The Soccer Match

"The match," said the propaganda secretary, "ought to represent the clear expression of the class solidarity of the Vintileasa agricultural workers with all the peoples of the world." And the match between the teams of "Impetus"-Vintileasa and "New Road"-Ţifeşti, decisive for advancement in the regional championship, was precisely what it was supposed to be: an indisputable political manifestation. And this because, two weeks before it, a huge amount of explanatory work poured ruthlessly onto the entire village. The cataclysm broke out when the district authorities realized that, although the competition was inexorably getting closer, the people of Vintileasa were not lifting a finger. Consequently, a special brigade headed by the propaganda secretary came into the commune and made the local authorities pick up speed. "The citizen of Vintileasa," said the secretary in charge of propaganda among the local Party members during the extraordinary meeting convened on the very evening of his arrival at the cultural club, under the troubled light of several dimly lit oil-lamps, "the citizen of Vintileasa tends to ignore posters. And if he has this tendency, the result of a set of preconceived ideas that have taken root in his consciousness in the course of centuries, then we have to stand in his way, place them before his eyes, and make him read them." Therefore, all places where there was a chance that a villager would pass by, places identified with the help of a military map, were covered in posters. Everywhere, on the walls of the cultural club, the village store and the pub, above the shelves displaying dusty brandy bottles and old boxes of macaroni, hard like reinforced concrete tubes, on the carriages of the tiny mixed train Floreşti-Vidra, and on the sides of all the trucks that were passing through Vintileasa one could see all these basic elements of propaganda. A huge poster had been nailed onto slats in front of Toader Banu's clay pit, where there was a path along which were sneaking at night those who went to steal corn from the reunited fields of the collective farm. It read Through sport towards the consolidation of the unity of the working people in the struggle against the class enemy! and displayed two soccer players of two rival village teams, with soccer T-shirts improvised from zephyr shirts with their sleeves and collars cut off, wearing deep, gloomy black-dyed underwear, who, instead of dribbling, were helping each other very politely to lead the ball to the gate and score. According to the plan devised by the district authorities, the posters were immediately supported by the village agitators. They engaged in action in the night of 30-31 August, by convincing Ştefan Tarba, the night watchman, whom they woke up from his long fur coat in which he was sleeping on the porch of the Vintileasa Vale village store. And what the posters failed to say said their authors every day until the day of the great competition. In the past, soccer was one of the instruments through which the exploiting classes maintained their control over the people. Proclaiming that the only aim of a team was to score as many goals as possible, the bourgeoisie was encouraging a spirit of ferocious competition among the people. "Homo homini lupus" the agitators would conclude when talking to intellectuals. "That is, you die so I can live," they added when talking to agricultural workers. It is common knowledge, for instance, that soccer matches used to end with high scores between 1929-1933. This is not without significance, if we recall that, at that time, the bourgeois society was shaken by one of the deepest crises in its history. In order to ensure their domination, the exploiting classes would refrain from no vile action. Today, for example, in the corrupt countries, the players have no other aim than to defeat their adversaries. The public, consisting mainly of bankers and landowners, but also of honest people misled by deceitful propaganda, support them by applauding whenever they score. Under socialism, things have changed radically. The aim of a match is not to score, but to help unite the two teams which, as they include workers and poor farmers, cannot fight against one another. That is why goals should not be scored during the match. Every evening, the agitators, dressed so that they could not be distinguished from the other villagers, were pretending they were walking with their hands at the back along the Floreşti-Vidra road, breathing the pure air of Vintileasa. In the evening, the local people used to gather at the gates and talk. The gentle autumn peace was lingering in the air. The sun was about to descend beyond the Măgura. In the blue sky, in which the first artificial satellite of the Earth would leave an unforgettable streak in just a few years, the stars were twinkling. Some of them, realizing it was too early, went off immediately, to save energy. With nothing more important to do, the shadows of the night were stretching on the ground. A hard-working pioneer[1], sent to the village shop to buy wick or washing soap, would greet them with a joyful voice, as he was taught at the circle Let us be polite with our parents and the other villagers. Without the chatters realizing it, the agitators would approach the group from different directions at a secret sign only they knew, and engage in conversation. According to the 93 ways of engaging in conversation when working with the people, it was important – even decisive – to break in when the conversation, while passing from a subject to another, was stalling. For several seconds, an embarrassing silence falls, an abyss in which those present desperately look for the first word of the new subject, but this very word is hard to find, and they all cough nervously, clear their voices, are about to say something but can't. At that moment, the agitators are supposed to break in with the perfect timing of board jumpers, and bring up the soccer match. This was just a few seconds out of a several hour conversation, and precision was what distinguished a gifted agitator from a genius. According to the plan, everything turned out very well. Of course, the final result of the match was 0:0. The corners and the penalty kicks were divided equally between "Impetus"-Vintileasa and "New Road"-Ţifeşti, the attacks were launched by turns, first against one goal, then against the other, mutual help between the teams worked out perfectly. You seized the ball from an adversary and, after running with it a few meters, you turned around and gave it back politely. One of Vintileasa's full backs, Gavrilă Borcea, the son of Tache Borcea, helped an attacking player of the Ţifeşti team to dribble past several adversaries and even to score, but unfortunately the goal was not validated. A small problem arose when the Vintileasa team was given a penalty kick, which was however quickly solved: when he reached the opposite square, Toader Lăluci, the son of Ionel Lăluci, took the ball into his hands and sat down holding it tightly until the referee, having no choice, gave a penalty kick to the Ţifeşti team too. When they entered the field, the two teams were received with long cheers and hand-clapping. From an oak tree on the other side of the field, towards the railways, one of Aurel Carabă's boys started shouting: "Through sport towards the consolidation of the unity of the working people in the struggle against the class enemy!" The entire stadium promptly took over the slogan and started shouting with all their might. In solemn silence, the captains of the two teams read an appeal to struggle addressed to all the sportsmen and sportswomen in all the villages of the world. "Unity! Unity!" the entire stadium immediately shouted repeatedly, kept it going like that, slogan after slogan, passing from one to the other with such speed that the exclamation marks between them disappeared completely. The entire match, from the beginning to the end, became one long, arborescent sentence. At a certain point, when one of the Vintileasa players committed a fault and, as a sign of solidarity with the victim, he ousted himself from the field before the referee would do that, the public did not even notice, busy as they were picturing the pitiful situation of the black population on the rubber plantations. When the entire stadium was staring at yet another helium balloon launched by the pioneers, Vasile Şotrolea, the captain of "Impetus" Vintileasa and the best player in the field, found himself with the ball at his foot. At that particular moment, he was lost in thoughts; he was to go scything the next day and had to wake up early. And when he felt that round leather thing touching his ankle, he first felt like jumping aside, as if the ball was about to bite. The very next moment he realized everything was lost. Like all the other players, he had avoided the ball as much as possible until then. It is true, he had already received the ball twice: once sent to him by an adversary, the second time, passed to him by a fellow member of the team. Each time, he swiftly kicked it elsewhere with all his might. The last time, for instance, he had kicked so hard, and mainly so terrified he would not be able to get rid of it, that the ball had flown over the rails, over Tache Scocîlcă's house and the telegraph wires, being stopped by a truck coming from Floreşti, where the driver had illegally carried some fence boards. He knew from experience that it was that fraction of a second when you instinctively kicked the ball before you even realized you had it that was important, even decisive. Because, as soon as you realized it, you could not help but dribble all your adversaries and score. As he was deep in thoughts, that moment had passed, and realizing suddenly he had the ball, he completely lost control. Instantly filled with an immense dazzling happiness, he felt pushed forward, towards the opposite goal. At a certain moment, sensing the oncoming disaster, he tried to kick the ball as far as possible but failed. The ball went several centimeters away, and returned shyly to him. And so strong was his urge to dribble and dash towards the opposite goal that, of so much strain, his temperature rose suddenly, his skin got thin and dry, beginning to rustle mysteriously like silk, a magnetic field formed around him, which made several knives slide out of the pockets of the people in the first rows and fly towards the field. Seeing him dashing towards the goal, the whole stadium froze in terror. Deep silence fell on the hill, on the vineyards climbing rust-colored up to the border of the forest, on the entire village. A silence so deep that the seismograph at Vidra started to show unsettling signs, the ferroconcrete structure of the bridge across the Putna cracked gently, and a wild goose flying over the stadium heading for the Mediterranean forgot to flap its wings and fell with a thump just a few meters from the official stand, stirring a cloud of dust. In this silence, only the flutter of flags in the gentle breeze could be heard, and the assiduous scribbling of the volunteer correspondents who were busily jotting down in their village correspondent notebooks, using Pioneer pencils, the development of the second half. Speeding like a fireball, Vasile Şotrolea let himself be carried away by this terrible drive. His will no longer obeyed him and his entire body was filled with that happiness of the man who is no longer accountable for his doings. The last thing he saw was the tentative move of a fellow member of the team who tried to take the ball away, and the face disfigured with astonishment of the coach, the geography teacher Tudorel Laduncă. Fortunately, just a few meters away from the goal, he found the strength to avoid it. And while the whole stadium breathed freely again and even a few slogans could be heard, indeed timidly, here and there, Vasile Şotrolea rushed on beyond the goal, and dribbling continually, passed by the stand, crossed Ghiţă Cocoş' vineyard and the village forest and, after having left behind Milişautii de Sus, Moscow and Murmansk, he fell exhausted to the ground as far as Alaska.
[1] Pioneer = member of a communist youth organization.

by Ion Cristoiu (b. 1948)