Growing up on council estate on the outskirts of Manchester was tough, Mum and Dad split up when I was around four years old, my Brother who was much older moved out when he was in his late teens and Mum worked long shifts in the local biscuit factory.
On a daily basis I would walk home from primary school with my mates apart from once a week when my Father would pick me up and take me to a cafe for my tea. Nan and Grandad lived a few doors away so most of the time I had somewhere to go.
On the unlucky days when I forgot my keys and Nan and Grandad were out. I’d have to break into the house through one of the front windows, tapping the side of the frame until the latch came loose and then RESULT! I was in. My evening meals would often be sourced from the industrial sack of penguin biscuits located under the sink.
I’d had a few Step Dads over the years, some of them used to hit me around the head when I was naughty, the result would be headaches lasting a couple of days. I didn’t really think this was wrong as it was common to get a smack in the late eighties/nineties when I’d been back chatting or unhappy at my treatment.
School was tough and I found myself needing extra help in most subjects and I didn’t really achieve much. What I did learn at school was that I could hit a rounders ball further than most, run faster and score more goals than the other kids.
I also had lots of friends and summer evenings were often spent playing football on the local field or the old car park behind the shops opposite my house. Most of the other kids were a bit older so playing against them was tough, if you couldn’t handle it then you wouldn’t be allowed to play, if you won then you would be on the wrong end of a dig, that’s if you allowed them to catch you. Sometimes you would get caught and have to take the repercussions.
We accepted the way things were in our community and in hindsight, I have no doubt that the competition we had and the respect we learned was an excellent place to learn the rules of the football dressing room.
Some went up the levels and illustrated promise within the professional ranks before dropping down to the non league levels. Which is where this story begins.
Anyone who plays at this level for a prolonged amount of time has my full admiration as my experience was one of learning about my limitations. Coming to realise that a future in the game isn’t possible is a lot to come to terms with. What is more difficult is plotting a route forward. Faced with our own fears and ill discipline, we have all had a difficult journey, we have often shared those difficulties in the dressing room, helped each other, fallen out, been picked up and put back on track.
Now approaching Forty, the football has gone. The lads disappear as we become parents and role models. For most this is the case, however there are also the people who are no longer here.
The football community is a unique space to talk, listen and watch. To a large extent, the football environment is where I was brought up. I met people who I aspired to emulate while sharing my problems and fears amongst peers.
It is a space where expectation on the pitch is paramount, going up the levels that expectation rises and when you stop, you look back with a range of emotions.
Football was therapy, this body of work has helped me understand the importance of finding new ways to share a conversation. It might just save a life.