Into The Team by Rob Damon
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Debut author Rob Damon explores the world of bromance and self discovery in this first tour de force.
To honor his father, young footballer Todd Mackerson commits to his goal of playing for a professional team. When, at the age of 20, he is offered a place to train with one of England’s biggest clubs, he leaves home convinced his dream is within reach.
Being warned by his new team mates of the tough rules and hard training routines, Todd is undeterred. But when he discovers that the player’s way of bonding borders on the sexual, and that he must learn to accept the erotic affections that connect the team together, he wonders how far he can go for his dream.
But, after experiencing the care and attention men can give to each other, Todd feels awakened. Learning that each player has a special “partner” on the team, who they play and bond with as intimately as lovers, Todd becomes fascinated with the idea.
And when he develops feelings for one player in particular, he discovers how a stronger kind of romance – that between two men – can be pure and powerful enough to bring magic and success on the pitch.
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…The locker room was quiet. It was nearly four PM and the rest of the first team had left after lunch. It felt good to be alone with Kieran, and Todd grew more confident about the guy becoming his partner.
But he was uncertain about what to do. Although he’d suggested the sauna, he wondered if Kieran took that to mean they were going to have some hand contact with each other. Perhaps he’d been through a similar experience with Jason or one of the other players when he first came to the club, and was now taking it for granted they were going to get intimate.
While they stripped out of their gear, they talked about Todd’s parents. He mentioned his father had passed away.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Kieran stopped half way through taking off his running pants.
“It happened years ago.” Todd smiled, hoping to ease Kieran.
Although it was a moment of sorrow for him, and he detected a pensive slant in Kieran’s voice, he felt positive about the knowledge he’d shared.
Once out of their underwear Todd placed a hand on Kieran’s neck and gave a delicate rub. “Let’s shower before the sauna.”
“You always need a shower after the session.” Kieran laughed. “Get all that sweat off you before you sweat some more.” He rubbed Todd’s back as they walked into the shower room.
Would he need to soap Kieran like he saw Josh doing for Leo? Todd headed to the wall and decided to just wash himself. He needed to get this right, and making a move too soon could blow it.
Kieran showered next to him and they talked some more about what music they liked. Kieran liked the Irish bands like Coldplay and U2. Todd agreed, and added Ash to the list.
“What about American rock?” Kieran asked.
Todd soaped up his legs and tried to remember if he’d heard any recently. Music wasn’t his main interest but he tried to keep up to date. “I like that song which has a bloke screaming about money or something.” He frowned. “The video has him ransacking his bedroom, looking under floorboards and shit.”
Kieran stopped washing and glanced at him with a lost expression.
“You mean ‘No Cash No Hash’?” he asked. “Yeah, the video has him running around his bedroom searching through draws and coat pockets.”
Todd laughed. That was it. The bloke loses it at the end of the video and leaps from his tenth floor flat. “NO CASH NO HASH!” he screamed.
“GONNA SPLASH MY MASH!” Kieran continued. “I AIN’T SEEN NO GREEN! NO HASH NO CASH!” Kieran beamed while Todd laughed.
Seeing Kieran’s eyes, bright and adoring, Todd felt suddenly out of place. Kieran was four years older and yet he seemed like a younger guy. He was the same height as Todd, but his body was slimmer, more athletic than Todd’s tougher frame. He wondered if this meant he had to take the lead in this budding pair process.
“I think we should spend more time training.” Kieran smiled. “We’ll both get each other hot for the game in two weeks and show the boss we’ve got something going.”
The positive tone in his voice lifted Todd’s stomach.
“Yeah, we should.”
His head filled with the two of them on the pitch for the charity game, passing the ball to each other as they ran to the opposite end, dodging every challenge. It could be just like that time when he’d gone to the tournament with his father and met that kid with whom he’d played so well.
“Tomorrow, yeah?” Kieran said. “We can work on our defense. If you can show the boss you’ve got good tackling skills, he’ll probably play you for longer.”
Todd liked that. It sounded like Kieran had been thinking about where his skills needed work.
As Kieran stuck his head under the jet, Todd took a deep breath. Looking down, he noticed his cock had swollen a touch. Although still limp, it had reached the pre stimulation stage, where it felt heavier and appeared bigger than usual. Casting his eyes to Kieran’s, he could see a slight increase in his cock too.
Heading to the sauna they grabbed a towel each. The sauna was a long room with the door at one end. Todd went in first and headed to the far corner. Even though the locker room was empty, and he had no worries about being disturbed, he felt it best to go to the furthest point away from the glass door.
He spread the towel on the bench and sat down. Kieran sat at an angle to him.
“Everyone’s glad you’re on the team,” he said. “We’ve been in need of a new pair of feet for years.”
Todd wondered if that piece of small talk was a sign of Kieran’s uncertainty. “Thanks.”
“I’m glad we talked at Sean’s party,” Kieran went on. “I didn’t get a chance to talk to you last week or the week before.” Looking over Todd’s body his face grew serious. “You should try to lose some weight.” His eyes widened. “Not that you’ve got any fat on you, I just mean that you should try to lose some of the muscle.”
“This is my natural shape. I’ve trained for years on the pitch, done loads of sprinting, and I’ve always been this weight.”
“Try to eat less protein and more carbs…I mean, I think you look good as you are but most players have an athletic build.” He shook his head and looked downcast. “Sorry man, I’m not having a go.”
Todd cast his eyes over Kieran’s body. “You’ve got a good build,” he said. “Do you lift weights?”
“I keep that to a minimum. I think the less weight you carry around the field, the more stamina you have and the better you are at using your body.”
Todd found himself wanting to rub him and wondered whether he should ask. Glancing at his cock he saw it was flaccid but still in that ready state. He decided to shift his butt towards him so their legs touched.
“I got a massage last week from Jason.” He felt a coy grin break on his face. “It was sort of, interesting.”
Kieran’s eyes narrowed for a second, making him look mischievous. “I once had one from him. I think he likes giving them.”
“Did you like it?”
Kieran laughed. “It was ok.” He looked at Todd with amused eyes. “We should just get it over with, yeah?”
Todd exhaled. Beads of sweat snaked their way down his forehead as he pushed his butt back on the bench and spread his thighs out.
Kieran placed his pert butt between Todd’s legs.
Feeling free to do what he wanted, Todd started on his lower back and gently rubbed with his thumbs. Kieran had smoother skin than Jason and Todd’s hands slipped easily over it. He rubbed slowly up his back towards his neck. Kieran’s head flopped down in front of him, and his breathing turned slow and even.
“You’ve got good skin,” Todd said as he rubbed below Kieran’s hairline.
“I eat lots of tomatoes and drink lots of water.”
“Do the rest of the guys on the team drink a lot of beer often?”
“No.” Kieran shook his head. “Saturday night was rare. Sean often has the lads round at his house, but we don’t go mad. Those Tequila shots were too much. I think they just went overboard to celebrate your arrival. You know, it’s really affected everyone.”
Having spent most of his time trying to deal with being the new boy, Todd had given little thought to how his arrival affected everyone else. They’d had a stable team for several years, and now suddenly he was amongst them. The notion that he’d had an effect made him feel confident.
The question of who Kieran woke up next to after that party crept into Todd’s mind again. But he kept quiet and rubbed delicately under his arms, and as he did, he felt Kieran’s hands on his thighs.
“You have got some muscle on those legs,” Kieran said.
Todd tensed them.
“Jesus,” Kieran hissed. “That is solid.”
Todd chuckled and worked his hands slowly around his chest just like Jason had with him. The guy seemed to like it and slid back a little further until his ass met Todd’s slowly growing hard on.
Kieran gave it a soft squeeze with his butt cheeks. Todd saw that as the signal to go for it and dipped his hands down Kieran’s hot sweaty torso. They slid smoothly, as though coated in oil, and it wasn’t long until they brushed the hard tip of Kieran’s cock.
“Yeah, do it for me,” Kieran whispered.
Todd curled his fingers around the shaft. Kieran’s cock was a little smaller than his own, but it felt good in his grip. Like Jason had done for him, he worked it slowly, gripping delicately with each downward pull. Kieran’s back inflated and subsided against him, deeper and deeper with each jerk. With his free hand, Todd dipped lower and stroked Kieran’s soft balls. His lips brushed close to Kieran’s neck and the desire to gently kiss his skin, stick out his tongue and lick the sweat running down it, grew steadily with each heaving motion of the body in front of him.
Kieran reached a hand down to Todd’s cock and after lifting his butt up an inch, directed its length beneath him and sat back down.
Todd was reminded of Sean Thompson, the night on his bed with Jason Collier. They didn’t fuck. Sean had done to Todd what Todd was now doing to Kieran, and that was just sliding his cock between his crack, pushing it forward until the tip hit the ball sack.
Relief lifted him. He pressed in harder.
Kieran let out a dull breathy sound as a warm trickle slipped over Todd’s fingers, making him look down over the defenders shoulder to watch.
Kieran thrust into his grip and fired.
When I first read this manuscript as a beta-reader, I got so caught up in Todd’s journey from a rough mining town in northern England to a big-league soccer stadium, that I read it in one sitting. I’m happy to say that the finished, published novel had the same effect on me too. Into the Team defies categorization, which is one of the reasons I love it—not exactly ‘gay fiction’, not entirely romance either, it can best be described as a coming of age story set against the world of soccer (football).
At the heart of the novel is a young man’s transition from boyhood to manhood. Still grieving the loss of his father years ago, Todd finds in his teammates the belonging he seeks, the strength to follow his dreams and an unexpected sexual awakening. Rob paints the characters so vividly that they could be real and by the end, the notion of ‘intimate team bonding’ seems entirely plausible and you wonder why it’s not a real thing (or is it!?). His unique style captures the excitement and beauty of the Beautiful Game and kept even this non-sports fan on the edge of her seat: “All he knew was that the crowd was alive with hands in the air, their screams flowing down the terraces in a thundering wave.”
The novel blurs lines when it comes to sexuality and labels. This is not strictly speaking a MM romance(there is M/F sex in here and multiple sexual encounters for those who are concerned about that), and yet I found it incredibly romantic in the ‘long looks and unspoken words’ way. It’s subtle, which I found refreshing. Nor is it an endless sex romp as you might expect from the blurb, although it’s definitely erotic. There’s a lot packed into this deceptively simple story as the author deftly explores ideas of masculinity, sexuality and belonging.
This is a wonderful debut from a promising author.
Only the strongest bonds will win
Into the Team, by Rob Damon is his debut novel about a small boy, who lost his father at a very young age, growing into a man and fulfilling, both, their dreams of playing football. For those of us who live in America, we call it soccer, but it doesn’t change the dynamics of what the book is about, and that is team companionship/spirit/support/connections to your fellow team member.
Todd has dreamed of playing football since he was a small boy. He’s now twenty and it looks like his dream is coming true. He has practiced hard for this chance and he has a good head on his shoulders.
As he is driven to an undisclosed location, by a football scout, he hates to get his hopes up for what this could mean. He soon finds out that he is being offered a spot on one of England’s biggest clubs and he is ecstatic.
In the locker room, Todd sees two players in the shower together and this really confuses him. He’s pretty sure they were touching each other in a sexual way, but why isn’t anyone saying anything?
The more he learns about team dynamics and bonding the more questions play havoc with his head. When the boss notices Todd’s concern he pulls him into the office for a talk. His theory has proven that by partnering up with another team member, one that you connect with strongly, makes the flow of your skill on the field much better.
Todd doesn’t deny that knowing your team members and being able to anticipate their moves on the field works great but he is not sure about the intimacy he witnesses.
I really enjoyed this story and I liked the author’s writing style. I wasn’t sure how the story was going to play out, but I was intrigued enough to stay with it and basically read it in one sitting.
I wouldn’t consider this a romance, at all, more like a bro-mance. There isn’t any sex in the book, to speak of, however, there is touching and kissing. Most is handled off page allowing the reader to use their imagination.
With that said, there are moments of intimacy between the players that was very realistic and sweet, bordering on hot and sensual. The more comfortable Todd becomes the more he is at ease with expressing his feelings. At first, he’s very reserved and almost bashful, but he soon gives in wanting that connection with his teammate
“Nothing feels as good as letting yourself go with a teammate. When you’re at your most intimate, that’s when you’re at your most trusting, at your most real.”
— Jason – Manford Reds player
He does start to question his sexuality, however, and wonders if he is gay or at least bi. His partner on the team is Daryl, who is very shy and keeps more to himself. He has never clicked with anyone on the team until Todd came along. These two have a history together that I was really hoping would bring them closer off the field, as well as on.
The story flows along at a nice pace and the author spends most of his focus on the field or locker rooms where the players are learning to trust and form connections. There were some phrases that I was not familiar with since this happens in England but I wasn’t thrown from the story. At one point, I was completely under the author’s spell, when the guys were on the field and the author narrated the game, play by play.
I actually felt as though I was on the field watching, holding my breath, willing the ball to go into the net. It was intense and I think I held my breath through the whole game. Great job by the author with his detailed descriptive narrative.
The author, in my opinion, leaves the story open for the reader to form their own opinion as far as the HEA or HFN. I choose to believe that Todd and Daryl, both, have their happy ever after and I would love to see more about them in the future to see if I am right.
I would definitely recommend this story to other readers who like a story with heart. There is a scene where I had tears pouring down my face as Todd faces some of his past about his dad. It was a beautiful and heartfelt moment and the author had my undivided attention. Then, there were moments that had me smiling from ear to ear celebrating their joy with them. Overall, the story was very moving and I would definitely read more from this author.