Day 7 - Competition Begins
The next day is competition day. The game blog is on another website so if you want to read the line of play at the tournament then follow this link.
But game day - so many MEN! OMG its fantastic. Its funny how you are always checking out the competition and then checking out the competition. But what is lovely is actually running into some old friendly faces from when I played in Germany 3 years ago. The Houston Hussle whom we had so much fun with in Cologne were there, the Hamburg team from Cologne were there and there was a whole gaggle of Melburnians there which was lovely. It was so nice to see them and to re-connect - or even have the bravery to connect with them initially really. Having that ability to connect via a sports reference makes it so much easier to strike up a conversation. And once you are on the way with that, then it's easy to keep the momentum going and start to strike up further conversations with others after that. Like the huge black American guy with the build like a front row prop in the tight blue shorts. It's never that easy to go up to someone like that and go - "hey". But in this environment it is, and it was and he was gorgeous. So much fun and so many wonderful interactions.
Dinners out are always fun. Getting the co-ordination of the team together is always fun. But we were getting around and enjoying the local fare. Its the hardest and also the most exciting thing about travelling. You can't be too choosy about food so you just relax and go with it. Sometimes you have cracker meals and then other times you have not so good ones. The Thai place we discovered in the Grote Markt was actually a cracker. Wonderful service and fantastic food in a lovely cafe, and a bottle of champagne (thank you Laurent Auclair) again for my 40th! Its nuts.
For the first time ever in a tournament, I had to be First Ref in every game. SHITE! The pressure I feel when reffing is tantamount to how I used to feel when performing. Get it right and its all kind of good, get it wrong and the sweats start, and trembling in the stomach and then you get worse because you get nervous... its a nightmare. But I was really really grateful for the games that I have played at the State Cup level in the last 2 years. Being challenged by straight agro hetero boys in Honours Level means I can take on any aggro from players in my own level. I got challenged on a call very early on with the Belgian United team, who were all very pretty, confident cocky young boys with a bit of attitude. It was rather gratifying when they started mouthing off, to have the confidence to calmly and politely indicate that they should shut-up. The captain even got physical with me but he very quickly learnt that he should step back and that there was going to be no challenges from then on. Sometimes a bit of experience does wonders.
Day 8 & 9 - Taking Stock
Dinners out were always a bit of a fun affair. On Wednesday there was a slight issue on court within the team, and the best way to deal with this and re-set the team is usually to go and share in a nice evening meal. Well everyone was feeling like reconciling the moment as all of a sudden there was more champagne on the table courtesy of Laurent Auclair. We went for Thai as a gesture but it ended up being the best meal we have had in Antwerp. There were a few nights were we ended up at the DELUX bar in Antwerp. Actually we were there pretty much every night. Bumping into other players is always fun and this gave us the chance to intermingle a bit.
Our Melbourne counterparts were very entertaining as were the German team from Dusseldorf. But the problem was that before you realised it you had gotten to 3am and you were still out. And there were 3 games to play tomorrow. Some of us managed this situation better than others but it was rather fun to turn up on Thursday and really have to dig in deep to perform. Oddly enough, Thursday was a turn around day for us and I think the evening spent out and about actually relaxed us all and settled us back into being relaxed about the tournament. And of course, a bit of international cameraderie doesn't go astray either.
Day 10 - Celebrations
After the events and accolades of Friday (see separate blog) Friday evening was again an affair for enjoyment. A quick dinner of Italian in front of the amazing Kathedral of Antwerp was a wonderful prelude to celebrations that evening. The ensuing session at the usual venue saw all amount of volleyballers and persons out talking, chatting and mingling. It was a hugely social affair and with the sun making a return to form after a couple of days of rain, it was a welcome finale to our competition.
With the games done and the competition won and lost, friendships become what the games are all about. The people that you have met, the connections that you have made, the sharing of moments not only with your team-mates but with others around you become oh so important and so much a part of the emotion of the moment. This is the chance to really enjoy those friendships and celebrate together regardless of competition and rivalry.
Hanging out in the outside terraces of the local bar that served as the headquarters for our social engagements during the games, the atmosphere is positively alive as everyone
Day 11 - Closing
Saturday was the Pride March through Antwerp and the closing ceremony for the games.A couple of us decided to go along to the march, even though the evening has taken its toll on the morning. There were lots of stories from the previous evenings celebration snd sore heads aplenty, but it was all in the name of good fun, so I believe that everyone was amicably awake for the afternoon.
Walking through the Pride March, I was reminded that its always fun to be involved, but its better to make something of an effort beforehand. We just went along and marched as part of the Athletes among the floats. Without costumes and flags and in the absence of party going accoutrement, it all felt a little bland. That could also have been the fact that we had celebrated such a wonderful high yesterday with our medal that we didn't have the frame of mnd for a Pride March. Then I was reminded that we had played 4 days of volleyball and my body was surprisingly ready to 'have a bath'/ So we left the parade half way, had a quiet lunch and readied for the closing ceremony. This was a party fuelled atmosphere, but jumping and donw in a dirt car park is still jumping up and down in a dirt car park. So we stayed for the official speeches and then left to enjoy a final evening in Antwerp.
Not feeling in the mood to visit the party, we opted for a choice of a local Karaoke bar that had the worlds' largest rainbow flag hanging out the front of its terraced facade. However, upon entering, it became very apparent that 'we weren't in Kansas anymore' . What had previously been costumed paraders and individuals with medals around their neck, celebrating was filtering away. The end of the games was upon us as athletes began to wind their way away from Antwerp. Also, after a whiole 10 days of alcohol and fried food, I think I was ready for a break as well. So the last night was a quiet affair, in bed by midnight and readying for the final stage of my holiday.
Day 12 - Goodbye Antwerp
The next morning was a check out and saying farewell to people. It's quite an emotional experience, when you have come together for such a time together, spending most mornings and evenings out together as well as playing volleyball all day. You get used to having the posse mentality. The other aspect is saying goodbye to friendships you have forged with other people. That was really hard this time as there were a few indivuduals who had made the whole experience a really touching one with evenings out and new bonds formed.. In fact, I almost found myself in panic mode, trying to contact people to bid adieu and make sure contact details were exchanged. This is where social media has changed us. Being able to share information broadly does mean you can be 'found' and 'liked' and all of a sudden, your stories are communal. But it's actually really lovely to be able to pop open someones 'page' and see their smiling face on your computer screen. Its not as good as having them next to you, but you can imagine.