I've seen some incredible stuff in 15 years as a sports journalist.
I was poolside in 2004, and again in 2016, when Michael Phelps won his first and 23rd Olympic gold medals.
I was onfield in the confetti storm, right there in the corner where it happened, after the greatest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history.
I have walked inside the ropes as Tiger Woods won a golf tournament in his prime, sat on the finish line as Bolt won the 100m, and saw the "golden goal" that snapped one of the most heartbreaking streaks in international sporting history. (I'll tell you more about that one in a minute.)
But I've never witnessed anything half as inspirational on a sporting field as the thing I saw last Friday night.
My daughter might squirm a little at the thought of me writing this, so I won't mention names. Suffice to say, her hockey team had the most incredible victory. Let me set the scene.
First you need to know that my daughter's team hadn't won a game in the two full seasons they've been around. In fact they'd never even scored a goal. Nope, not one. Not a single goal.
Why not? Because they were hopelessly outclassed. Not a lot of kids play field hockey in our part of town, so there are no divisions. My daughter and her teammates were thrown in a league with kids who'd been playing for years. These were kids who learned to dribble a hockey ball at roughly the same age they learned to dribble.
What chance did they have? Only one thing was going to happen each week and, yep, you betcha, it kept happening. Every week for two years, we turned up, conceded a dozen or so goals, ate some quartered oranges, went home.
To the kids' credit, they kept showing up to training and the matches each week. They never once got down on themselves or -- most importantly -- on each other. It's a team of mixed genders and backgrounds, but nobody ever yelled at a teammate who missed a basic trap, or hit a pass straight to the opposition, or let through an easy goal.
Turn up, lose a match, eat some oranges, stay tight, go home, do it all again. That was our way.
But kids are kids. All the good healthy camaraderie in the world can't change the fact that you just want to win once in a while. Or at the very least, to score a goal. I knew that the kids dreamed of hearing the ball thud into the hard board at the bottom of the net. How could they not?
Friday night started like any other Friday night. In cold but clear weather, two teams trained under lights before the game. One looked incredibly slick and skilful, the other looked like... well, let's just say we looked enthusiastic.
We started pretty well. We had two penalty corners -- the hockey set piece where you push the ball from the baseline to a striker at the top of the attacking circle. No luck. Then on the third penalty corner, it happened. The striker got a clear, firm shot on goal. And perhaps out of shock, the goalie missed it.
One nil! After two years, we were on the scoreboard. No matter if the expected avalanche of goals came in response. We had scored! You had to write our score with a line, not a circle. Woohoo!
My daughter's hockey team has lost every game this year 10-0 or worse. After 15 games they just scored their FIRST GOAL OF THE SEASON! YEAH! pic.twitter.com/IzHx5bGIYw— Anthony Sharwood (@antsharwood) 4 de agosto de 2017
A funny thing happened after we scored. They didn't. And so it remained until halftime.
One of the girls said "we're in front" as she came off the field. She could not have said "I just turned into a flying pink elephant" with a more incredulous tone. The halftime huddle was a lot tighter than usual. The other team's was too.
In the second half, the deadlock persisted. The universe was in on this little miracle now. The other team shot for goal. The ball hit the goalie's leg, then the post, then bounced out. They shot again. Our goalie -- playing just her second game in that position -- saved it again. And again. And again.
And then, time slowed. I don't mean this metaphorically. I mean it literally. I mean the entire fabric of the time space continuum actually momentarily slowed. This is impossible but it happened. It really did. And the sole reason it happened was to allow our second goal.
Seriously, how else do you explain their goalie watching a weakly-struck cross drift across goal, unchallenged, undefended by them, unattacked by us, until the ball struck the post even though it looked like it was going metres wide, then improbably, impossibly, inconcievably, it richoceted inwards off the post for our second goal.
Two up. WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING HERE? Time went back to normal speed after that. In fact I think it sped up. Their coach -- a good-natured fellow -- became increasingly edgy.
"Forestick, forestick!" he yelled to a player who was dribbling in a manner which was technically impressive, but which made him more likely to be disposessed. Which he soon was. Everything they tried, we repelled. Everything we tried they also swatted away with disdain. But we were 2-0 up and they were panicky.
Then they scored. Because of course they did. How long to go? A dozen sets of parents on the sidelines who normally check their watches to see how soon they'd be getting home on a cold winter night now checked their watches for a different reason. Could we hang on?
We became animated, us normally sedate sideline parents. "Back post, back post," we yelled, urging our defenders to mark an opposition player lurking menacingly in said spot.
They missed another corner. "Don't worry, we'll get another one," a player yelled. But they never did. And then the whistle went. And our players danced and skipped and hugged and whooped. We had won. How did we win? We don't know how we won. But we did.
After the game, I found myself hanging over the fence holding out my phone to record what the coach said to his jubilant troops. Without realising it, I had slipped into sports journalist mode. That's how big this victory felt. My daughter looked at me and said "what are you doing, Dad?" And I went, um, er, I don't really know.
Anyway, after all that, I thought I really ought to go and write a match report. So here it is. Is there a twist in this tale? There is not. They really did win. I didn't wake up from a dream or anything like that.
But what did we learn? Does not such a momentous event demand some sort of moral lesson? Did the fables we read as kids teach us nothing?
Well, the kids were happy but I don't think it changed them. Oh sure, it taught them that persistence pays and all that, but I think they knew that. As I've already said, the fact they never lost interest in the game after all their losses is the greatest testament of all to their character. This win was just a lovely cherry on top.
I will add this. At the top of this piece, I mentioned that I had once been witness to a "golden goal" that snapped one of the most heartbreaking streaks in international sporting history. That goal came in the 2004 Olympic men's hockey final, when after dominating the sport for the best part of 50 years, Australia finally cracked it for Olympic men's gold courtesy of a brilliant strike from Jamie Dwyer.
Dwyer, if you don't know, is a five-time winner of the World Player of the Year title and is widely regarded as the greatest player ever. His number's in my phone, and I just couldn't resist asking him for the last word.
"As a coach of my kids' hockey team, I can relate to this situation and see it so often. It's great to see these kids persist every week, enjoy their hockey and be rewarded with a nail-biting victory. Congratulations!"
Thanks Jamie, well played. And more importantly, well played kids, coach Tim, and everyone involved with the team. Who knows what lies ahead now...?Suggest a correction