Would You Mind If I Play? - Chapter 63 - Pillars of the Nine Dragons

[Updated at: 2021-01-11 03:57:33]
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Chapter 63: Pillars of the Nine Dragons

Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation

The laughter significantly increased in Shu Guang High as its team prepared to enter Xigong Stadium for the first time. It was such a proud moment to enter that field as one of the final four teams in the Luoyang competitive zone, despite Zhongyuan’s stranglehold over the representative spot.

However, the last two years had seen Zhongyuan, Dingding and Tongxing seeding themselves in three out of the four spots. This made the fourth spot both desirable and unenviable at once—to enter Xigong as the fourth team meant being butchered by one of the other three. The year before last, Zhongyuan trampled over Fanglin High School with a score of 7: 1, setting the record for the highest score in a game at that stage.

Nevertheless, this did not scare or discourage Shu Guang. Its players were fearless and they had the grand ambition of advancing to the Nationals; they would never hesitate against any enemy until they reached their goal.

Their semi-final opponent was a powerful one—the “Uncrowned Kings” of Luoyang, Dingding High School.

An old but famous academy, Dingding High School was located north of the intersection between Dingding Road and Zhongzhou Road, the latter being Luoyang’s main arterial road. Every year, the rate of their graduates getting into National Key Universities were only second to Luoyang’s No.1 senior high school.

One kilometer to the east of the school was the Pillar of Nine Dragons—a landmark of Luoyang. A symbol of China’s Bronze Age stood on top of the freestanding rock column where nine mythical beasts soared. It was a Simuwu ding in a 1:1 scale.

The pillar in itself was a display of Luoyang’s grand history, which spanned 13 dynasties. The dragon was a representation of China and royalty, while the Simuwu ding was an emblem of power during China’s Bronze Age. Zhang Jun himself loved to visit the place despite it being quite far away from his house; he would go there for a spin whenever he entered the old city. He always held a special feeling about the pillar as a student of the Arts.

History’s vicissitude, authority and majesty were all embodied in this single pillar.

“Fan Cunjie! You’ve been staring at the column for 10 minutes! We’re going to be late again if you don’t move!” Bin Fei said with one hand on his bike handle and the other waving in front of Cunjie’s eyes.

Fan Cunjie then recovered. He took one more look at the pillar, which stood proudly below the sun before mounting his own bicycle and dashing to school with Bin Fei.

“I really don’t get it. Recently, you’ve been coming here often to ‘admire’ that pillar. It’s been here for years. What’s there to see?” Bin Fei, his best friend and first-choice striker of the Dingding soccer team asked.

“I’m not looking at the pillar.” Fan Cunjie smiled. “I’m looking at the nine dragons.”

“The nine dragons?”

“Let’s hurry, there’s just three minutes left.”

Fan Cunjie gathered himself and accelerated in front of Bin Fei.

Wednesday, four days left before the semi-final.

Fan Cunjie gracefully dribbled past a defender with a Pull Turn, and the stands exploded.

“It’s like a walk in the park!”

“He’s the Prince of Soccer!”

“Too good! It was like ballet!”

“One more!”

However, Fan Cunjie did not smile in reply to the praises as usual; instead, he was frowning slightly.

He did not entertain the requests for “one more” either, and quickly passed the ball up front to Bin Fei.

Liu Wei, Dingding’s coach observed each little change silently and he kept a mental note. When the training match got to half-time, he called his key player over.

“I heard that you’ve been frequenting the Pillar of Nine Dragons,” he said candidly. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Fan Cunjie glanced at his teammates who were fooling around, and then at the raucous fans. He then answere, “Coach, I don’t want everyone to think that I’m an empty vessel.”

Liu Wei watched him quietly, pressing him to continue.

“I know that the fans here enjoy watching my moves. The pundits call me the ‘Master of Tricks’, but I don’t desire such hollow fame. I want to win gold for once and enter the Nationals. Coach, I’m already in my third year, but I’ve never had the chance to play in the Nationals! Zhongyuan’s Zhao Defeng is in the same year as me, and he’s already won the gold and silver at the Nationals! While I have nothing!”

It was the first time Liu Wei saw his student being so emotional—he had always been a such a polite student!

Noticing that he was being loud, Fan Cunjie quickly apologized. “Sorry, Coach. I… lost myself!”

Liu Wei waved it off. “There’s no need to apologize. You’ve haven’t done anything wrong.”

He sighed. Fan Cunjie had always been a gentleman and he was courteous to everyone, always quickly apologizing whenever he made a mistake. Perhaps this was the very thing that stopped him from overtaking Zhao Defeng in soccer; he did not have the charisma, or the thirst for triumph. The soccer of today was not just a simple game played for happiness!

Perhaps, it was this realization that led to Fan Cunjie’s recent outings to the Pillar of the Nine Dragons. It had already been three years since the new kid on the block became a star player, who received numerous praise and attention. Nevertheless, how could he be fine with graduating without any trophies after everything he went through!

Maybe, there would be a breakthrough this year now that he had the appetite for victory.

Bin Fei, Xia Bo, Shi Yan, Cao Po, Yao Wang and Fan Cunjie—these players had been Dingding’s backbone for three years; all of them were third-years now. Once they leave the following year, the team’s ability would drop down a notch—this year was the last chance for the “Golden Generation”.

As such, Xigong Stadium could not become their final stage come Saturday afternoon. They had to defeat their opponents even if they were the unstoppable Shu Guang team. Zhongyuan awaited them in the final; it would be their last dance; the one that would end their three-year affair!

Dingding’s journey to becoming a giant in Luoyang and its ability to compete with Zhongyuan toe-to-toe did not rely solely on Fan Cunjie. Talent was evenly spread across all three zones.

Bin Fei, the striker was 180 cm tall. His shooting skills were outstanding and he could make sudden runs in the box; he was a real headache for defenders.

Shi Yan was a physically fit 175-cm wide midfielder. Good with both feet, he could play on either the left of right flanks. This allowed him to shift from right to left and vice versa, confusing and scattering the opponent’s defense.

Cao Po, a deep-lying playmaker was fast and very confident in one-on-one situations. His only flaw came in the form of headers, a waste considering his 185-cm height.

This contrasted against Yao Wang, the 190-cm center back who was good with headers and aerial duels. Having him at the back compensated for Cao Po’s weakness.

The keeper, Xia Bo was 183 cm and was good against low balls. He had sound judgement regarding the point and directions where balls would drop.

Although they had a strong desire to perform, they would still occasionally make unusual mistakes and shocking actions. There were two cases that stood out.

The first was in their final 16 match just the year before. They were levelled against the other team when they attacked and crossed into the box. The other team’s 187-cm tall center forward had leaped for a header. While any other goalie would have gathered the ball with their hands, Xia Bo did not—opting instead to compete for the header.

For Xia Bo to pit his own 183-cm frame against the opposing player’s 187-cm frame in an aerial duel, the result went as expected. Pinning his challenger down, the center forward headed into an empty goal! Fortunately, Dingding managed to score three goals afterwards to spare themselves the embarrassment from an awkward elimination.

The other was in a warm-up match. Their opponents’ school was so crude that there were no seats; the spectators had to stand beside the pitch to watch. Towards the end of the game, Dingding had a corner. Itching to have a goal to his name, Xiao Bo ran forward, hoping to score a playful goal. But the ball went straight to an opponent’s feet, and their goal was empty!

Xia Bo quickly ran back, but once again, he was unlike most people. A typical keeper would have ran straight for his own posts. Xia Bo on the other hand, ran to the flanks and dashed beside the line! He wanted to race against the ball!

Still, he clearly missed the fact that there were spectators standing right beside the line. It is not known to this day who had been the one to forgo the “viewer’s code of ethics” and stretch his leg out from the crowd. Busy watching the ball while sprinting back, Xia Bo practically flew when the leg caught him. He gave a lovely kiss to dear mother earth. By the time he looked up, the ball lay quietly in his net.

The kind of person Xia Bo was could be ascertained from these two incidents. He was truly Dingding’s living treasure.

The excitement from advancing into Xigong Stadium persisted in Shu Guang.

But on Tuesday, Liang Ke sternly told his players, “The difficult test is only about to start. The main thing is to ready your minds and do your best to prepare.”

Nevertheless, whether they were fans or players, everyone was hoping that Saturday would come faster.

That red line had reached the semi-finals after over a month. How time flew…

Thursday morning was like any other morning. The sun rose from the east, the traffic of students and workers appeared by seven, and the golden hour for breakfast stalls closely followed.

Zhang Jun felt weird. He and Su Fei did not see Yang Pan on their way to school and even after they had arrived. There had been no hint of him the entire morning—his desk was empty. Liang Ke asked if he knew why Yang Pan was absent, but he shook his head. He was curious too.

The weather that day was nice; the sun was radiant. Su Fei mentioned that her left eyelid kept twitching, but Zhang Jun did not see a single crow.

When he got home at noontime, his father told him that Yang Pan’s grandmother had passed away the night before.