People talk about Maradona’s mazy dribble against England in ’86; Marco Van Basten’s volley against USSR in ’88; Ibrahimovic’s Raleigh Activator of a bicycle kick against England in 2012. But these all paled in comparison to the incredible events that unfolded on the playground of Scotney Junior School back in ’95....
It was one of those cold winter days; the ones where the wind comes at you sideways and attacks your cheekbones like a cheese grater. The ones that make your nose drip like a broken fridge. The ones where there is WHITE DOG SHIT EVERYWHERE. Nevertheless, Class 6G made their way onto the playground at lunchtime as usual - nothing stopping them from imitating their idols such as Franz Carr, Carlton Palmer and ‘big’ John Scales.
The ‘pitch’ was a slab of concrete which, due to the vagaries of a 1990s phenomenon known as ‘selling playground space to property developers’, was shaped like a never-ending corridor from a Scooby Doo sketch. It was genuinely about 100 metres long and 10 metres wide, which is what made my achievements of that day all the more spectacular.
There were no goalposts, merely a bundle of coats wrestled off the squares by the hardest kids. Said squares would then turn blue with hypothermia, which was okay as we just said that they were playing in their away kit. Some days, when the bullies were feeling particularly brutish, they would get two nerds to stand as posts and then make them hold another kid horizontally in the air above their heads, to act as a crossbar. I wish I was making this up.
The teams were usually about 15-a-side, split into strikers (90%), defenders (8% - fat kids and those with asthma) and goalkeepers (2% - deranged and potentially dangerous). The ball we used was I believe was called an ‘Air Flow’; a tiny, cricket ball sized bit of plastic with holes in it. They usually came in two coloured parts glued together, which would break in half within about an hour’s play – or when one of the mentally-damaged goalkeepers conceded a soft goal and stamped on them.
This was in the days before multi-million pound boot deals; just prior to the release of the prototype pair of Adidas Predators. This was when Gola, Lotto, Diadora and Umbro’s Speciali range were the du jour. But we didn’t play in boots – oh no, we were sliding around in shoes; thick soled monstrosities from the likes of Kickers, Fila and Ellesse. Or, if you were from a poor family like me, a pair from Asda’s Signature collection.
Anyway, back to the day in question. Having successfully evaded capture by Jon Norman, who was chasing me with a piece of cat shit on the end of a twig, I found myself in an unusual defensive position, just out on the left-hand side. I was in a bit of space so I politely requested the ball from our goalkeeper Sanj. It was always wise to be polite with him as he started fires when he was angry.
I looked up and noticed that I had little support from my so-called team mates. So I, hesitantly, took a few touches towards our opponent’s goal, which was now about 80 yards away (I remember just about being able to make it out in the distance). A tackler came towards me, but I managed to tiptoe around him on the outside, thanks in part to the great grip afforded to me by the sole of my competitively-priced choice of footwear. Another tackler dived in, but I slipped the ball through his legs and nipped round him.
I was getting up a good head of steam, and whilst I could sense my colleagues’ exasperated screams for me to pass the ball, I knew that something special was on the cards. Buoyed by the power and pace given to me by my lunchtime meal of Turkey Twizzlers, Potato Croquettes and Alphabetti Spaghetti, washed down with a nice raspberry Calypso, I set about weaving a magic spell towards goal.
What happened next is something of a blur. I can only liken it to an out-of-body experience; I was essentially the East Midlands’ answer to Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. I dribbled, nutmegged, shimmied and wriggled my way past about 27 tacklers and found myself clear through on goal.
In my way stood Wayne Matthews. The same Wayne Matthews that was made to wear a safety helmet after headbutting his way through a fire door, because he didn’t want to read a chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out loud in class. The very same Wayne Matthews that climbed a 20ft tree and refused to come down for six hours after he was rejected for the part of the ‘hare’ in Class 6G’s ground-breaking production of the ‘Hare and the Tortoise’.
And now Wayne Matthews was coming for me.
Despite nearly voiding my bowels, I managed to keep my composure long enough to round his despairing dive (he came at me HEAD FIRST for fuck’s sake) before slotting the ball into the empty net. I say net; it simply trickled into the holly bush that ran along the back of the playground.
There was a stunned silence. There was a sense of bewilderment. There was a feeling that we’d all just witnessed something truly unforgettable. A dinner lady was reduced to tears. I was lifted above the heads of my peers, and carried around like some kind of Ayatollah. In the words of Martine McCutcheon this was my moment, my perfect moment. I was Geoff Hurst. I was Gary Lineker. I was Dion Dublin. As I say, this happened nearly twenty years ago, so some of the memories may have been embellished and altered slightly. But you get the general idea.
Lurking in the shadows that day was Mr Chambers, the school’s only PE teacher. He saw something that day that would change the face of the beautiful game forever: he picked me in the Pirlo role in midfield for the school team. There I was: ten years old, built like a gypsy’s dog, being asked to run games and cajole us to victory.
And I did, dear reader, I did. We were crowned Leicestershire & District champions at the first time of asking.
So what became of me – the future of English football?
I basically got fed up of having to get out of bed on cold winter mornings, preferring instead to stay in and watch Kenan & Kel and play on Sensible World of Soccer on the Amiga 1200.
But I COULD have been somebody. And that’s something they can never take away from me.