I managed to do my football career in reverse. I started at the top and then slowly worked my way down.
It is easy to get lost in non-league football. Jamie Vardy is the exception not the rule. I could honestly reel of a long list of Premier league players who would struggle. It is a different game- more physical, less organised, more spontaneous I always had the impression that no-one ever quite knew what to do with me. They could see that I had some ability, but most of the managers I met seemed a bit unsure what to do with it. could he do it on a cold, rainy day in Stoke springs to mind. Except it would be more like a cold, rainy night in Tooting and Mitcham. It didn’t help that my ankles seemed to be made out of chocolate and my knees of glass.
I was lucky enough to briefly have Terry Venables as my manager. He was charismatic, intelligent, concise and astute. In my time in non-league football I never had a manager who developed me in any way as a footballer, but I met some of the biggest and funniest characters I have ever met. The majority of non-league managers exchange knowledge and advice for volume and swearing. “We have to do f**** better,” rather than how we were going to do better. After one such half time team talk I was then told off by a manager when I was trying to work out what to do in the second half with a fellow overrun midfielder. “Don’t f**** talk about it, get out there and do something!” came the helpful advice. The best managers spot what is going wrong and adapt what they are doing.
My non- league career is worthy of the “more clubs than Seve Ballesteros” quote. At the end of my time as a player, I had to do a profile for the programme and list my previous clubs. After I got to about fifteen and was still counting they decided to just write down my best known five!
I always seemed to play better the higher up I played. I was once playing for Corinthians out in the Kent countryside. We weren’t very good and the manager didn’t have a clue, but we had good players because the pitch was immaculate, they had an indoor pitch for training and did a lovely pie. The whole club was built by a millionaire whose sons needed a team to play for. You had to clap the opponents off at the end of the game(hence the Corinthian part), and I got fined several times for walking off down the tunnel after heavy losses unable to give the other team a guard of honour. Anyway, this particular season the manager would play me for a few games then drop me for a few games and clearly was very unsure about me. Then Erith and Belvedere, who were a couple of leagues above, came in for me on loan. I went there and did ok. Then when I returned to Corinthians the manager introduced me like I was a new signing. “Make sure you give him the ball as much as possible.” I was still the same player. Three games later I was back as a sub!
Another time at Tonbridge FC, we had a good side and got to a cup final. Again I was in and out of the team. Before the game, the manager sat next to me and told me I was playing right midfield. He then spent ten minutes telling me exactly what he wanted me to do. All the other players were getting changed and ready for the warm up, laughing at my discomfort behind his back. I was still sat in my tracksuit trying to look interested. Then one of the other players popped his head around the door and asked what position he was playing. “Right midfield,” came the reply. I ended up playing up front.
My favourite story was playing for Erith and Belvedere for a manager who used to boast about beating seven crown court cases. He stole JCB’s for a living. After I left, the club was burnt to the ground and the land sold to Asda. In one particular game we were playing a team that he hated for some unknown reason. “Cut their throats while they’re sleeping, treat them like cozzers and grasses!” was a line I will never forget from the most colourful over-the-top team talk I have ever witnessed. Anyway we went out pumped up to ridiculous heights. Within ten minutes we were down to nine men. Two sendings off for outrageous challenges. The second player sent off actually ended up in the crowd trying to fight the crowd, he was our best player and went on to have a very good career in the football league. At one stage their was a mass brawl involving 21 players- I remember watching it from the half way line. At half time I couldn’t wait to see what the manager was going to say. “Don’t know what’s wrong with you lads. I set you up for a game of football and you go out like a pack of animals!”
#football #soccer #manager #non-league #footballmanager #motivation
“If you’re pulling the strings, you can’t blame the puppets.”– Anon
When I was 18, after a fun night out, I dropped off a friend and said goodbye for the night. Later the next day I found out he had taken his own life that very night. In the weeks that followed it became clear that he had many issues that he kept behind closed doors. I knew him as a happy-go-lucky character without a care in the world.
Yesterday I heard another story of a boyhood friend who had followed the same path. I began to add up men that I had known and lost. Without over-thinking I was soon closing in on double figures. Asking female friends they struggle to think of one. When I think of my male friends, I see laughing faces, boisterous nights out, games of football and for want of a better word- banter. I have never had deep meaningful conversations with my male friends, and if one of my them started to I would feel awkward and even though I would try and support them, I know I would want it to end quickly. Sometimes Sonya will ask me what we talked about after a day at football with my friends. She soon gave up on that one. We don’t talk. We laugh. We joke. We take the p****.
I have been through some real low points in my life. Whenever it happens I force myself to deal with it, I don’t ask for help. I man up. As you get older you realise that this was not what I should have done. Yes I got through it but I have pushed people away to avoid awkward conversations. I didn’t pick up the phone, I internalised it all. I have carried it all with me, the whole weight, when I know there were people around me who would have gladly lightened the load.
In October, a 17 year old footballer who had been released by Manchester City took his life. In this situation, the care and support you receive when being dealt this devastating news is non existent. Someone I used to play with at Tottenham spoke on social media about how low he was when he was released as a young man from Spurs, his life seeming in tatters. I could understand fully as did many others judging by the responses on his timeline. Honestly, I don’t think I ever got over my dream being taken from me at such a young age.
77% of suicides are men. Let that sit for a moment.
I despair sometimes at some ways in which the world is changing. But I will hold my hands up- some things do need to change.
It feels a little strange putting my thoughts down like this. I have always been a bit reserved and have always believed that you should let others talk about you and your achievements. so would never have thought to write a blog. As a teacher, I was always the one to sit at the back in meetings or training days dreading being asked to do anything other than listen. Maybe that might be a future blog in itself! But then again I never thought I would write a novel or move to China so I guess if you aren’t moving forward then you are standing still!
Obviously this whole web page is to promote my debut novel Eye on the Ball and I am hoping that I might connect with a few of you who might in turn give the book a chance. I will write about what I know, so you will mainly read about football, teaching and my journey as an author. The author part is the bit I know the least about, but I am learning everyday. The book has only just been released although I must have read it 50 times over the past couple of years as I edited it, rewrote it and tried to improve it. So please forgive me if I make the odd error in my blog as I don’t want this to feel like work too.
Right now I am at the very nervous stage where I have written it, it is out there available in the world and I am sure there are some people who are actually reading it. The nervous bit? Reviews… I know that they can be valuable and that the negative ones could be the most valuable. The thing is I have put a lot into this book and know I wouldn’t like people not enjoying it or criticising it. I have never dealt well with criticism. Playing football I always played better in teams where I felt they rated me. I was always a confidence player and overthinking things always led to a loss of form. Something that I have always tried to remember when coaching, teaching or managing. A positive interaction is worth twenty negative.
This blog is just a brief introduction to me and why I am doing this, hopefully you are interested and will enjoy them in the future. If you want to receive the blogs by post then please click the link when you first enter the blog section and it can save you a bit of time finding it.
#zerotohero #football #teaching, #writing #author