Football supporters will know how that love of the game can help to break down barriers when meeting new people, but it can go even further…
WITH the signings of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, Liverpool have signed two elite internationals.
We like talking about elite athletes here, but, maybe, since it’s the summer, we can talk about the opposite. The lowest. The absolute dross. Awful footballers. One in particular. Me.
I thank you for your indulgence.
My football career was over before a ball was kicked. My only officiated appearance came in 1978, when Croxteth County Primary School took on the might of Rudston Road Primary School on the top field between our playground and the nursery next door.
Mr Upton, a Lancastrian with strong views on silence in the classroom, managed the L11 outfit and, much to my surprise, named me substitute for this tricky encounter. I’m not sure why I didn’t go straight into the first 11. I was more of a chess player at the time, so maybe he thought I couldn’t concentrate on two things at the same time. He would have had a point.
His regime was harsh. I wasn’t even allowed a slice of orange at half time. Mr Upton had Bill Shankly-esque views on players who were only around the first team rather than in it. I’m not sure he said a word to me that day.
As was customary that season, Crocky went behind early and then further behind as the game went on. The final score was 0-6 to the Childwall visitors and my sole contribution consisted of looking across at Mr Upton in the hope of being noticed. It didn’t work.
I even tried a few keepy-ups in front of him in a shameful attempt to show him what was needed, but when the final whistle sounded, he walked past me with appalling indifference. That was to be my only appearance for that or any school. I went back to the usual game of ‘three and in’ and ‘60 seconds’ – regional titles for those games apply – in the yard.
That remained the case from 1978 until 2022. The only game I played in was on Boat Trip Day. This is an annual occasion in Runnymede with mates who contributed to the forum of the now defunct Through the Wind and Rain fanzine. It’s a day out on the river with a good eight hours of solid drinking, but there’s been a game of some sorts since the summer of 2005.
We play again next Saturday. Let’s say that there’s been 15 games (two years off for Covid and a waterlogged pitch in 2012) since then. I’ve scored once in all that time — 2009 — and have been told to stop going on about it.
During that time, more people have fallen into the river than I’ve scored goals.
The week before the Gerrard final in May 2006, I went to my first Taekwondo class. I threw myself into that completely as it appealed to my neuro-diverse outlook. Lots of minute changes to stances, hand positions etc. I loved it and got my black belt in 2010 and subsequent Second Dan a few years later.
I did that instead of looking for five-a-side games in North London, so I was still only playing footy about 20 minutes a year. Insert your own Arthur Melo joke here.
That all changed when I moved to Norwich in 2021. They don’t do my type of Taekwondo here so I was left with free nights of no exercise, a ton of tremendous pubs and an ever-spreading waistline.
Yeah, I’m a fat lad. A fat black belt. Not a great look when I’m convincing Taekwondo students to work harder.
That came with other issues. I was diagnosed with depression in January 2015 and diabetes last year. I’m currently being assessed for autism – a late diagnosis at the tender age of 54.
I love Norwich. My girlfriend’s family and her network of mates are magnificent, kind and inclusive people, but I had no mates here.
I remember I was sat in my car outside a work meeting with time to kill. I looked around for games to play but my search suggestion of ‘five a side for fat, shit footballers’ reaped no rewards.
I’d heard of ‘Man v Fat’ before so had a look at that. There was a league about 10 minutes from my house. I signed up. Sod it.
The setup is simple enough. You’re allotted a team and then weighed in. You play a 28-minute game but the result of that is only a part of the final score. You get bonus goals for tracking your food intake in the week, for weight loss, for losing weight for three straight weeks and for completing a weekly challenge. Hence, you can win 2-0 on the pitch and lose overall if you’re not on it.
I went along and was told I was playing for the Blues. I needed a shirt. Try buying a blue replica shirt if you’re a Liverpool fan. I got a Brazil away shirt from 1998. I am yet to do it justice.
The first week was awkward. Everyone knows everyone else and you really do feel like the new boy who’s come into school because his parents have moved and no one will like your accent. The lads were sound, though. I was put in defence and just did my usual thing of kicking everything away rather than passing to a teammate.
You move teams every now and then so I moved to the Greens (West Germany 1974 away shirt) before going back to a new incarnation of the Blue team.
If you’re interested in this and think it’s not for you despite liking the idea for it, let me emphasise this.
I’m a terrible footballer. Absolutely woeful.
So far, I’ve been hit in the face four times, had my specs wiped off my face three times and failed to pick up at least a thousand runs which have led to eventual goals. I’m not given to tracking back on the rare occasions I go up for corners. I’m there to make up the numbers.
But I love it. I’ve scored once (and been told to stop going on about it), forced an own goal which earned us a draw and had the odd kind comment when I’ve managed to get my massive frame in front of a shot.
As my confidence grew, I started doing the odd centre-back thing such as pointing to nothing in particular when we’re defending a corner or stooping to clap my hands when someone does something good.
I’m still an awful footballer and can’t do the things I think I can do. I can spot a through ball. I just can’t play it.
I’ve lost about 11lbs since I started which is alright, but nothing close to what others have done. More importantly, I’ve now a network of new mates who are going through the same thing albeit at a younger age.
We have the same issues with weight, health, both physical and mental so it’s become a mini-support network. They’re mostly Norwich, Arsenal and Tottenham fans here, though there’s another Scouser too.
This isn’t an advert for Man v Fat as such. There are similar things dotted around. The Anfield Wrap contributor Chris Barbour is a trustee of a similar organisation called Manwell in Prescot and Toxteth. That too has a football element but also has job clubs, cooking groups, dog walkers etc., so it’s a real community. Have a look for yourself here.
What it is, though, is an outlet for those of us who cannot resist a bouncing ball, those of us who can’t help but feel we should be working on our first touch despite hardly seeing a ball and those of us who want to play but don’t feel they can play anymore. Yes, you can. Everyone can play. Even 54-year-old depressive, dyspraxic, autistic big lads.
Have a go.
Oh, and well done Liverpool for signing players who have probably never hit the corner flag from taking a shot. Bloody amateurs.
Up The Reds and, for this very limited time only, The Blues too.
We’ve got The Yellows next week. I can’t wait.