Sunday morning football, arguably the noble game in its purest form. Why else would grown men squeeze into clapped out motors to drive in pouring rain to an isolated muddy field on the outskirts of a housing estate. Why else prise a body deprived of sleep and still full of the previous night’s alcohol intake out of a warm duvet. Not quite jumpers for goalposts but at times not far off it.
I have a confession. Well two actually. I wasn’t any great shakes as a player either as a keeper which I’d been doing from my very first teams, or later as an overlapping left back marshalling the back four line. Secondly none of the teams I played in were very good. Brutal but honest.
I had started a works football team when I began work for HM Treasury based in the old civil services in Chessington. They already had a side, but it was full of outsiders. I wanted a team made up predominantly of employees and so the snappily named Chessington Computer Centre Reserves FC was born and took their place in the Leatherhead & District Sunday League. We were Champions League material in terms of effort and enthusiasm. Training was regularly attended and we had a squad of twenty in the days when there were still only two substitutes allowed. Some were purely squad players, there in an emergency when the beer took its toll and we were a player short. Squad rotation was an unheard concept and yet everyone was there week in week out.
In terms of ability we were more Ryman League than Champions League. We tried, and we had some good players but we never really seemed to gel. We had the odd good result but usually we were on the back end of a gubbing. For many those it was just a way of working up a thirst and the after match refuelling was perhaps more efficient than our exploits on the pitch.
In the end, I left the club having been axed in AVB fashion, usurped initially from between the sticks and then as manager (well it had been my club). It meant I stopped playing for a few years and was then enticed out of a self imposed exile by an old school mate.
Breda FC were no better than my previous side. Older but not wiser. The problem was that things had moved on in the world of Sunday morning football. There seemed to be more opponents seemingly struggling with a hangover and looking for a shin to kick or fight to pick. There was the nippy teenager winger with no fear who would skin our lumbering efforts. Again we had the odd moment of triumph. We could have been soaring with eagles but were usually floundering with turkeys.
I’d move out of goal and was a left back. I tried to marshal the line and sometimes we had an offside trap that Bould and Adams would have been proud of. Usually though the linesman was inept, the centre back too slow to get out and the opposition to wily. From a personal viewpoint I was hardly prolific and Phil Neville like in my goal return although the opening goal of the season curled into the top corner from the edge of the box still lives strong in the memory.
So why all this inane waffle? Well I’ve hit mid 40’s now and even if I wanted to have a game, the body, and more importantly the wife wouldn’t allow it. It’s just that lately I’ve had a hankering to do it one more time. The beer session the night before, the banter outside the station waiting for the faces to emerge, the scary drive with four overweight men wedged into a Fiat Uno and then the anticipation and the smells of the changing room. The game, the effort and the win (well not often) and then the trip back to the pub. The after match inquest, the laugh, the pub laying on roast spuds for the team.
Fifteen or more years have slipped by since I last laced the boots up. I didn’t miss it when I stopped as I was getting slower, playing worse and started dodging training for “work reasons”. Now the sun has set on my footballing career and I only have my memories and the odd medal from the journey, I suddenly resent the passing of time. I resent my mates who continued to play, including those that play veteran’s football or still roll out for the odd five a side game. Most of all I miss the camaraderie, in both the changing room before and after a match and especially in the pub. My dear old dad, no longer with us would wander down and join in the fun. The boys would get him piddled and he and I would crash out of the pub at three o’clock closing (hands up if you remember that) and stagger home for a doze before dinner.
They surely were the best of times and the worst of times (no one likes to get beat each week) and I’m not sure Dickens featured on many team sheet s but he had a point. If you are a regular Sunday footballer, relish it, embrace it. Time ticks on and one minute you’ll be on the end of a flowing move, the next married and tied to a mortgage. I’m not bitter and wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world. Sunday morning football, the beautiful game at its barest. Nothing beats it.