Looking on from the sidelines came naturally a boney slightly effete lad who wanted to be what his Dad wanted him to be. Every Xmas Meccano and Scalextric (or a cheaper version from Bosleys toy shop) When all I wanted was pen and paper or an Airfix Saturn V and some comics. Happy with my mum’s Encyclopedia of Animals and a set of colouring pencils. I built my own museum of antiquities in my bedroom. I made a glass topped case of oddments my Dad dug up with his JCB. A meteorite, a bit of roman pottery, fossils or so he told me and who was I to argue.
I spent hours kicking a ball against my neighbours shed, dubbined my boots The smell of tarmac and sweat oozing from his pores after a day labouring as he showed me how to clean my boots. How to pace myself, avoid injury. In kick arounds I wasn’t bad, no Geoff Hurst more a Martin Keone at left back. A position the better team I clawed my way into could not fill so there I was. Sunday morning in Edmond’s Park living my father’s dream. Trying to live up to the photograph of his team shot at Reading FC ground before winning the North Berks Cup ( I still have photo and medals and programme.)
My mother watched me take a few knocks and struggle as a defender. Not ‘filled out’ enough to stand up to the bigger boys. Immature and sensitive. The inner poet derailing my ambitions to play for Arsenal from an early age. I look at photos of me aged 14 and wonder I didn’t break something. But my father’s advice came good. Don’t get angry get even. They score one you go back and score one against them. Remember your second wind. I did remember so much so I wrote a poem. Mum played the long game wanted me to go to University. First in family.
The rest all drove trucks, laid tarmac or went into the police or army. One sunday my Grandad challenged a semi-professional team to a match. His family and mates from the Working Men’s Club against them as a bet. Our whole family of Butlers and Belchers turned out on a frosty morning to watch them win on the park I got substituted every game for Didcot Boys on. My Dad and Uncle Dennis and others ran rings around the so called professionals. There was a big celebration at the club that evening. Ernie had won his bet. I learnt then that there is no substitute for perseverence, talent and a bit of luck.
Now I stand on the sidelines again. Recovering from a host of bad tackles, unlucky injuries and plain bad-timing. Always a substitute.
Stepping across the line. Taking on the professionals at their own game.
Sparkling green walls covered in frosted webs A thousand hedges grid-locked our estate at dawn October school-runs on foot, lawns damp with dew We’d strip privet sticks and collect them in loops
One web on top of another until a sticky shivering Vibrated in our hands, dew running down stalk to palm. We knew nothing then, spun our own stories as we traipsed Slowly toward a school playground fuzzy with chalk
Circles on walls, boards, exercise books and balls Punctured and hiding below those spun nets The exhaled breaths of football careers not yet dead We curved balls endlessly at bare walls
They came back every time,thuds ricocheting Against the garage walls our only release Drum n Bass lives before we knew the words Stamping out glam rock tunes in our heads
Now the lawns and hedges torn up turned to gravel Commuter belt rentals cars packed in like terraces Nothing breathing just dead ground that floods easily The earth covered and the dreams we had floating away
Over the hedges, nets, lawns like vapour trails Heading west to unknown futures no longer there.
A new boy in my old bedroom repeats an overhead kick On a digital platform. Dreams of escape as a ball lands in a net. Cannot hear the milk train on the loop.
Ignores far sirens and sticky hands cradling the dead.
The London – Oxford railway line bypasses my hometown of Didcot on a single track known as ‘The Loop’ to thirteen year old trainspotters…