Originally published November 2014
I wasn’t very good at football when I was a kid. I played in my Primary School team and I don’t think any of my teammates can have been that great either because we only won one game all year. The only thing I remember about that victory is when it was announced in morning assembly the whole school cheered as if we’d just beaten Germany 10-0 in the World Cup Final.
I was put in defence which was a big mistake as I was too much of a wimp to tackle anyone and would back away when a forward approached with the ball. I can still hear our teacher/coach Mr. Grant shouting “Get to him! TO HIM!” at me from the sidelines which was the only instruction I remember him ever giving anyone — in typical English fashion his coaching philosophy was all about getting stuck in physically instead of fancy ball skills. He switched me to midfield for a while (less of a liability there, I think) and I wasn’t quite as bad, or so I thought. I could run a bit with the ball, was a decent crosser, and fancied myself to be a “tricky winger” type player. I was probably still useless but at least I remember enjoying those few games, the rest were miserable experiences: Saturday mornings standing on some cold, muddy pitch in my cheap Woolworth’s football boots hoping I wouldn’t have to tackle someone.
I still liked football, but having a casual kickabout in the street or the park with my mates was more my idea of fun. A “real” game on a pitch with proper goals and boots only rubbed in how rubbish I was, but playing a game of three-and-in or rush goalie it was easy to pretend I was better than that. Every goal scored was the FA Cup winner at Wembley or was greeted with a triumphant shout of “Rivelino!” — even if you were only playing with a tennis ball. Sometimes by some fluke you actually would do something skillful which you’d remember with pride for days or even longer (seriously, I can still remember one particular goal I scored in a game on my estate when I was about 13). The worst thing you’d have to deal with was getting the ball back from some old ladies garden or an argument over whose turn in goal it was.
I ended up playing hockey in Secondary School along with all the other “picked last” losers who were no good at football or not tough enough for rugby — though you felt plenty tough when you got a hockey stick in the balls — but luckily it wasn’t the sort of school where team sports were a big deal. I don’t even know if we had a school football team, I assume there was one but I had no idea who played for them or how they good they were. Thankfully there were no “Jocks” at the school unlike in American High Schools, the sociopathic bullies and sadistic PE teachers were bad enough for a four-eyed weed who was crap at games to deal with without there also being some golden-boy centre forward who was incredibly popular and got all the pretty girls to hate too.
Thank God I had pop music and comics.
Download: My Favourite Game — The Cardigans (mp3)