Football United!

Singing: "He's football crazy, Football mad, I've never seen a footballer Quite so fucking bad!"

It seems rarely talked about (or maybe it is amongst people who have children - I wouldn't know) that events that happen to us during childhood can have a profound effect on us all through our lives. They can even shape who we become and how we react to others. I'm not specifically talking about severe events like abuse, the lifelong effects of which can be far more devastating than what I am about to discuss.

I am talking about embarrassment. I am talking about excruciating humiliation. My childhood is dotted like a leopard's back with events that chisel away at my confidence, even to this day. At the time, I hoped for the proverbial hole to open up in the ground and swallow me whole. Now, I wish the hole would swallow the memories so I no longer have to cringe every time such an event rears its ugly head at the forefront of my consciousness.

The event that has been in my head recently (and telling me to use it as the subject of a blog post), happened in my early teens. It concerns football.

When people describe someone who is bad at football, they usually coin the phrase ‘he/she has two left feet’. I was worse. As I was left-handed/footed, I actually had ‘one right foot’ if we are following the same conventions of the above saying. To add clarity, I was hopeless. If people had me on their team, they were immediately on a back foot. It wouldn’t have been unfair to give our team a three goal start because Phil was playing for us.

I think you get the idea.

Before I go any further, the person who caused my complete humiliation in this story did so with the best of intentions. I don’t think to this day that he will realise the hell he put me through and how long the memory would haunt me but I don’t bear a grudge or even the slightest ill feeling. He was and still is a top bloke.

The bloke in question and his wife used to run our local youth club which my brother, Paul and I were members of for a short time. They used to organise all kinds of events including visits to sports centres, rock concerts at the church hall and trips out to various places. It was awesome that the couple did this for the kids in our village and I hope they got the thanks they deserved for their selfless efforts.

One afternoon, we all got on a bus to a nearby sports facility where a knockout football competition was to take place with other teams from around Barnsley. I went along for the camaraderie and with no intention of playing football whatsoever. I just wanted to be there. I recognised a few of the players from the other teams, some that went to the same school as myself. As the competition progressed, I managed to dodge every game and successfully sat on the sidelines watching and possibly chatting. Unbelievably, our youth club reached the final. The game played out (again without my involvement) but ended on a tie so they decided to have a penalty shoot out. Now, as insignificant as this competition may seem, to a group of kids who had actually got to the final, this was life and death! In a move that will haunt me for the rest of my life, the guy who ran our club announced that I would go in the nets for the shoot out. He did it because he wanted to give the underdog a go. He wanted to be inclusive. There were protests. I joined in the protests. I knew that there were sloths and tortoise alive on the planet that would be a better fit for this crucial situation but the guy was having none of it.

With EVERYONE who had played in the competition watching, scores of kids from all around Barnsley, many of which were from my school, I proceeded to not save a single penalty. I had single-handedly lost the whole competition within five minutes of being involved. I didn’t want the embarrassment of crying but my eyes were glazed as we headed back to the bus. I sat on my own and nobody spoke to me all the way back. It’s perhaps a good job as I would have broke down.

A gesture of humanity with the best intentions turned out to be one of the worst moments of my life. Today, being popular does not even register as being necessary for my wellbeing but as a young teenager, it was crucial. Well actually, just being accepted would have been enough. I honestly don’t know how I continued to exist and although most of the people involved will probably not have thought about it, I have relived that humiliation many times, even in my adulthood. Not being a parent, it would be presumptuous for me to give parenting advice. However, I have been a child. I know the permanence that a wrong word or a misguided decision can have on the rest of a life. It is important to listen to kids and remember that they feel embarrassment, shame, ridicule and humiliation just like an adult. The difference is, they do not have the tools and experience to deal with it or get over it. To end on a more positive note, the lads who played football across the road in the park used to call me ‘house plant’ as I would rather stay inside playing computer games than have a game of football but still used to include me. Many games ended abruptly with me ‘taking my ball home’ at the frustration of yet again being shit. To give a final representation as to how close football is to my heart, I’ll leave it to Vic Reeves…


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