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I thought that I would this time write about my love affair with football.
Football now is my only sin. Football and family and hard work is my only constants.
As it is with my family, I have loved football. It is an educational journey that started in the streets, kicking anything or having a game of footie between two lampposts. Or as the comedy sketch says, 'jumpers for goalposts'. The nearest park to play on grass was over a mile away and playing in the playground with a tennis ball in primary school was the nearest to the real thing.
The first taste of real footie in primary school was a cup game against another primary school over ten miles away and we went on a corporation bus all full of '**** and vinegar' of how many we were going to beat them by. As this was our only game in primary it wasn't the best as we just didn't know how to deal with real footie. We lost, but only by the odd goal, 2-1, the second an own goal by yours truly. It was my first, but as so often you start something that just continued through my whole career.
We had shown that we could play, despite our teacher having no interest in the game. We were kitted out in what you could describe as a rugby style jumper that weighed a ton when wet and itchy and it must have been new in the 19th century! The shorts and socks were our own, all different colours, I can't remember the boots, but we looked a sight, but we didn't care, we were actually playing! Despite the result!
Since a toddler, I was taken to my local footie pitches, and even attended some of then New Brighton's games. They played at the Tower grounds, and they played in red, the same as Arsenal. I remember a lot but not the footie as the ground was massive and you could get lost while the footie was on. It had a cycle track to a modern velodrome but of concrete around the football pitch. It is no longer around as it was demolished and houses are built there. New Brighton are now a team very low in the local leagues.
I watched the world cup final in '66 at a holiday camp in Morcambe, on an old black and white television, no bigger than ten inches square.
My family didn't own a Tele, till '69. There was a family who had one down our street, (they were the posh ones) where the men watched the then fa cup finals because first Everton in '63, then the reds in '65, then the blues again in '66, won. Brought great joy around our .way. And many beers and bottles were celebrated for the occasions.
It was in 1968, I had my first experience of top live professional footie, as a birthday present, I was taken to Goodison park by my dad to witness an FA cup tie between Everton v Tranmere. The Things I remember are the smoke, the cold, the noise, the singing and the crowd. I couldn't believe the amount of people crammed into that ground. There was somewhere around 50,000 people in attendance. I didn't know that there was so many people in the world! I was so excited and happy. Everton won 2-0, but Rovers gave a good account of themselves. The star, then was Alex Young, a great forward for the blues.
I have good memories of a long bus ride, but I couldn't remember going through the Mersey tunnel.
The next few years were spent trying to emulate my football heroes, especially Alan Ball, I would to say that this type of player is exceptional gifted rare commodity in football, as it was in the sixties, after winning the world cup, players like Alan were the reason we won the world cup with the likes of the greats, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton Gordon Banks. I don't believe that England will ever get a group of players of such good quality again! If Jimmy Greaves couldn't get in the team, then we must have been very good.
Alan played the game in the right spirit, he played every game the same, he covered every blade of grass every game, a model professional and a gentleman. I did meet him once, I couldn't sleep for two days after! I congratulated hi m in person on the pitch when Everton won the league in '70. Yes, I did, I ran on the pitch after the game, but so did everyone else!
I was always torn between Playing or going to watch through my teen years, if I could get enough pocket money, I would either go to Prenton park on a Friday night or Goodison on a Saturday but not if I was playing.
I found myself playing for a different team each season as I met new fellow players and I think I moved on with my game as I grew older. We didn't train then only games in the park (over a mile away) during better weather days and longer evenings. My first goal in the right end! Was a one-off free kick than kept going for about 40 yards and found the bottom corner. I aimed for it, honest!!
I passed my 11+ plus exam, which my three elder brothers had also. My mum was really pleased except the grammar school I went to wasn't the same as my brothers and couldn't use hand me downs, so,all my uniform was brand new except for my PE and sports kit. Except my house shirt, which was yellow with white collar. As you will probably know if you were around, grammar schools didn't play football. It was rugby union. I dabbled but I just didn't like it! Cricket in the summer, which I was in the school team but rugby no way!
So I had to get my footie fix, at the weekends or in the park during the summer evenings.
I never did get to a final in my school days, came 2nd in the league once, but just played for the love of it, typical amateur.
I was never till later years a supporter of a particular club, though I favoured the blues because of my boyhood hero, but I also watched the reds at times and also the whites when I could.
It was old school footie spectating. Standing on the terraces, getting in amongst the best areas for singing and atmosphere.
They should bring back safe standing at all grounds, so you have the choice.
The disasters at Glasgow, Bradford, Heysal and Hillsborough later on brought the end of old stadia. And the health and safety aspects of watching sports especially football is a political nightmare. I still believe that away support in certain places are treated worse than cattle going to slaughter.
This is a different story to the organised hooliganism that has infiltrated modern football, it is a tribal thing and these thugs and criminals use and abuse football to create 'aggro'! Every club within football has its own idiots and criminals. The police are now very organised towards this type of activity and they try and keep it away from the grounds as much as possible. This is why you don't hear much about it now. It is still there.
I hate this sort of thing that affects how you watch your football. 99% of footie support is genuine and only go to watch the game and enjoy a day out wether there team wins or loses
. It is about supporting your club!
Into my late teens and I played for a very good youth team. We came second the year we were u19, and then they changed it to u18 the following season. So we didn't have a chance at winning the league. But that season ended harshly for me. We got to the cup final and we played at the Tower ground. (The last youth final played there).The team that won the league we played, but I was dropped for that game. I had only been dropped twice that season. In those days, no subs, no medals other than the eleven that play. To say I was gutted was a understatement. I cried! My dad was not happy, my brothers and me stopped him from causing problems. That's one day I'll never forget. I didn't realize its would help me in later life. In my coaching and explaining the reasons for things to players. We lost 1_0. My mates were good to me. But what could they do?
By now I had left school and my playing days were now open age against men. I found it difficult because it was a test of strength and skill, most of all I found it a battle but played mainly in the right spirit. It was hard but enjoyable. I played in the West Cheshire league which was a good standard. I played occasionally in the local Sunday league, but won nothing. Trophies avoided me!
My actual football career lasted to my mid twenties, when for a number of reasons, mainly injury and married life, where the reasons for retiring, I played occasionally but not seriously. My injuries were ankle and the bones in the side of my foot. Because of the pitches mainly. Too hard and then too soft. I really didn't miss playing, once I stopped and I could always watch it on the tele. I didn't go to any of the local teams then, I believe the country had fallen out of love with the game. In the 80s, football was in a trough of dwindling support and couldn't get out it until the premiership came along.
Liverpool were dominant and English clubs were banned from Europe and they couldn't attract the top players. The football was poor as the 'English tactics and Wimbledon style' football was in fashion. Dreadful!
As my family grew, my son's wanted to play, so the eldest started first and and played junior football. He ended up by becoming a goalkeeper. My youngest was born with a ball at his feet, literally! He was so skilful, still is, but his health held him back.. He passed his trials at a pro club, but once his chronic asthma kicked off, they couldn't keep him on. We were disappointed, but we still treat him like a pro. He plays 5-a-side with his mates every week, his mates can't touch him.
When my kids were just into there teens, I started taking them to our local club, Tranmere Rovers. On a Friday night. That was the nineties and Rovers were then is now referred to the Championship. I sat them on the barrier, and watched Rovers. My three lads over the next few years became ball boys and were often on the tele seen behind the goals. I'm not sure, but it was around that time I started running the ballboys. My lads played footie for the youth club where they pick them from. all my kids were always at the youth club. I was made up to do that. The chap who was running it then, asked me to help him, and I became great friends with him and we with the kids travelled the country following Rovers. Some great times. I will probably tell of my travels in another blog as there is many great stories.
So my real connection to a professional football club started.
Within a couple of years, my coaching days started for the same youth club.
Well, as a lot of coaches started in them days, it was dumped on me. It was my eldest lads team. Their manager fell out with the youth club and walked out leaving me to run the team. You didn't need coaching badges or CRBs, anything like that.
We did alright the first season, and the second season we got to a cup final and lost 2-0. Sound familiar?
We went into the Sunday league, at the bottom and after three years, we climbed to the next to top premier division. We never finished league winners but got promoted.
We added in the first season a couple of older lads to balance the youth of the team. This worked well and I learnt a lot about youth and kids footie and I got my first coaching badge.
I then got to help with my youngest's team. Then were looking for a co manager, as the then manager was working weekends. Having my son who couldn't play most of the game, I learnt about the use of subs. I was with them for two years. He really couldn't play youth football, it was too much for him.
I was then about to retire from junior footie but the youth club was looking for an assistant manager. To help with a group of under 8s, to coach as the then dad/coach/manager was struggling to keep a standard of coaching to progress them.
I stayed with the team for 7-8 seasons. We progressed every season from u11s, finished 3rd bottom b division. To u16s finished 2nd top a division. I was proud of that team and one of the lads is now semi pro northern premier.
A few had trials with clubs.
Again I was going to retire but fate gave me another team, this one u14s, I was persuaded to help but really I wasn't needed. They were just too old to teach the basics and the manager wasn't for changing his tactics or his team. All I did was express my views and watched. Another cry of help from two young coaches at the youth club was answered. It was the team my grandson plays for. At the time u12s, so I took a couple of coaching sessions. And two years later, I run the team with the manager and he struggles to get to games through work. Once again, the lads have improved year after year and I'm hoping for a trophy at last. Though it won't change my outlook to football. I'm in it for the reward of seeing kids enjoy their footie. If I wanted glory, I could have gone to a club that has the nerve to almost guarantee trophies. That's not me!
Already local pro clubs have been sniffing around my players.
Hopefully my coaching will come to an end in a couple of years when my grandson reaches youth level. But you never know!!
My Ballboy supervisors job is currently, so I'm told, in its nineteenth season (ish). I have seen managers come and go. I have seen my local club go from near premiership promotion to nearly going out of the league, though I hope we don't!
It is an honour and a privilege to be involved in the beautiful game. I have met some interesting characters and most lower league players are just like you and me. It is their livelihoods and they don't have a long career, but, most of them are probably earning not much more than the average worker. Not like the top pros in the premiership!
There is far too much greed in the premiership, the share (ha!) Is nowhere near creating a fair competition, it's about the billions of pounds that can be spent on players. Their is a concerted effort by the unions as the top clubs are still paying there non playing staff minimum wage. Go figure????
I'm getting off my soap box now. I can only afford a few away games now, but, I have only missed two home games in over twenty years. Football is my only sin, but I love being a part of it. And I'm proud of what I've done, and achieved with the kids.
Andy Gray co commenting on a Rovers game many years ago, called my ball boys, the best trained ball boys in the football league. Chuffed or what??
My claim to fame, is, I have been on soccer am in March 2001, we had a great weekend except for the result against the reds in the fa cup! That was when the programme was fresh and enjoyable.
Yours, in football,
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