13 Jul The Trophy – Episode 4
. . . the tactic Coach Chuks provided seemed to throw the Desperadoes off balance and by final whistle time, the Hawks were rushing into the field to celebrate their unbelievable victory. The scores were 3-1. The gladness on their faces was astounding: they were proceeding to the finals but to meet the deadly Tornadoes again unfortunately . . .
Femi was carrying out a personal work-out—just jogging along a solitary road . . . he looked ahead and discovered the dog appeared to look like Ken, Felicia’s dog . . .he was very puzzled and confused and so decided to follow Ken to where it was heading . . . Quickly, he ran to the vehicle and looked inside through the broken windscreen to rescue whoever was inside. Just then, he discovered that the victims inside the vehicle were unfortunately Mr. Johnson and Felicia
“Thanks, Femi,” Felicia told him immediately wiping tears from her eyes. “I can feel calm in my heart . . . Thanks for the joy and faith you gave me. I had your love . . . At least ‘God won’t lose me’ now too.“ She smiled as the tears kept on pouring . . . Stay with me, Felicia!” Femi cried as he held her face in his hand, wiping the blood trickling down her forehead. But she wasn’t replying again.
Tears surged more from his eyes, he couldn’t control himself. Was Felicia gone just like that? Or could the health officials make her conscious again? There’d been days when she walked away and did terrible things . . . But then a beauty grew in the driving rain, and an oil of gladness in the time of pain.
It was Grace. For Felicia.
Femi held Felicia’s hand tightly as they were walking together. The atmosphere felt chilly and the sky was overcast—it was certainly just dawn. Crisp breeze washed constantly on them also as they walked together along the solitary sloped street not far from their houses. There seemed to be an unexplainable serenity between them. Femi was glad having her company with him again.
“This is the kind of atmosphere I always love,” she said showcasing a wide captivating smile. Femi looked at her face. She was looking more beautiful than ever. Her eyes were very alive; her forehead was like a cut precious moon, and her long hair tresses were gleaning stylishly.
Femi smiled too. “Of course, love it also.” He nodded his head. “You’re looking really cute, Felicia,” he had to admit.
“Thanks, dearie.” Her face flushed warmly with shyness.
“You know what?” He asked. “I don’t want to ever leave you. We’ll always be together,” he told her. At least she was still with him. He was very happy about that. He drew her closer to himself.
“It’s all good, Femi,” she said. “After all you stood by me in the time of despair . . . and brought out the good in me. Thanks.”
“Someone did to me once too,” he told her. “I wasn’t all a good fellow previously, you know. Dad really impacted my life.”
“That’s true. Don’t worry about him though. You know he lives on?”
Femi chuckled. “Sure, I do. He showed me the power of love when he sacrificed his life for that little girl during the fire incident. And I’ll never forget that . . . as long as I breathe.” He reminisced the last moment of his fire-man dad on earth.
“He’ll be smiling down at you while you continue rescuing others,” she told him as they kept on walking along the sloped road’s side that was kind of hilly and very steep.
Just then, part of the cracked road’s side strangely began to break and fall apart. Felicia was walking just close to the edge of the road and then completely lost balance as the steep cracked road side began falling apart. At the next breath, her leg slipped and she tumbled immediately almost falling off the steep road.
“Help me!” She screamed very loudly and frightened as she swiftly held the edge of the road’s side and hung there about to fall of it to her death. “Help me up please, Femi!” She cried with a shrilling voice. Her legs were practically suspended mid-air and she struggled with all her strength not to let go of the road’s side she hung from with bare hands.
Quickly, Femi moved to her and bent down stretching his hand towards her to rescue her. “Just take my hand, Felicia,” he told her much frightened too. By now, tears were literally rolling down her eyes as she was pervaded with fear. She slightly removed one of her hands from the road’s side she was hanging from and balanced with the other hand. Quickly, she stretched it over to Femi who also grabbed it firmly and pulled her with it as he tried to gain firm balance on the road’s side he also stood on so as not to be thrown over by her weight. Soon, she was coming up back as he kept on pulling her with all his strength. She crumpled on him the moment he pulled her up completely and the both of them fell onto the road. She was saved. He could feel the severe pounding of her heart on him as she was panting profusely.
“Thanks for saving me, Femi,” she sobbed. “Thanks,” she told him crisply as her voice kept on echoing in his ears although his heart was beating frenziedly too. He had indeed saved her . . .
Instantly, Femi arose to a sitting position and found himself on his bed as his heart kept on pounding. Felicia’s voice was still echoing in his ears—her last words, “Thanks for saving me, Femi.” He’d actually just had a dream and awoken now. A very intense grief rolled into his heart as he realised it’d all been a dream. Immediately, he began weeping profusely again as he remembered her. He’d just dreamt about her and had enjoyed her company in it. It seemed so real, a déjà vu. But very unfortunately and unbelievably, she was dead already. He knew. It was almost two days since she died. This was early Friday morning now.
Femi buried his face into his pillow slowly as he kept on weeping. How could it actually be true—that Felicia had died just like that? All through the time since he later received the news about her tragic death—that she didn’t survive the accident on Wednesday evening, he had been weeping and grieving terribly in an uncontrollable way. It was as if he had lost his own blood or the love of his life! They had known for just few weeks but the intimacy and friendship they seemed to share during her final days on earth was rich and intense. “Nooooooo! It can’t still be! Felicia are you really dead?!” He lamented bitterly. His heart bled. He could swear he felt like committing suicide. He felt so lonely—she’d left him. The pain was much.
Today, the Final of the ongoing football tournament was holding. His team, the Hawks were to meet the Tornadoes again. But since he’d seen Felicia die in that ghastly motor accident almost two days ago, a terrible confusion had permeated him, he had lost focus and wasn’t himself. The team was practically in a jeopardy of failing now. Felicia’s dad had informed him of her unfortunate death after they’d been taken to the hospital—she didn’t survive. But yet the memory of how everything had taken place that evening didn’t leave him for a fleeting second. It was so awe-striking how Ken, Felicia’s dog which was actually dead already—or rather a divine entity that resembled it—led him to the crash site. More so it was baffling how Felicia had surprisingly believed in God during her final seconds. No doubt, her death wasn’t ordinary. God seemed to have been involved in the whole process. He was certainly the One who led him to the crash site and then . . . must have been the One who brought them together during her last weeks on earth so as to save her at the end. It was very painful. But everything worked for good.
Femi had to pacify himself. It seemed he was losing all his loved ones. But a fatherly Coach Chuks he’d informed and lovable Pete who also bore the grief stood by him and Itunu during those fiery days to comfort them. Nothing could hinder them from getting the Trophy now.
* * * * *
The fanfare of the lively spectators filled the air as everyone anticipated the kick-off of the final match. It was the Grand-finale of the Lagos Championship Cup. And it was holding now at the rather famous State Stadium: Teslim Balogun Stadium. Kick-off time was 16:00 Hours and the Hawks’ and Tornadoes’ teammates had arrived early enough at the venue set for this great contest. Both teams were greatest rivals, although they had to pose a cheerful style of greeting when they met each other. The Tornadoes were very skilful, brilliant in counter attack with at least three goals in every match since the tournament began. Coach Chuks was finalizing strategies with his team now to overthrow them before the match began.
“Our game must be very balanced, guys,” he told the team trying to fight the tension his mind was exerting. “We’re not taking things for granted so a four-man defence can’t be compromised—with a double four too. Femi and Christian would man the offensive again, please give me your best today. A taut 4-4-2 it is and we must defeat these guys. 4-2-2-2 actually. We die here indeed today o!” He wiped the accumulating sweat on his forehead.
The team had a technical staff who helped in finding the opponent’s strength and flaws. “George, their supporting striker is practically the best and very fast when with the ball. Sejiro and all midfielders, you have to cut off any flow of pass to him at all to incapacitate him. It’s very chaotic when he’s with the ball,” he advised. “Meanwhile Gregory, 12, is very accurate in scoring from long-range. Cut him off with a severe close-marking. Play flexibly but solidly and confident enough and get the goals we need.” He encouraged the team as they prepared to move to the pitch for kick-off. A lot of dignitaries were present to witness the match too and soon the Press were interviewing the coaches.
“It’s been a good tournament thus far,” Coach Chuks told the Press, “and I think er we have what it takes to get the Trophy this time around. The boys have worked very hard and have er given all to get to this level and I’m sure they er deserve a very good win. Thanks.” He informed.
Soon, the referee blew the whistle at the stroke of four and the final began with the Tornadoes passing and launching a very sharp and quick counter attack putting the Hawks under pressure instantly. The whole crowd and supporting fans of the Tornadoes began cheering for joy immediately as the deadly Tornadoes strikers approached the Hawks’ post rapidly. Femi looked around in sorrow. There was no Felicia to support them today unfortunately. It was exactly a week she did when they played against Desperado Athletic. He shook his head and wiped his tears that didn’t seem to stop. She was nowhere today. Soon, George, 10, of the Tornadoes managed to possess a pass, and control the ball. He cut two defenders off and skilfully launched the ball at the post. The eyes of everyone followed the ball as it travelled into the post of the Hawks. But Uzor, the Hawks’ proficient keeper, six feet four, was there. He dived swiftly and caught the ball instantly. Thank God! The pounding hearts of the Hawks’ fans decelerated softly. They were relieved. It wasn’t a goal.
Uzor launched the ball into the field after that with players scampering to head it first. The match was very immensely difficult for both sides as they blocked every chance for opponents to calmly launch the ball at the post. The Tornadoes were powerful though maintaining their compact formation, playing 4-5-1 that regularly metamorphosed into a 4-2-1-3.
By 17th minute, the Tornadoes were defending a dangerous corner against them by the Hawks but the Hawks failed to convert it to a goal unfortunately and so Tornadoes defenders cleared the ball, sending an up through-pass to George who was at the midfield. He quickly caught the ball and dashed swiftly heading to the post of the Hawks on a counter-attack. Hurriedly, the defenders tried to catch up with him but unfortunately he was very fast as though his boots had exhaust. Soon, he was one-on-one with Uzor, the Goalie, who charged forward. George didn’t waste time. He lobbed the ball up crisply into the post. There wasn’t anything Uzor could do to prevent the ball as it soared above him. It curved down into the post instantly. Goal! The Tornadoes roared exuberantly as they scored their first goal against the Hawks. Jeegah, their coach, was very pleased and was encouraging them to keep it up and net more goals.
The Hawks were submerged into an intense pressure again as they knew they had a goal to equalise in order to balance the game. This was the final and they could in no way lose! Unfortunately, the match became practically tough for them. The confidence of the Tornadoes increased certainly and soon they were having complete possession also distributing the ball accurately among themselves. The Hawks had a woeful attack with only one attempt to score during the first half while the Ball Possession read at 69%-31% in favour of the Tornadoes. No doubt, Femi couldn’t get his actual self during the match. As he played, thoughts about Felicia especially how she died in his hands revived over and over in his memory. He never ceased to wonder at the ghastly accident and how it had happened. It was as though he was still dreaming.
He couldn’t control the tears even right there on the field as he played. He was broken, emotionally brutalized and completely out of the whack. He couldn’t play well—couldn’t even make an attempt and soon his body temperature seemed to strangely increase; he was shivering with enormous tears rolling down his eyes. By halftime, the whole team was enraged at the strikers especially at Femi whom an unexplainable depression had overwhelmed. They had performed very woefully. It wasn’t really Femi’s fault and Pete who wasn’t feeling too well too felt the intense grief he was feeling. “It’s okay, brother,” he tried pacifying Femi over again. Coach Chuks had to quickly substitute Femi the moment the second half began. A lanky Idris entered in his place. He was half as good as Femi, but was the only one they could manage then as a striker to play alongside Christian.
This even pained Femi more as he saw his chance of becoming the highest goal scorer in the tournament taken away. Had he played and scored in that match, he would have had hope. But it seemed the Prize was no doubt going to the Tornadoes’ George now—who had been on same amount of goals as Femi previously. But his goal for the Tornadoes in that match changed the whole scenario for Femi. There wasn’t anything he could do. Coach Chuks had benched him and he could never return to the field. He had lost on both sides. Felicia who promised to get the 200k for his mum from her dad was no more. And his second hope, this match, wasn’t feasible at all again. He had never expected his final match to turn out like this. But it did, very painfully.
The match continued with several scoring attempts from the Tornadoes who were terribly pressurizing the Hawks. But Uzor helped save many goals including a powerful bicycle-kick shot that had been launched by Gregory. The Hawks managed to possess to ball and swiftly launched an up-through to Christian for a counterattack. Unfortunately, before he could run, the fast and brutal Tornadoes defenders caught up with him and marked him vehemently even injuring his ankle. The pain was very severe. Christian couldn’t continue playing again at all and so was immediately substituted with a Daniel who played Pete’s role while Pete advanced forward to Christian’s role. He wasn’t really good at that wing, but he had to just cover up for Idris at the front. The free kick at that marking spot was taken by Pete but the Goalie caught it firmly and shot the ball back into the field. As time went on, Pete whose health wasn’t really okay began becoming drenched and exhausted as he had to constantly switch between the midfield and the offensive according to the Coach’s instruction. By 75th minute, he was practically exhausted and so was substituted also. It appeared everything was working against the Hawks. They’d not planned for this kind of final—losing three of their key players in a single match!
Time was going very fast. By 88th minute, the scores were still 1-0 for the Tornadoes. The Hawks knew they had practically lost this final again—the sixth time—very unfortunately. And the Tornadoes were already rejoicing, set to lift the Trophy. Again.
* * * * *
The tension in the stadium was very much, especially for the Hawks who were trying as much as they could now to score at least a goal in order to drag the match into an extra time. They were also praying for a miracle. Coach Chuks changed tactic to 3-4-3 straightaway. Luckily, in less than two minutes to the final whistle, gangly Timi, 8, for the Hawks, managed to control a shot and launched the ball while in the Tornadoes’ box-18. The keeper caught the ball immediately but the shot with which the ball was launched was very severe and so it deflected off the keeper’s hands into the net instantly. Goal! The Hawks couldn’t contain their joy anymore as they saw their wishes granted. The score was level now, 1-1. At least there was still hope.
Final time whistle was blown and both teams were cheered as they prepared to enter into another round of match, the extra time. The Hawks had to maintain a strong defence so as not to be scored again by the Tornadoes in just few minutes to the end. Players had to drop backwards, practically maintaining a 5-4-1. Both teams maintained a strong defence though for the extra time and later the ref was blowing the whistle again. It was time for the dangerous penalties! The fates of both teams were about to be determined. The Tornadoes were very good in penalties with a proficient keeper and were confident, however Uzor wasn’t really good in catching penalties. The tension in their hearts heightened. They could have had high blood pressure.
Tornadoes were playing first and George launched a superb shot into the post—a shot that could have broken Uzor’s palms had he caught it. The Hawks equalised too with Ugo taking their first penalty. Idris played the third slot but unfortunately, the Tornadoes’ goalie caught it leaving the scores as 3-2 against the Hawks. Fortunately for them, the Tornadoes missed their next slot, balancing the scores and soon they got to the prime stage where any penalty loser lost the match. Both teams scored their first slots and the next one by the Tornadoes would see Uzor diving to the wrong direction. Everyone had thought it was a goal already. But fortunately, Uzor’s long legs were stretched as he dived and so helped deflect the incoming ball out of the field. Now the hopes of the Hawks resuscitated as they anticipated just one goal more in order to win the match now. Timi was to play the next slot for them. Calmly he dropped the ball at the spot, stepped backwards, took in a deep breath, hopped forward and then played a low shot. Everyone watched anxiously as the ball rolled towards the keeper. But unfortunately, the keeper had already dived to the wrong direction expecting a powerful shot at the extreme and so the ball went in slowly into the post just at the centre. The entire stadium was scattered the moment the ball entered the post. It was a goal and the ref was blowing the whistle, closing the match completely. The winner had been found: Hawks FC, amazingly! All the teammates rushed into the field to carry Timi and their goalie while a few wept for joy. They couldn’t believe it. Despite being on the verge of losing previously, they had successfully equalised the game and then won the penalties leaving the final scores as 1-1 (P: 6-5). The glory. The joy. The thrill. You could feel it as they celebrated happily. At last, they’d won the Trophy they’d followed for six years now.
Gold medals were quickly awarded to the Hawks players, and silver to the Tornadoes. After that the Trophy was presented to them. And they lifted it up. At last! They were shouting joyfully, excited that they had beaten the Tornadoes despite all odds. “So take that, big boys! The Hawks are the Champs!” Coach Chuks was very excited too. At least his contract with the club would be renewed. Thanks to his brilliant tactics that saw them through. Accolades were afterwards awarded to different players that had been terrific from the onset. Unfortunately, Femi didn’t make the highest goal scorer’s. George did with an impressive 13 goals—just one above Femi’s own. And this made his heart literally bleed. But at least they’d won the Trophy, he tried consoling himself. “It’s okay, Femi,” a gentle thin Timi whispered to him noticing the pain on his face. “You might have lost someone so dear, you might have lost the Prize also . . . but at least we’ve made this Trophy now. And it was all because you brought us here,” Timi told him sincerely trying to comfort him also. Femi was stunned. He’d never expected Timi could do that because the teammates including Femi all looked down on him. Funnily enough, it was his goals that saved the team in the nick of time and won them the Trophy. Femi’s heart was touched and he was inspired also.
Even though he’d lost every other reason to be joyful owing to the death of Felicia and limited time of his mother’s life now, at least he had a reason to smile.
The Hawks had won the Trophy!
* * * * *
It was evening already and Femi was heading back to his house, that same day. They’d just won the Trophy, with a lot of jubilation, but a chunk of depression still brewed in his heart. He’d wiped his face countless times that day but it seemed the tears would never just leave him. It flowed from his heart though, he knew. Slowly, he walked to house all alone strapped with all his kits in his bag and reminiscing all what had happened. The most painful part now was that he’d narrowly missed the 200,000 Naira he’d worked and trained for since the beginning of the tournament. And it was all for his mother’s life. God shouldn’t let his mother just die like that please, he prayed. He needed the money urgently. She had just days more. How would he and young Itunu cope? He wasn’t ready to grieve for another loved one.
Femi got to his house, very tired, and opened the front door hastily. Just then, he noticed there was a note on the floor, most certainly, in an envelope, in front of the door. Letter again! Not in the mood for them. He grumbled silently. But slowly, he picked it up and opened the envelope and found a note in it with a cheque amazingly. He curiously read what was written on the cheque and saw an amount 300,000 Naira, unbelievably addressed to him. 300k? He was literally shocked and quickly unfolded the note to see what it was all about.
“My dear Femi, I made a terrible mistake in responding wrongly to you previously. But please do pardon me and give your mum the life she deserves now. Once again, thanks for saving Felicia. You couldn’t save her carcass—but you did save her soul—which is more important. And that act has touched me so much and helped me retrace my steps back to God too. We all do grieve for her, but boy, am I sure she is sad we’re grieving for her. Her joy is unspeakable right now . . . so let the grief go. Her words to me before the accident actually happened was, “Femi is a good person. Love and help him, dad.” And I would never relent in doing such, so always let me know. Use the remaining balance to take care of yourself and Itunu. Love you both. Mr. Johnson.”
By now more tears were streaming down Femi’s face profusely—not because of pain but because an unexplainable warmth of joy had filled him. It was as though Jesus himself had come down and spoken those words to him. He felt a deep peace and comfort. The joy he felt couldn’t be contained. Quickly he moved into the house and informed young Itunu about it. He also picked up his phone and dialled Coach Chuks to inform him too. No doubt, that day was one of the most joyful for Coach Chuks too. Femi had miraculously achieved his own personal Trophy at last from a place he wasn’t even expecting from—even despite failing in the final match and despite the devilish intruder that had always terrorised them. God works in different means for one to achieve that Prize and delivers from adversaries, he told Femi. More so, it was certain He was the One who brought him and Felicia together briefly just to save her because she was going. It wasn’t just for them to become friends or fall in love with each other. Femi was realising. Her Candlelight Service was to hold the next week. Even though a lot of her friends would weep and grieve in it, he knew he had no other option than to be happy all through. After all what is life? Is it not like a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away? So it was very certain he’d see her soon.
In the twinkle of an eye, all of Femi’s sorrow rolled away amazingly. The joy he felt was so much. The World was ready to hand over their Cup to the World Champion after a fierce tournament in Russia that summer. But Femi knew certainly knew he’d grabbed his. If there was nothing else he gained from the whole situation, he knew he was at least giving his mum another chance to live again.
He would let the experience stay with him forever.
* * * * *
The E-Book comprising of all episodes is available already. You’d enjoy it. Don’t miss it!