Thursday, December 7, 2023

One single boot

This Interlull is beginning to feel very Interlully now. There is not a lot going on at all. Perhaps a consortium made up of the ghosts of Genghis Khan, Oliver Cromwell, Vlad the Impaler, and actual Maroon 5 could buy a Premier League club so we’d have something to talk about.

Seems a bit unlikely to be fair. We know the Premier League’s fit and proper person test is essentially nonsense that you can probably buy your way past, but there’s no way they could allow Maroon 5 to own a football club.

I mentioned last week that I had to clear out my dad’s house, and part of that was going into the attic and seeing what had been lying up there for years and years. I have no idea why every single schoolbook me and my brother ever had was still in a box, but then there was also a 40 year old Scalextric. It took hours to set up and your car would always fly off the track at the first corner. One of those where the idea for the toy was far better than the execution of it.

There was also one Gola football boot. Just the one. It was black and yellow and I remember wearing both of them when I was a kid. I had an Umbro sports bag which I used to put my gear in to go training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, playing for Bushy Park Rangers here in Dublin. Matches were on a Saturday, assuming it didn’t rain too hard.

I don’t quite understand why this was the case, but the people who ran the parks seemed to be very cautious about playing matches when it had rained. IN IRELAND! Obviously this was pre-Internet, so you had to read one of the evening papers (the Evening Herald or the Evening Press) and they’d have details of pitches which were closed that weekend. It was always a dagger in the heart when you’d see ‘Bushy Park’ listed.

I loved playing when it was wet. As a centre-half having one entire side of your body caked in mud was like a badge of honour because it meant you had done sliding tackles – which are the very best kind of tackles, and I will not hear anything different from anyone about this.

I know, I know, ‘stay on your feet’ and all that, but there was never anything quite as satisfying as some lad who was faster than you trying to get away but unable to quite make it because you have become Captain Slide-a-lot, football’s true super hero, nicking the ball away from him at the last second. If you put it out for a throw, that was good, but if you could wrap your foot around the ball, send him flying and get up and make a pass or a clearance that was as good as it got. We didn’t have to worry too much about the tackle being from behind back then either, there weren’t really any rules about it.

I remember our coach used to do drills and say things like ‘Let the ball do the work’, but he’d never explain what work the ball was supposed to be doing. I just liked stopping people scoring. Along with my Gola boots, I had shinpads which were a long way from today’s ultra-light, ultra-tiny models. I sometimes look at players today and wonder if shin sensitivity has become a thing of the past as they put a postage-stamp sized piece of plastic down their socks.

Back then, we had enormous things, that stuck out like cricket pads. Someone could fire a cannonball at your lower leg and you had 100% protection. The only thing was, when they got wet, they got heavy, and it was like running with a pair of lead socks on. Maybe not the biggest problem when pace was never a key part of your game, the first few yards are in the head and all that.

Did you ever smell something and it transported you back to a place or time? Or a smell that is so unique you’ll never forget it? Even writing about this now, I can smell the smell I’m about to reference. It’s a Tuesday evening, you leg it home from school, maybe do some of your homework but probably not because that can wait, and get ready to go to training. You find your kitbag, and as you open it up you realise that your wet kit has been in it since Saturday and it smells of ‘Wet Football Kit’, a completely unique odour that can only be what it is.

That sweet, musty aroma of damp shorts, sodden socks, and a shirt which is clammy to the touch. Remember, there was none of this fancy nylon nonsense. This was the era of heavy material, some kind of toweling or something, and when it got wet, it stayed wet. What could you do though? We had no access to discount sports gear, we didn’t have spare stuff. You had what you had. The only thing was, you were never alone. There was always another couple of lads who had done the same thing and were wafting about the pitch with that wet kit smell.

If you know, you know – and you can smell it now, right?

My 11-a-side days are over now, although I still play 5-a-side on a Friday (but now not every Friday). Like so many kids, I always dreamed of being a footballer when I grew up, but I was nowhere near dedicated enough and I suspect there might have been a slight quality deficiency too when it came to the top level of the game. Still, you can still pretend during that hour on a Friday evening, when you slot home the perfect finish and the crowd goes wild …

… there is no crowd (except for the one in my head).

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