On being rejected by the King’s Head’s 3rd XI

My footballing career, it’s fair to say, has not been a particularly illustrious one. Despite an unshakable belief at the age of nine that I’d lead Wales to victory in the World Cup Final, somewhat life contrived it so instead of becoming a cult hero at St. James’ Park, I sit and write about the cult heroes at St. James’ Park. Those who can’t, write.

In brief, my footballing career can be described thus:

Aged 10: On the verge of a call up to the first, until transferred to another school, where I sit on the bench for a couple of games before eventually being released.

Aged 16: Tire of not even managing to perform bench-warming duties to a satisfactory standard and wangle myself a transfer to college.

Aged 17: Discover beer and girls. Football career is put on hold.

Aged 20: Transfer to university. Discover even more beer and girls, not to mention a host of other activities, like go-karting, radio producing and sitting around discussing French cinema. Football career still on hold.

Aged 23: Make an effort to get in shape and take up squash. Also start tentatively playing football on a semi-regular basis.

Aged 24: Transfer to the world of work. Consider taking up badminton.

Aged 25: Another work transfer to an office that has a football team. Lace up the boots on a regular basis, go to the gym twice a week. In better condition than I have been for years. Score the best, and 3rd, goal of my life in a Monday night 5-a-side competition when I make a burst down the left, control the ball with one touch, take it inside the defender, shift onto my other foot and bury it in the bottom corner. This stands as the pinnacle of my footballing career.

Perhaps my one downfall through all this was that I really wasn’t very good. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. I could defend a bit, could curl a ball from a free kick reasonably well and, given time on the ball, could pick a very decent pass.

Clearly, I was too good for lower leagues and would have flourished in the Premiership. I could out-philosophise and discuss Descartes with Cantona, read the Guardian quicker than Le Saux, make shrewder property investments than Robbie Fowler and bake a better pie than Mick Quinn. Sadly, it was never to be, and the one trial I had for a local village team resulted in the assessment of:

“If you could head, kick or know how to receive a ball, you’d be ok.”

A ringing endorsement, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Still, I wasn’t totally crap because I had one secret weapon. Pace.

At school, I was also decent around the athletics track. I was a pretty good long-jumper, could hold my own in middle distance and was a very good sprinter, winning the 100m two years in a row.

Although my natural position’s right-back, I was equally happy on the wing as I could fly by slower kids even if my shooting was utterly wayward. Once I learned to pass the ball, I made an average addition to any team.

But tonight, I learned a painful truth. One even more painful than realising the majority of Exeter City’s squad was younger than me, and I’d never make it as a pro footballer.

Although I’ve been keeping up fitness-wise over the summer, I’m a bit rusty so jumped at the chance to turn out for a friend’s five-a-side team. We were losing 3-0 with 5 minutes to go when I was brought on to turn things around. Or at last try and prevent a loss turning into a massacre.

Stuck at defence I mis-time an interception and the opposition attacker drew level and takes the ball past me. “No problem,” I think. “I can catch him.”

And then my legs fail. There is running but no speed. The kid leaves me for dust and fires a sweet shot into the bottom corner.

I look down at my legs, bewildered. I’m not puffed, I’m giving the same amount of legwork as usual, but I am hideously off the pace. A horrible, horrible realisation hits me. The other team were packed full of youngsters who were not only better than me (which I understood, and live with) but were faster. Much much faster.

I’d lost a yard or two over the summer and suddenly my whole game was destroyed. I’ll now have to concentrate and position myself, read the game and make ‘intelligent’ runs rather than instinct ones. I’ll be the one the fans-I-never-had will turn to each other on the terraces and say: “Don’t you remember that Gary Andrews? He’s past it now. That magical pace has gone. Not only can he not hit a gigantic cow’s arse with an even bigger banjo, he now makes Matt Le Tissier look positive athletic.”

I may plant a gravestone on the astroturf later with the following epitaph.

‘Here lies Gary Andrews’ football career.

Killed by one much younger than him.

He occasionally ran away with games, but more often than not down cul-de-sacs.

He should have stuck with the rugby. He was much better at it. You don’t need to use your feet, for a start.’

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1 Response to “On being rejected by the King’s Head’s 3rd XI”


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