Saturday, July 06, 2002

My Illustrious Football Career - Part one in a saga of one part

When I was a mere lad of nine years old or so, I used to go to cubs in the tiny village I lived in. Hurst, Berkshire, population wavering between nine and eleven, depending which day they had a funeral. We had a football team. A very small one of laid-back village kids kicked out of the house on a Saturday morning by parents with better things to do. As you can imagine, with such a small pool of players to choose from we weren't exactly endowed with the best of talent, and if we managed to keep the opposition to less than 10 goals it was seen as a moral victory. In other words, we were shit.

In fact, there was myself, my brother and nine others who would all have been the last players picked by any sane manager. One lad was told by his dad not to run around after the ball "because of his weak chest", and Peter wore calipers on his legs, but he gave his all nonetheless. Our goalie was as deaf as a post, and tended not to hear our shouts to remind him the ball was coming until it was far too late. I'm sure we had a player with only one foot at some stage, and he was still more mobile than some of the other lads.

At least five members of our team never actually got a touch of the ball in all the time I played for them, and one kid was so frightened of getting hurt, he'd run away as the action came towards him. Our nine-across-the-back rearguard was frequently seen cowering in terror, arms down the fronts of their shirts for warmth, egged on by our coach Mr Hoskins, who would frequently bring his goat to graze by the side of the pitch.

We played on the school playing field, a postage stamp patch of land which gave us a pitch that was wider than it was long. We frequently conceded goals which were, frankly, hopeful punts from the opposing penalty area, which would roll limply into the goal as the defence fled in terror at the round white thing in their midst. The problem was that being near to a big town, we'd usually come up against teams with a less laid back attitude to football than ours. We'd turn up on a Saturday morning, jog around a bit and possibly even get the odd touch of the ball (usually kicking-off after the other team had scored), while the well-drilled opposition collossi with a shouty coach on the sidelines would pummell us into submission.

"Memorable" games included 14-0, 17-0 and 21-0 hammerings in consecutive weeks, yet still we turned up for more. In one match, I played in goal and up front simultaneously as our keeper "had to go home" and we only lost 6-2, the most goals we ever scored in one match, and our narrowest ever defeat. As a matter of fact, the delirium I experienced on scoring our second was so frightening, I vowed never to score again. I still have nightmares about being mobbed by midgets.

It all came to a head when we attended the District Camp. We fled into the woods after non-stop taunts of "1st Hurst are the worst" for the whole weekend, and never played again. Strangely, we won the local five-a-side tournament that year, but only after my dog ran on the pitch and sniffed the opposing forward's arse as he was winding up for a shot. Shame does terrible things to a small boy.

I still have the newsletter from that season, and it makes for painful reading:

Played 16
Won 0
Drawn 0
Lost 16
Goals For 4
Goals Against 177
Points 0

Player of the season: Mr Hoskins' Goat.

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