Saturday, April 22, 2017

Football on the rise for both sexes in NZ

The national game in New Zealand, as you probably know, is rugby. And it's a blokes' game. Or rather it used to be. In fact there are plenty of women throughout the country playing rugby just as fiercely and energetically as their male counterparts.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Saturday morning game one of my grandsons was playing in. His position is hooker, that guy who dangles between two props in the scrum. And this fellow really does dangle because he's small for his age. Some of my friends won't believe this, but I actually played hooker myself way back when I actually played rugby. But unlike my grandson, who's in there boots and all, I wasn't cut out for the game. Half the time the players from the opposite team would wind up covered in blood when we went down in a scrum: my blood, because my nose would bleed at the drop of a hat. Even if my nose hadn't bled, I still preferred indoor sports, with the less physical contact the better.

It was interesting that the visiting team in this particular game had one girl player in it. And she was very good: she had speed, and she was excellent at kicking goals. She could have been easily hurt by some of the bigger boys in either team, but she seemed to manage to keep out of their way - or perhaps they avoided her, because I think even in boys of that age there's an inbuilt sense that girls won't take the impacts a boy might.

Courtesy NZ Football
I said at the beginning that rugby is our national game, but soccer, it appears, is rapidly catching up. And of course there are girls in soccer too, and plenty of them. (The National women's team is called the Football Ferns; the men's is the All Whites, in contrast to the internationally-known men's rugby team, the All Blacks.)

One of my other grandsons used to play in a team when he was younger that had girls as well as boys in it. Now that the boys are bigger I think the sexes are separated off into their own teams. But girls' teams are catching on fast. There was a photo in the sports pages of the newspaper a couple of days ago promoting girls' soccer, in fact.

Which was part of the reason that I decided that the main character in my latest children's fantasy, The Disenchanted Wizard, would be a girl who plays soccer - with a passion. And also idolises Xanadu Whitworth, the top player in the city. At the beginning of the story, Della, the soccer player, is putting up an enormous poster of Xanadu in her bedroom. Her younger cousin Harold thinks Xanadu's smile is probably photoshopped. Della scoffs at the idea, and it turns out, in due course, that she's right to scoff. But she's wrong about some of the other things Harold has to say...

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