March 17, 2009
When I was a lad I played football. Not obsessively, you understand. I wasn’t that good or that motivated. It’s just what we did.
At Pill Infant School (that’s the name of the village. Seriously) and then at Alexandra Junior School (in North Wales) we played at morning break, lunchtime and afternoon break. Every day. That’s five days a week every day for about four years.
Later, in Sheffield and then Alvechurch at the Middle School there, I played the beautiful game at the same level and also for the school. House matches, school matches and so on. Every day, three times a day, all school year long.
And then, high school, and it all stopped. I still played for the House and for the school but the lunchtime game was gone and things haven’t been the same since.
In New Zealand I was in the Fairfield College second XI, and we never won a game. Seriously. Most games we lost were by defaulting. The problem was we didn’t actually have a full team – we had about eight regulars and a few add-ons. Typically we’d default and then have a kick about, which was always my favourite version of playing an actual game anyway.
I was definitely a second XI kind of guy. I enjoyed the game but never had that burning killer desire to take it further. I’d shout “Hollywood!” at the telly whenever someone put on a swan dive but these days that’s practically required. I hate it. It ruins the game for me.
Once I went to Wembley to see England under 19s versus West Germany (yes, this was the Cold War) and was stunned by the size of the stadium. It was overwhelming, caused vertigo and was sensational. West Germany won 2-1 from memory. On the bus ride back we stopped at an RAF museum and saw a real Spitfire which was well cool.
In New Zealand of course I watch rugby. It’s actually far more fun to watch, once you get your head round the rules. But a good game of football beats a bad game of rugby any day.
Last Tuesday as I was heading to the changing rooms at work to get ready for a run Sheik (who does something mysterious with our payments systems) said “come and play football” and I did. We played sixty minutes but by about minute 5 I was having trouble seeing, let alone breathing, let alone running up and down. My running shoes were slippery on the grass, the young whipper-snappers (35) were running rings round me and a girl (A GIRL) all in blue strip (EVERTON) managed to get past me (although I savagely scythed her down from behind, taking great care to play the ball not the man, er girl, but still ensuring she bit the dirt pretty hard. Second XI tactics rule). I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk and I had to go sit in the goal mouth and prey that our guys kept the ball in play for a bit.
It was bloody fantastic.
I’m writing all of this out because I’ve failed to make the next match because of work needs. Twenty years between games is far too long. I’ve bought a pair of boots (on sale but with screw-in studs) and shin pads (ha! never had those when I needed them) and a stupidly long pair of socks to cover them and I am ready to go.
There’s a guy who plays who can accelerate like a stolen car and can run rings round me but he has a tell – he looks away from the direction he’s going to run. I stopped him a couple of times before I collapsed with exhaustion. I reckon I can take him. He’s not that hard.