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« MPs - they're only human | Main | Guus Hindink - top man »

End of an era

Talking of football (previous post) I spent yesterday afternoon at a football tournament in Huntingdon. Having announced his "retirement" a few weeks ago, my son, who is 14, was playing his final match before joining the local rugby club. (In this neck of the woods, football and rugby are played on the same day so it's impossible to do both.)

Ruari first kicked a ball in the hall of our third floor flat in Edinburgh. There was a door at each end and to score a goal you had to hit the one your opponent was defending. We spent countless hours kicking a small ball as hard as we could and he quickly developed a promising left foot. (One night, by mistake, he kicked the radiator so hard I thought he'd broken it - his foot, not the radiator.)

When he was three we moved into a house with a small garden. Nets were erected at either end so we could play outside. His appetite for football was immense. It was beginning to wear me out so I was delighted when the boy next door, who was 12, volunteered to step into my shoes.

Two years later we moved to Cambridgeshire. Within a few months Ruari was training with the village team. He was six when he played his first match, for the under 8s. Since then he's played over 200 matches for three different clubs, plus tournaments, plus trials. (When I was 14 I had played fewer than 30 "organised" matches. There were no local clubs to play for, only the Boys Brigade, and there were very few teams in the BB league in Fife.)

Ruari is still fiercely competitive but football is no longer the all-consuming passion it was. I'm pleased he has other interests - including rugby and cricket - but yesterday was the end of an era that in 12 years has taken us from the narrow hall of a terraced flat in Edinburgh to what feels like every football pitch in Cambridgeshire and beyond.

PS. Yesterday his team won five out of six matches before they lost, 2-1, in the semi-finals. Fate decreed that the last shot of a hard fought semi-final fell to my son. One-on-one with the keeper, he hit a fierce drive narrowly over the bar. Cue final whistle - and the start of a new chapter.

Reader Comments (1)

The memories come flooding back for me too. I made my competitive debut when I was 8 for Ascot Heath Infants school, playing against 11 year olds, they did seem big. I remember winning and scoring on my debut. Not that I managed more than one goal a season since.

My favourite semi final was July 1990 when I was playing in America. In New Jersey it was 95 degrees and not a breath of wind, and normally as someone who is quite fit you had to jog over to close a player down rather than sprint to put them under immediate pressure. It was 0-0 after 90 minutes and legs and minds were looking tired. I afraid to say my rousing full time talk seemed to be lost as in the first period of extra time we managed to go 2-0 down. We changed ends and one player was really peeing off, our German striker Holgar. He was playing like he had knicked all the sun loungers and was having the day off. So after grabbing him warmly by the throat, I made it entirely plain that he was in trouble after the match in the bar.

Words were ineffective, intimidating violence was as I pushed forward from sweeper to link up with the midfield. We managed to get it back to 2-1 and we started to regain our confidence and found a fresh pair of lungs. Then 2-2 with 5 minutes to play. From a corner we had I was on the edge of the penalty area and the ball was cleared and the oppostion were about to catch us on the break. I was out of psition. My reading of the play was one of their midfield players would be feeding the ball between the right back and remaining centre back and their player would be in the clear for a one on one with the keeper. I had to sprint 60-70 yards, in 8-9 seconds and on the edge of the penalty area, just managing to get goal side and make contact with the ball. A vital 3 seconds in regaining my breath as I kicked it into row Z.

With a minute to go we scrambled a winner and the palpable difference between winning and losing on faces was utterly obvious.

Marathon runners talk about the "wall" when your body runs out of carbohydartes, that combined with extreme dehydration really makes you appreciate water and bread. Saying that I did have enough energy left to get my cigarettes out of my kit bag.

The swansong of my serious football career was in 1998 at the age of 38. The amateur side I was playing for had a arranged a friendly with Harlow Town who were in the semi-pro Ryman league who we beat convincingly 2-0. Three months later Harlow Town drew 2-2 with Spurs in a pre season friendly. A good way to end my playing days at the higher levels..

June 1, 2009 at 11:34 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

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