I haven’t written a blog for a few weeks as I’ve been finishing writing my sequel to Eye on the Ball, I am hoping to release it in June. In that time there have been a few things that have caught my eye, but the continued slide by Tottenham has been the most eye catching. In December 2018 Manchester United released the following statement:
Manchester United decided to sack Jose Mourinho because they were unhappy with a lack of progress in form, style of play and development of their young players.
I remember reading this and thinking that it was fair comment. I now look at Mourinho at Spurs and think it is pretty much valid now too.
There are a number of reasons why I have always thought that Mourinho was a bad fit for Tottenham. Below are just two.
Style of play- Spurs history
I have always seen Spurs, and ManchesterUnited, as having a certain amount of history with regards to the way they play football. They have been teams that play with flair and look to attack. Their history is littered with players like Hoddle, Ardiles, Waddle, Gazza, Ginola and I could go on. They have attracted a particular fanbase due to this too. Fans who enjoy football for being the beautiful game. Old Trafford is called the Theatre of dreams and Tottenham’s motto is “To do is to dare” like all teams they demand success but how they get it is important too. Mourinho has a style alien to both those clubs. He looks to get an early lead then sit back and defend it. Against most opponents his first instinct is to stop them from playing rather than look at what his side can do. The majority of fans at these clubs will not accept that. Against the top five maybe, but not week in week out. Trying to see out games against clearly inferior opposition does not sit well at these clubs, in fact Rot Hodgson lost his job at Liverpool for that exact reason. The problem he has at Spurs is also the quality of the player. The defence they have now is nowhere near the level of three or four years ago. If you look to defend for long periods of time, you can’t make mistakes. The current squad is littered with mistakes. When he was in his prime at Chelsea and Inter Milan part of his strength was the fact he got world class players to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team. Mistakes were few and far between, they could also go back through the gears and get important goals when needed. For this Spurs side they struggle to change mentality from defence to attack. They need a manager who will develop them and trust them. Improving them so that they get the most from them. Mourinho is not that sort of manager.
Development of players
In 16 months can you name one Spurs player who has improved? Pep Guardiola has thrown money at his defence but when you look at his players their development is clear. Sterling and Foden two great examples. Mourinho is the opposite. Look at the plight of Deli Ali. Throughout his career Mourinho has fallen out with players. At the previous clubs he has been able to discard these players as they have spent fortunes bringing in new players, at Spurs he cannot do that. Look at him now turning to Ali and Bale against Manchester City. Imagine how much stronger the Spurs squad would be right now had these two talents been managed properly and had their match fitness been at the level it should be with a decent run of games. It’s very hard for players to get to their best levels when they are in and out of the side. His recent policy of rotating the defence has not helped either.
I hope it is not too late for Mourinho to change. He is good in the transfer market, but normally on bigger budgets (he spent 380 million at Manchester United and left them at 8th place). If he could be old Mourinho against the top sides and in big matches and be more expansive against the other teams he could still be a real asset at the club. If he doesn’t alienate them in the meantime! Just one more piece of food for thought if you are a Spurs fan. Harry Kane is 28 now and yet to win a major trophy…
The above is a quote about something that has been on the back of my mind for a while. I love the fact that there is still football to watch. I am sure that without it the series of lockdowns and tiers would have been a lot worse for a lot of people. But as much as I am glad it has not been cancelled; I find it soulless without a live crowd watching it. I find it difficult to get too excited by it. I’m also pretty sure that it has had a huge effect on the results of the matches so far.
Soccer AM does a section where players talk frankly about their teammates. When asked whom the best players in training are, it is often a player that you would not expect. This idea is transferable to all levels of football. I am sure everyone who has played football has played with someone who looks like a million dollars in training and often two bob in a game. I saw an article on Vinny Samways on Facebook where he was described as workmanlike. I remember Peter Shreeves dropping him in the Winter and telling him it was the because the heavy pitches didn’t suit him. He was christened Vinny Sideways by the Tottenham fans due to a distinct lack of ambition when in possession of the ball. Vinny Samways was in fact one of the most talented players I have ever seen. He was a clever passer, a good finisher and appeared to run quicker with the ball than without. In training and in the reserve games, he was the best player on the pitch week in week out. Why did he fail to produce this form on the biggest stage? In my opinion it was the crowd. If he gave it away trying something difficult they got on his back. So instead he took the easy option. Players like Gazza and Chris Waddle would just shrug it off. They could give it away five times on the spin, but still do what they felt was right. The mark of a truly great player. It is why I consider Maradona the best player in my lifetime. The bigger the occasion the more he stepped up. I have no doubt that Messi is a better footballer than Ronaldo, but Ronaldo has consistently stepped up on the big occasion. Messi, particularly in recent years has not. I feel that history may place Ronaldo as the greater player of the two.
It may seem like I digress but let me explain my ramblings! This year, without a crowd, lesser players are flourishing. The very top players are often the very best because of their mentality. Think Gazza and Waddle. Now the gap has been shortened. Without a crowd affecting their confidence and decisions lesser players are taking advantage. Shortening the gap between them and the very top players. I honestly believe the best players feed off the pressure of a crowd, rising to the occasion. There are some grounds where the fans really feel like the extra man. It is why any team can beat any team this year. With the exception of Sheffield United!
Not that it is all bad. The development of some players might be enhanced without the pressure cooker of a crowd. I wonder how the Samways of the world might have faired this season. Given a chance to show their true worth. Has the future careers of many players been changed for ever by the virus? Free of the shackles able to do what they want without the fear of feeling the wrath of the supporters.
As an aside I also blame coaches and managers for the waste of talents like Vinny Samways. Too many are happy when a player keeps the ball rather than risk losing possession. I remember Rooney when he first burst on the scene being unpredictable, capable of moments of brilliance. I have always thought he was overcoached, turned into a safer tamer version of himself. A problem in English football for years. Chris Waddle thinks that children should be allowed to dribble, learn for themselves by their mistakes. Too many young players are told to just play the easy pass. Every week I see players receive the ball one on one against their defender with space in behind and they turn back playing an easy safe option. Joe Cole is another name that springs to mind. The truly great players never take a step backwards.
In Manchester United’s game against Aston Villa Pogba can be seen telling Shaw that he should have gone down (not dived, we will come to that later) when the defender made contact with him in the area. Just before Pogba told him to go down I thought the same thing. My opinion on diving is different from a lot of people. Therefore, I have written my guide to diving without water.
For this think when Rivaldo got a player sent of at the world cup. The ball was thrown at him and it him on his knee. He went down holding his face. He then rolled about for a few minutes. This sort of thing gives football a bad name. It is players pretending that they have been punched or elbowed to try and get a fellow pro sent off. If someone punches or elbows you in the face, fine go down. Draw attention to it. If not get on with the game.
Not acceptable, any attempt to get a player sent off for something they didn’t do is embarrassing and should face a huge ban and fine. Video footage is easily used because it is clear. Someone gets pushed in their chest and they go down holding their face. There are no excuses. Modern football gets a bad name through theses actions. I have even started to see big tough defenders doing it, in the same game as the Pogba/ Shaw thing there was Bailly against Grealish. Grealish nudged him in the back and Bailly went down like there was a sniper on the grassy null.
We have contact
I know people with disagree with me on this. If you are in the area and you feel contact, you should go down. Shaw should have got a penalty when Pogba told him. He had touched the ball past the last defender and the defender caught him making him lose control of the ball. It is a foul, but referees never give it unless the attacker goes down. In the area if you have the ball then there is a chance to score, If there is contact on you it can unbalance you or put you off and stop the chance of a goal. The defender has made the mistake you need to make sure the referee does his job. To my mind it is a professional sport and players need to be professional. The defender who makes a mistimed tackle or tries to make a desperate attempt to put you off when you are shooting is the one who should be punished. If you stay on your feet, then the chance could be lost. I see people in nostalgic football groups say that this never used to happen. This type of “dive” has always happened. My coaches who would have a go at me if I did the same as Shaw and tried to stay on my feet had been professional footballers in the 70’s and 80’s and their coaches had been telling them the same thing. Pogba’s mistake was he did it on the pitch. I can guarantee that in the changing room Shaw will have been told more than once that he should have gone down.
Not even a dive. The referee should give the penalty but if you don’t go down, he won’t. Make him make a decision.
This is when defenders have the ball normally facing their own corner flag with an attacker close behind them. The defender collapses forward as if he has been hit by a bus from behind. The referee always gives the free kick even though the defenders dive is normally laughable. Think Harry Maguire trying to convince the referee that a hand on his back from David Silva is enough to throw him to the floor WWE style. The continental defenders even grab the ball as they fall to really give the referee a problem.
Take away their defender’s licence. Defenders should show no pain, wear long metal studs in all weathers and never ever dive.
This is the one that on TV looks awful. The attacker toe pokes the ball then throws themselves to the floor and rolls about like they have stood on a mine. A quick look on YouTube will get some hilarious results. This looks the worst when the defender pulls out the tackle but the player has already committed to the dive. You could drive a National express coach between the two players the defender is so far away. VAR should eradicate this sort of dive.
Not acceptable. Ruins football’s reputation. This is cheating.
Big boys don’t cry
Think Neymar. In the empty stadiums you can now hear the screams as players try to win free kicks. The danger is cry wolf. In the past a player screaming meant serious injury, so the game gets stopped. Now referees cannot be sure, so they play on. I have now seen the hitting-the-floor-in-pain being faked. That used to be another sign of serious injury. Players are clever they have realised that hitting the floor and not rolling around looks serious. They now fake a serious injury to try and win a free kick or break up a counterattack.
If a player looks seriously injured, then doesn’t limp for at least 5 minutes afterwards then someone should be allowed to two-foot them with no punishment! Let the punishment fit the crime. Seriously though have a bit of pride and get up and run back.
I admire the skill factor of this one, but it is as bad as the no contact dive. This is rife in the modern game and needs to be eradicated. Vardy, Kane, Grealish, Pogba, Fernandes, Salah, basically think top player and they do it. The defender does nothing wrong except get close. Vardy will toe poke the ball straight then run across the defender’s path forcing the contact then go down. Grealish will touch it past the defender then actually kick the defender and go down himself. Think Bruno Fernandes’s stamp on the defender that won the penalty. Salah will poke it past the sliding keeper and not run after the ball but wait for the keepers momentum to eventually make contact. Pogba even tripped himself!
So difficult to stop. Think innocent until proven guilty. You can see the contact, you are sure the attacker made it, but so hard to prove. Players need to step up and take the lead. Like a gun amnesty. No punishment but everyone just agree to stop. I know – never going to happen but it needs to as it is killing the game. In the end there will be stoppages every thirty seconds. VAR being used every two minutes.
I have been looking forward to writing this second half all week. If you recognise anyone that you have played who matches my descriptions, please feel free to tag them. I could have named four or five for every position! I can see myself in three or four of them! Remember you can read the first part and all my other blogs at ww.anthonypottsauthor.com Enjoy!
El Loco – Mitchell
This is the goalkeeper. Size and fitness are the first attributes. Either tall enough to look like a keeper or too big to run around. I have named these as El Loco because they will often come charging off their line at the most random of moments. This never ends well. Their own defenders as well as their opponents can testify to this. Secretly have dreams of being a striker.
2. Out of harm’s way – Grant
I hesitated naming a player here for obvious reasons. These players are normally the salt of the earth. They never miss a game. Normally right in the middle of everything socially, and very well liked. They are also consistent. Consistently S***! At least they can be relied on. Full back is where they end up as it is the spot you can do least damage from. These are the players where when they kick the ball no-one knows where it is likely to end up – least of all them.
3. On the Launch Pad – Matt
Every team has one of these. It could be the friendliest game ever. Bible club United vs Good Samaritans FC this player is just waiting for a chance to launch themselves two-footed at an opponent’s mid-rift. Then after the ensuing scuffle they will plead their innocence as if they were being wronged. Self-control is not an attribute they possess, and they are only put at fullback to limit the opportunities for take-off. Warning: DO NOT PLAY THIS PLAYER AT CENTRAL MIDFIELD. 80 minutes is a long time to play with 10 men.
4. Defensive midfielder – Tony
A little bit of history here. Before Claude Makalele and Championship manager there was no such thing as a defensive midfielder, DM, Anchor man, holding midfielder, Deep lying playmaker etc. Instead, there was a central midfielder who was expected to run around a lot. Defending and attacking. Think Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. In Sunday football the defensive midfielder is a specialist position. You need to have once been a good player who can now no longer run. This position is a career extender.
5. The Unit – Ben
Like El Loco the first attributes for this position is size. These players rarely go to ground like On The Launch Pad (It would take too long to get back up). They do though play by the mantra of the ball or the player. As in, only one will get past. These players play in straight lines as they have a very wide turning circle. Once they start on a course they do not deviate. Interesting to note that although often 6’4 plus they often never head the ball.
6. Ping – Daniel
This is a player who can kick the ball over long distances at great accuracy. This is a great skill that they are very proud off. As a consequence, their radar does not function at less than 50 yards. Do not bother calling for the ball unless you are further than the requisite distance. You will not receive it. Cannot play further forward as there is not enough pitch to work with.
7. Tricky Winger – Mark
I have used tricky, but I should probably have used fast. These players are often light and quick. Prone to unnecessary step-overs, they are the natural prey of On The Launch Pad. On occasion known to pass, although not often. Playing style of head down and run. Another player who can often run out of pitch. If you are a forward playing with a Tricky Winger hoping for a cross, don’t bother. In later years with weight gain Tricky Wingers often turn into On The Launch Pad or even Out of Harm’s way.
8. Love of the Game – Steve
Lives for the game. This player will run all day and demand the ball at every opportunity. They will take throw ins, free-kicks, penalties and corners. Can play anywhere and usually does. No formation can tie him down. Will play in any conditions and when everyone else thinks, it is too cold, too wet, too dangerous, too dark, too covered in 5 foot of snow they will still try to get the game to go ahead. These players are in most danger due to Covid as without football they cannot function.
9. Bambi on Ice – Carlton
THE single most frustrating player. They cannot play football. They are clumsy, uncoordinated and without ability. But, somehow, they score goals! Off knees, backsides and faces; the ball has the uncanny knack of finding the back of the net. Their second touch is usually a tackle, their third a goal. Cannot play anywhere else as without the goals they bring nothing to the party. Every level has these players. Think Lukaku and work your way down.
10. Semi Pro – Ryan
This is a player who is too good for this level. And they know it. They get paid to play on a Saturday and use the Sunday to do all the things they can’t do on a Saturday. It doesn’t matter what their real position is, on a Sunday they WILL play central midfield or striker. There is no such thing as an easy pass for these players. Every possession is a chance to show off. Frustrating to the rest of the team for whom this is their main game of football, the Semi Pro has no interest in the result. In the end, they are deemed as a necessary evil as they can often win the game by themselves.
11. Fairweather player – Jack
These players are difficult to spot on a cold and wintry day or if you are losing as they often go missing. On a cold day they wear 5 tracksuits and a woolly hat which they only remove at kick off. In my book I talk about 21 player brawls. This is the player who is missing. In the summer they are unreplaceable especially if you are winning. At this point they can be your most impressive player. They try and live off these performances during the Winter months. Can only run in one direction – towards the opponent’s goal.
12. Wanabee manager – Mr S
The ‘A bit of Knowledge is a dangerous thing’ award goes to this player. Team talks by the real manager are often interrupted by this player. They are to be avoided in the bar at the end of the game as they will walk you through the last 90 minutes in great detail, often with the aid of visual prompts. During games they can be seen throwing their hands up at every mistake made by every other players; toys rarely stay in prams.
13. Functioning Alcoholic – Jamie
These players will often miss games, for obvious reasons. Avoid sitting next to these players in the changing room as the alcohol seeping out their pours can be intoxicating. Often they have played at a very high level, but they rarely mention it. On their day they are unplayable as it is only their lifestyle that has stopped them being a proper player. The line behind failing because they drank or drinking because they failed can get very blurred. As can their eyes on a Sunday morning. Always good for a story or two at the end of the game.
14. I could have been someone – Barry
Every team has one of these as does every pub. I could have been someone but… Every statement they make has you reaching for Google. Every story has you calling Bulls****. There are more holes in their stories than a tea bag but they have told them for so long they now actually believe them. These players are never available to play, they would give the game away if that happened!
NO NUMBER The Ringer – Darren
Closely related to the Semi-Pro, these are generally players who should not be anywhere near Sunday football. They play under assumed names. The Sunday team manager will tell them not to get booked under any circumstances, but if you do; remember your name is Grant. One of my oldest and best friends was often a ringer. He played semi-professionally but had a contract that meant he could not play Sunday football. This did not stop him. Rules for a ringer are to play within yourself, don’t make things too obvious. Not Darren. He was scoring three, four or five goals a game. Word soon got to his manager who went incognito to see for himself. Darren scored a wonder goal and slid on his knees in celebration – stopping inches from his managers feet. He was sacked on Monday morning!
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This blog is about an English phenomena: Sunday football. There are over 11 million people in the UK currently playing Sunday football. I am going to give you a tongue-in-cheek lowdown on what you might expect if you were to join a local Sunday side and for a bit of fun (in part 2) tell you some of the characters you are likely to come across. I have named these players after real people I have played with. If you have ever played or watched then I am sure you will recognise your own teammates in them.
The Sunday morning football story generally begins on a Saturday night. The unfortunate manager will be desperately trying to contact players to find out who is available. This is a thankless task and there are always a few that he is unable to contact. All the players will be part of some kind of group chat, but many will go missing the night before a game. Invariable the manager will get about 4 definites, 5 probables and then 5 uncontactables. There are many variables to this. What is the weather like? Are the players out drinking? If so how big a session is it? Plus injuries, many Sunday footballers have bad knees, ankles, backs etc. Sometimes they won’t know if they can play right up to the point that they step out of bed on Sunday morning and take their first step. The lesson here is not to commit too early. The morning of the game is another key moment in the selection process. It is now a carefully balanced equation of comfort of bed, severity of hangover, level of aches and pains, distance to travel to game, how good the other team is and how cold or wet it is. Anyone of these factors could lead to a message being sent explaining to the manager how they are ill, having to work, injured or any other excuse they have not used too often in the recent past. It is then a mad panic for the manager to call anyone with a pulse. Starting with the better players and ending with literally anyone! You would be shocked at how far down the food chain this search can go. There are always players who sign up at the start of the year just in case their knee isn’t too bad, their job has eased off or their wife lets them out the house. “If ever you are struggling you can call on me I will be there mate.” As a rule, they are never available. Messages are sent out to all the players in the team to see if they have any friends who can play. This will be where a ringer may be called on. A ringer is a player who is not really a fully signed up member of the team. We will look at these players more in part two.
Finally, a team of sorts has been assembled and they turn up. Some are clearly still drunk. This is where the players who have cried off get found out by the team grasses. “I saw Rab at The Venue his knee seemed fine when he was throwing out shapes on the dancefloor,” or “What a liar, he told me he was going Bluewater with his missus.”
At this point the kit is the most important thing. The bigger players desperately trying to find one of the two extra large tops and shorts or the smaller players looking for the only small top and shorts. Trying to not look too ridiculous is very important. Then the socks. The first players there try and grab a pair with no holes and that have not shrunk so much that you can’t get them over your calves. The last players often look like they have got their washing mixed up with a ten-year-old child when they finally get out onto the pitch. It is a very careful calculation at this time. You want to get out early enough to be able to get your body functioning before kick-off. But you don’t want to have to put up the net. A horrible job, especially on a cold or rainy day. A good tip is to grab the corner flags. Then slowly walk around the pitch putting them in timing it perfectly so the nets are up by the time you finish. By now there will be about ten minutes until kick off. So the warm up will begin. The warm up consists of all the players hanging around the edge of the box to kick a ball as hard as possible at the poor goalkeeper, often several footballs flying in his direction at the same time. What about having a run or a jog I hear you say. That is covered by the players all having to run and get the ball having more often than not missed the goal completely. For many players this is all done while smoking a cigarette trying to smoke enough to fill his lungs for 45 minutes of football.
It is now about 2 minutes until kick off and generally either the opposition, the referee or the rest of your team will now turn up. Sunday football never starts on time. The lesser players are now frantically doing the math. The worst job in the world is being a sub in Sunday football. There is never anything warm to wear. You also are now the physio, in charge of the valuables, in charge of the drinks and if there are no supporters (family or friends) you are now the linesman…
This is the worst job and not just in football. There is no flag, so you have to use a spare shirt or a cone or any item you can find. You will get dog abuse for the whole game. Often by players who don’t even understand the offside rule themselves. Often by your OWN team! Finally, you are forced to cheat. In Sunday football you have to cheat because you can guarantee the other team’s linesman will. It is a case of better to have everyone cheat than just one team, as that would be unfair. The level of cheating is down to your own moral compass. I have seen many levels of cheating, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I am now immune. Cheating linesmen is often the catalyst for the other Sunday football certainty. The fight. I am not sure I have ever been involved in a Sunday morning football game where at the very least there will be two players who square off against each other. Players are always braver when there is a referee about. I have seen some bad fights but I have heard some shocking stories that have ended in hospital or prison. Sometimes both.
I just touched on the referees. These are a breed of their own. Powerless in their real lives they wallow in the power that whistle gives them. Think the teacher in Kes. Remember at school when you pick your teams and there was always that one kid left? This is their revenge. I actually have a friend who is a referee. I know, I know, don’t hate me. They are an odd breed, and he is no exception. Although to be fair he was a decent player, mind you he was a goalkeeper, so it doesn’t really count. It is a thankless job and more and more they are under threat of violence as lines are crossed in our modern society. It is worth remembering that without them there would be no game. Although to be fair they do try to ruin most of them.
Onto the pitch itself. Grass is a luxury. The pitches are all a variety of sizes, none of them regulatory. Most are broken ankles waiting to happen. Often they have slopes and inclines. Meaning that games can be played on just one side of the pitch or one end. Sometimes a 5-0 lead can not be enough following a half time change of ends. The slope is often the best player. I have played on pitches where it goes up hill to both ends. I have also played on pitches where goalkeeper kicks can be slingshot back to the taker by an overhanging telephone wire or tree branch. The worse ones are next to rivers or surrounded by houses and you spend most the game retrieving balls.
The game itself is the least noteworthy. Except to say it is not really football as you might know it. It is full of noise and bluster. You know they say about a swan being elegant above the water but working hard under it. Sunday football has no above the water. Everyone is an expert, everyone has an opinion. Actual knowledge is as rarely sighted as big foot, but it is ok as no one is listening anyway. In their heads they are all Messi and Ronaldo. Artists with the field as their canvas, In reality, they are more painting by numbers trying unsuccessfully to stay within the lines. At the end of the game the next game is avoiding being lumbered with taking the kit home to wash. In the bar after, you would have thought it was El Galacticos who were playing by the way the events of the game are described. Every stumble a feint every miskick a disguised pass.
Despite all these things I have made lifelong friends through Sunday football. Had some of the funniest times and have stories to last a lifetime. I pray that Covid does not ruin true grass roots football for it will be a worse place without it.
Don’t forget to look out for part 2 where I address the many different characters of Sunday football.
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!”
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.