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A few nights ago I was lucky enough to catch up with some great old school friends. A combination of alcohol and not having seen one another for a long long time led to a hugely enjoyable session of nostalgia and reminiscence. Great people recalling great moments. That evening was the touch paper  for this post – the beginning of me counting down ten of my favourite memories from the park and football pitches that were basically an extension of our homes during our childhoods and adolescences. Enjoy the first three moments of ten childhood-defining sporting moments…And if you’re hungry for more – here is Part 2.

Owen Gray – Balls Of Steel

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There were many committed players in park football and Owen Gray was up there with the best of them. Without the pressure of weekend matches (apart from a brief ill-fated spell with Britain’s worst team Red Barn Rangers) Owen’s only chances for glory and heroism would come during kickabouts at the park. This cranked his motivation and hunger up a couple of notches. Whereas other players would shirk their defensive duties or complain about going in goal, Owen revelled in doing the ugly things right, and in doing so he ensured that his name would forever echo through the corridors of park immortality. In this largely inconsequential game of knock out wem doubles, Matt Hardy was put through on goal for a sure-fire, gilt-edged one on one. Owen rushed off his line, his rangy spider like frame bearing down on the approaching Hardy. Hardy looked up, the sight of Owen marauding from his line forcing him to choose power over placement. Owen had anticipated the shot, leaping prodigiously, spreading his arms and more crucially his legs, as wide as they could possibly spread in order to cover his goal.

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The result was a thunderous half volley that struck Owen directly in the testicles with a sickening thud and crunch; it was the sound of a childless future, the sound of a tenderiser on flattened meat. It was the greatest, most selfless, most excruciating save the park had ever seen. Some people say it takes 10,000 hours practise to reach the top of your game; Owen proved that it takes nothing but a never-say-die attitude and a complete disregard for the wellbeing of your genitalia. What a save, what a (former) man.

Keates Can Be Hero Just For One Day

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Matt Teague was one half of one of the strongest centre-back pairings in local football, a formidable sight for any goal-hunting forward. A defensive figure of pace, power and well-timed tackling; he was virtually impossible to dribble around. David Keates, probably better known for his basketball skills and 40-a-day smoking habits, was a rookie footballer, whose fitness and footballing reputation at the park were non-entities in comparison to his illustrious opponent. It was a classic case of David and Goliath. Halfway in to a tense 6 vs 6 encounter Keates received a ball into feet with his back to goal. With Teague rapidly approaching, everybody prepared themselves for a thumping challenge and instantaneous dispossession. What happened next was nothing less than a sprinkle of fairy-tale magic, the slaying of the footballing ogre.

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A silky left-footed turn and drag-back saw Dave facing Teague head on. Teague’s legendary pace had swallowed up the ground between himself and Keates and now it was surely only a matter of time before a successful challenge was made. Keates had other ideas. A lightning quick stepover, evoking memories of a young Garincha, put Teague off balance, before Keates added the icing to his freshly baked humiliation cake by dinking the ball between Teague’s legs in a nutmeg outrageous enough to be patented by Fifa Street. Teague was on his arse; Keates was through on goal, hair rippling in the wind like a medieval swordsman crafting his immortality. It may have been Keates that skinned Teague that day, but in a way it felt like every one of us – the common men, the little people, the uncoordinated and poor of balance – had left Teague writhing on the ground in a pile of embarrassment. However, Teague too would have his moment…

 Teague Saves

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Great defender as he was, Matt Teague was one of the poorest goalkeepers ever to stain the face of the park. A combination of outright hatred for the art of goal-keeping, combined with the fear that his boyish features would be distorted should the ball strike his face meant that Teague was leakier than an incontinent sheep-dog. So when the sure-footed Kevin Hayward stepped up to the penalty spot and perfectly struck his spot-kick in the direction of the bottom left hand corner, nobody, perhaps not even Matt himself, believed that he would stop it; the opposition had already hung the heads, condemned to an early exit from the knock out doubles competition. But then a miracle happened. In what seemed like bullet-time slow motion, as the fabric of the park’s existence momentarily shattered, Teague sprung like a circus freak fired from a cannon, heading inexorably towards a date between football and hand.

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The ball edged closer to the corner, surely he couldn’t, he wouldn’t. The arm was extended, the fingertips lengthened; a look of childlike joy began to twinkle on his face as he realised that the impossible could be about to happen. And it did. In a parry that recalled the reactions of Gordon Banks’ legendary save from Pele in 1970, Teague scooped the ball over the bar as the world (4 of us and a tramp drinking White Lightning in the alcove by the community centre) looked on with a fusion of disbelief and awestruck wonder. He may never have repeated the feat before or since, but for that split second, Teague stood toe to toe with the greatest keepers the park had ever seen, a towering colossus of shut-out strength.

Come back soon for parts 2 and 3…

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