I should have been going to this game on the crest of a wave, but there was always a nagging doubt in my mind that Bury might gatecrash the party. Those early memories of footballing rejection have a lot to answer for...
Like a lot of young, impressionable kids who grew up in London in the 1970s and 80s, I supported Liverpool.
I was happy in my sugar-coated world where ‘my team’ won everything; league titles, League Cups, FA Cups, Charity Shields and European Cups, even the odd Liverpool Senior Cup. It was great.
I felt I could take on the world, a bit like Superman, when I swapped my school uniform for my red Liverpool kit, complete with Hitachi sponsorship emblazoned across it. Some kids had the same kit, but without the sponsor’s name. I had the real deal. I just didn’t want to wear anything else outside of school.
My sister even stitched the numbered nine on the back of it so I could play out my dream of being Ian Rush in the back garden. It was the first time I had ever worn a number on my back and it felt wonderful.
The garden was a happy hunting ground for me because, just like my hero, I was prolific.
|Hero: Ian Rush, in Liverpool's Hitachi kit, got |
shunted aside once I discovered Micky Joyce.
However, while my pals put pen to paper to sign for such sides as West Sutton Mustangs, Viron Aces, Thatched House Hornets, Secombe Knights and National Nippers, I had to settle for a few months in the reserve pool where we used traffic cones as goals and wore bibs instead of shirts. Worst still, if the weather was blazing hot, then one team lined up in skins. Surely the police would have something to say about that these days.
Any rate, how could it be that Sutton’s version of Ian Rush, Eric Gates and Andy Gray - well, in light of recent events, perhaps not the latter, let’s say, Trevor Francis – all rolled into one, get overlooked by West Sutton Little League bosses? Surely such a lethal garden goalgetter would be high on most managers’ wish list.
Apparently not. To cut a long story short, my confidence evaporated and the goals dried up. I was never the same player again. This, my first real disappointment in football, paved the way for many more to follow.
Eventually, when I was picked up by a side, I was assigned the number four and spent my first season at left-back. We even ended the campaign with some silverware, the Sportsmanship Award for finishing bottom of the league.
Number four? Who played at number four for Liverpool for crying out loud, Phil Thompson? Or was he number five? I can’t honestly remember. But what I do know is this; none of the lads I ever knocked around with ever pretended to be Phil Thompson, either in the garden, the playground or the park.
I realised then, that even though I loved football, I was never really going to play it. All my best performances were in my head. The reality was very different.
However, there was a shaft of light at the end of the tunnel.
At the end of my second season, my Little League team made it to the semi-final of an invitational five-a-side tournament in Epsom. I even hit the post with one shot in the quarter-final. It made a change from hitting a cone in the reserve pool. At least the post stayed where it was.
We lost the big game on penalties. In hindsight I can now look back on this as a learning curve for all the disappointment that was to follow with the English national team. I am hardened to penalties now. If my team loses on spot-kicks then I simply sink a few beers and try to shrug it off. Back then, I just burst into tears and asked my dad for a can of Top Deck to help ease the pain.
Not long after being taken to Gander Green Lane for the first time, Sutton got to Wembley for the FA Trophy Final of 1981. I couldn’t believe it. Liverpool seemed to play at the Twin Towers every other week, and now, Sutton had made it there too.
I felt like a lucky charm, the Reds won loads of things under my watchful eye and now Sutton were at it... except, they lost, 1-0, to a goal in extra-time scored by a guy who had started the season playing Sunday football on Hackney Marshes.
Thank crikey this ramble is over. Despite what you think, I’ve got a life you know.