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.
Bound to be substituted later. Like always.