won a game but they’d come close several times and scored in every match, to the delight of their rapidly growing fan club.
Their efforts won more hearts and admiration than any other team in the league.
The two men found themselves sitting next to each other again at the awards night. As they chatted, the coach approached them.
‘Well done, mate,’ said the second man, and shook his hand. ‘You’ve done an amazing job.’
‘Thanks,’ said the coach. ‘I learned from someone who encouraged me all my life. I reckon I’ve just played it forward.
‘And… Dad’s still my number one fan,’ he grinned, as he put his arm around the first man’s shoulders.