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NOVEMBER CO-WINNER: Guts and Glory!


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"Guts and Glory" - Captain Tallis Rhul

The dressing room was awash with red, logos printed in pride of place on team shirts. The noise of the crowd reached through into the dressing room by every avenue possible; under doors, through air vents, even clawing its way through brickwork. Faint as it was now, the whole team knew that what they were about to face was a torrent of sound that would wash over them, and bear them up to the lofty heights that represented the stakes under which this game would be played. In contrast, the team themselves were silent, sitting on benches beneath their lockers, eyes focused on the coach as he stood before them, ready to make his last speech before they put everything on the line.

“Guts and glory.” He started with a familiar moniker, one that he had repeated many times in similar situations. “That is what I want every single one of you to believe. Now more than ever. Never before has this team come so far. Never before have we shown those people out there that we are the force that everyone should be worrying about in this competition.” He pointed vehemently in the direction of the changing room door to emphasise his point. “Never before have we been this close to taking it all. And we can take it all. We can be the best. We can work together to achieve what has not yet been achieved in this team’s history.”

He closed his eyes for a moment. The sudden break in the regular cadence of the motivational speech drew those assembled in all the more. When he opened them again, his voice retained its authoritative quality, but it was calmer, his approach more logical.

“If you’re defending, I want you tight to the goal. Work the zones that we’ve practised in training. If you do that, and cover each other’s backs then we can shut the other team out. We’re counting on you to repeat the excellent performance we saw last game.” He shifted his gaze to another part of the room. “When we attack, we are merciless. Full speed. Play wide where you can and then cut into the middle. If you run the touch line, that gives you one side where you can’t pick up a marker, and when it comes down to making a move, when it comes down to out and out skill, we’ll edge them every time. You all know what to do.” Taking a deep breath, he bellowed the rallying call. “Are you with me!?” The team roared back. Checking their kit, they stood, a nod from the coach sending them in motion towards the field of play.

“Herrera.”

Hearing his name, the player in question halted in his stride, his eyes locking with those of his trainer and mentor, awaiting his final instructions.

“You played well last game. You were unselfish. You set up others when you thought they had a better chance to score than you did, but what I liked best was that you weren’t afraid to worry their defence. Keep getting yourself into attacking positions. Keep hassling them. I’m counting on you.”

Clapping him on the arm, the coach smiled and led the way through the door and into the match day atmosphere.

Saturday November 17th, 2114

It was breathtaking. Humberto Herrera’s team’s stadium, El Sardinero, was packed to the rafters. Half of it was painted in the bright red of his team, the other in the white of the opposition. Cutting through the noise came the most uplifting sound. It was the same anthem he had heard sung on the terraces from the first day he had put on a team shirt to play a game of soccer. The Santander Saracens were a proud team with a history dating back over two hundred years to the foundation of one of their contributor clubs, Racing Santander. Within the last decade, that team had amalgamated with its former rival, the much younger Esportivo de Santander in preparation for the most anticipated event that the sport would ever see: the formation of the World League. Today was a landmark in itself. This was the final match for the last ever Copa del Rey, the most competitive tournament in Spanish soccer, but more importantly a chance for one of the teams to take home the prestigious trophy to keep. Humberto crossed himself in the usual ritual before he stepped onto the field, swearing to himself as he assumed his position on the centre spot that he would be wearing a winner’s medal before the day was out.

In a moment, the coin toss and decision over who would kick off were over. The opening whistle blew, stirring up a well of emotion that threatened to overwhelm Humberto. As Valencia’s captain passed the ball back to one of his midfielders, the game began to fall into a tempo that beat as a human heart. Battle lines were drawn early on; leaping to head the ball after a well-placed cross from one of his wingers, Humberto felt a sharp tug on his shirt that fatally altered his trajectory, sending him crashing to the floor. Blood pumping in his ears and outrage radiating from him like flame, he entered into an angry exchange with the guilty defender before the referee weighed in with a warning for both players.

The clock rolled inexorably towards 45 minutes. It seemed that both teams were deadlocked, neither one able to get the upper hand, until a white-clad attacker pierced their midfield and hurtled towards the centre of their defence. Humberto watched in disbelief as one of their most reliable men missed his footing and stumbled in an embarrassing mistake that led to the ball flying past their goalkeeper at impossible speed, the net bulging with the impact of the projectile. Half of the stadium fell silent. The other half exploded. Shaking his head at the injustice, Humberto covered the distance between himself and the fallen defender in a heartbeat, helping him to his feet and offering ineffective words of consolation. Within moments, the whistle blew for the end of the first half.

Stardate 238511.17

The crowd was packed with colour. It seemed that each of the 16 teams represented in the play-offs of the Corellia Prime Parrises Squares tournament had a score of representatives in attendance. The entire court was bathed in the subtle glow of a court-sized holo-imager that stood ready to transmit the game in real time to countless other worlds. It was the pinnacle of Diego’s sporting career; playing in the red of the San Francisco Sentries was a fortuitous honour made possible by his coach back at Starfleet Academy, and so far he had been making a positive impression.

The din of the crowd was drowned out by the sound of Corellian rave music as the officials made their way to the side of the court. On this world, a match of Squares was always a special occasion. The game had been born here, and it was one of their main tourist attractions. Teams from across the entirety of the Alpha and Beta quadrants coveted the Corellian trophy like no other. Winning it even once earned bragging rights for at least a decade. Looking towards one of the holo-recorders, Diego mouthed a get well soon message to the injured member of the team he had been selected to stand in for before entering a huddle with his three team-mates. All of them were raring to go, still aflame from their coach’s words, and riding on a heady rush of success from their opening game. With three goals under his belt already in the competition, Diego had his sights set on doubling his overall tally before the final klaxon sounded. It was a tall order, but he knew he could do it.

The order to power up their ion mallets signalled the beginning of the match. The court, divided into squares of uneven heights, instantly became a battleground as the two teams fought to find a strong tactical formation before the ball entered the match. Even in the opening few seconds Diego realised that the court’s current configuration would have them running up and down the stepped platforms relentlessly, testing the physical limits of all involved. The second the ball was tossed onto the court, the first opposing attack began, quickly halted by the defenders and turned into a counteroffensive. Diego began to scramble up onto one of the highest squares to receive the pass, and was met with a sharp elbow in the face along the way, knocking him off his feet. Blood pumping in his ears, he sat up; physical contact in any form was legal, so he would bide his time to get revenge later on.

The end of the first quarter came and went, launching them into the second. Diego had almost set up a goal for his wingman, drawing both defending players before laying the ball off into space near the far touchline. Unopposed, his team mate had driven the ball like a lightning bolt, although it climbed too high and sailed over the top of the raised goal mouth. Plays continued back and forth at an impressive rate, neither side seeming to tire, and neither one willing to lose momentum. It was just seconds before the klaxon for the end of the second quarter that the white-clad Corellian team made their move. In response to one of the defenders losing their footing on the edge of one of the platforms, their lead attacker showed unparalleled skill as he somersaulted from a high square to one of the lowest, keeping control of the ball with his mallet before launching it high into the air to just tip through the rim of the San Franciscan goal hoop. The crowd, and Diego’s team, were stunned.

“They were lucky.” The coach was unflustered, his cool head the product of years of training and professional experience. “If we get even one break like that, we’ll nail them to the wall. Our defence was impenetrable up until that point, and we’re looking threatening in attack. Keep at them. Grind them down. Guts and glory! I know that each of you is going to do your best out there because you are proud to have your name displayed on the back of your shirt, in the colours of the team you love. Show your opposition that pride. Show them how badly you want this. Show them why you’re made to be champions!”

Saturday November 17th, 2114

The team re-entered the match determined to thrash out a victory. Humberto’s face was set. This time, it was their turn to start the play, which they did with an audacious display of skill, threading the ball through in unpredictable moves that gained them ground. The Valencian players rose to the challenge, chasing them down at every turn, until growing frustrations on their part saw Humberto tripped as he attempted to loop the ball into a dangerous position. Spluttering at the earthy taste of soil as he regained his feet, he realised it was the same defender as before. Checking his anger this time, he allowed himself a smile as the referee once more made his presence known by raising a yellow card. Any more dangerous challenges, and Valencia would be losing a player.

Hope turned to frustration, then desperation as the deadlock continued. All hopes of taking the lead were replaced by a longing for just one goal, enough to extend the competition. Humberto was beginning to feel lactic acid building in his leaden legs; finding himself useful positions was consuming more and more energy. And then it happened.

A chance! Clever play by one of the midfielders sent an opposing defender the wrong way, leaving a yawning gap through which Humberto sprinted at full tilt, his limbs screaming for him to ease up. Ignoring their desperate pleas, he ploughed ahead, chasing the ball, possessed in his attempt to reach it before the goalkeeper could heft it down the field. His competitor was clearly experienced and had anticipated the danger and started his run early, but Humberto knew he was quicker. Throwing his weight behind his striking foot, he aimed for the far corner of the goal, striking with as much venom as he could muster, aiming to lift the ball over the goalkeeper who was now sliding in along the ground…

Jubliation was replaced with agony as he connected with something solid. He didn’t feel the break so much as hear it, and the world became a blur of lights, noise and searing pain as the red shirt crumpled to the ground. He realised in a moment of terror that this would be no ordinary injury, and as medics clad in bright orange vests flooded the area, he wondered whether this would be his last game. Slowly and delicately, he was loaded onto a stretcher before being taken to the treatment room; deprived of the noise of the crowd he had no idea what the fate of his team was to be. In all likelihood, Valencia would be the ones taking home the priceless treasure. However, to his surprise, Humberto knew that his was not the end of his journey. His eldest son had already laced up his boots for his first school game and the name Herrera would continue to be associated with sports for a very long time to come.

Stardate 238511.17

When play restarted, Diego knew that he would have to double his workrate. The team followed suit. They leapt between the platforms running rings around the Corellians, who struggled to keep up. But keep up they did, and the score remained unchanged. For every inventive play, they came up with an inventive defensive strategy, barging attackers out of key positions to intercept passes and threatening to score on the counter-attack. Finally, signs of Corellian frustration began to show as Diego’s opposite number once again targeted him for a block. This time, he put his entire bodyweight behind a shoulder check, running at full tilt to hit Diego hard and send him sprawling out of bounds of the court. Dusting himself off, the hardy Spaniard waved away a concerned medic; the impact had been painful, and he was sure he would have some bruises the next day, but that wasn’t going to keep him out of the competition. It would take something much more serious.

Hope turned to frustration, then desperation as the deadlock continued. All hopes of taking the lead were replaced by a longing for just one goal, enough to extend the competition. Diego was beginning to feel lactic acid building in his leaden legs; finding himself useful positions was consuming more and more energy. And then it happened.

A chance! Focused on the ball, one of the Corellian attackers was in the perfect position to be blindsided. Returning the earlier gesture of an elbow to the face, Diego slipped away from his marker and barged the unsuspecting Corellian off his square. Intercepting the ball, he spun on the spot, and saw the defender that he had floored quickly regaining his feet. His only option was to thread together some difficult leaps across squares of the same height, approaching the goal from an unexpected angle. One… two… three successful jumps completed and only one more stood between him and his objective. Flicking the ball up into the air with his mallet, he drew back his right arm, ready to strike with all his might mid-jump…

Jubilation was replaced with agony as he caught the edge of the platform and mistimed his jump. Dropping like a stone, he felt his shoulder blade connect hard with the edge of the platform below; a sickening crack and a wave of pain and nausea followed as the red shirt collapsed in an ungainly heap. Play stopped as the medical technicians rushed the pitch, each carrying a silver-boxed medical kit, to diagnose and treat his injury as quickly as possible. Diego’s own medical training told him that his injury was most likely not serious in the long term, but he would have to leave the field for treatment if they were going to fix it properly. With a heavy heart and giddy from the large dose of painkillers that was administered with the hiss of a hypospray, he followed the medics to the treatment room. Deprived of the roar of the crowd, he was left oblivious as to how the game would end. It seemed inevitable that his team would lose, knocked out of the tournament and denied a chance to earn that priceless treasure. Still, Diego felt vindicated. He had competed in another professional game of Parrises Squares, and he knew he couldn’t be faulted for his effort.

The smell of sweat sat hung heavily in the air, mixed with the fruit-infused tang of the team’s recovery drinks. On the end of the row sat Herrera, patched up as well as he could be, victorious if only in having insisted that the medical team allow him to hear his coach’s post-match debrief.

“You gave it everything. You worked hard. I could not be more proud of the team that sits here before me today. Luck is something you can never plan for, and I stand here safe in the knowledge that when the time comes for me to address the public I can tell them that it was one moment of bad luck that kept us from carrying home the trophy, and nothing more. This is far from the end. Next year, we set our sights on a new league, and a new challenge. By taking part in the competition, our name is already included in the history books. It’s up to us now to make what we can of that, and to look to the future. Guts and glory. Onwards and upwards.”

Captain Tallis Rhul

Helmsman

Federation Embassy Duronis II

 

 

 

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