On Saturday mornings, once cartoons were finished and Weetos were eaten the Back Garden Football Club swang in to action. We were four or five feet tall and running rings around Premier League superstars, pretending to be Premier League superstars, dreaming of a world where supporters chanted our names along with our childhood heroes, or as they were known at the time… heroes.
Most young children would have played for the Back Garden Football Club at some stage or another. It’s when your a small fella and your running in to your friends, slide tackling away in a life or death matter of five a side, World Cup, three and your in tournaments as Manchester United, Juventus, or any team that would be doing well at the time of your youth.
To grown up eyes you’d only be hoofing a ball around the back garden or a field and having the time of your life doing it; but a childs eyes are sharper. We could see it, we were standing in front of thousands of people and belting balls in to Eric Cantona, and you could pretend to be whatever player you liked, or you could play as yourself, evading the fancy Brazillians and scoring screamers from five yards out. It could have been the World Cup Final, I had a replica World Cup that was lifted from time to time…. until the day an over excited winner dropped it. On rainy days and after dark I’d whack a wool filled indoor football down the hall myself, giving a stern testing to the single glazed windows. Outdoors, the surrounding houses and trees were the stands full of thousands of shouting fans, and other trees served as commentary boxes. You see, the imagination never grows old or deserts us – we just stop listening to it.
Some days I’d be playing by myself. The whistle would blow for kick off… Myself to Roy Keane and back to myself, tip it off the wall, it’s gone bit off course… throw in, throw it down to my feet… cross in to the box, off the wall again, David Beckham gets his feet to it…. He has an open goal… But he passes it to me because I’m the goal scorer…. But I’d be the defender too helping Peter Schmeichel and Gary Pallister. Man of the Match every time.
When I had friends in to play, or we went out to the green you felt you earned your cut apart knees. There was often disagreements because someone had to be the goalkeeper when they felt they deserved to be doing their best Ronaldo impression, never mind when it was felt a free kick wasn’t being given… But the goalkeeper was often the defensive line as well and sometimes the midfielder and attacker too – so you got a feel for all the positions, and learned how to race back in to one when you were needed. Whoever was goalkeeper would believe that if you jumped high to catch a ball, well you must be as good as Peter Schmeichel because we had seen him jump high to save a ball on telly once, and you would probably play for Manchester United or Liverpool someday. But if you conceded a lot of goals… Well you might only have been good enough to play for Ipswich Town when you grew up.
You’d be laughing and crying, jumper goalposts or stick goalposts, or no goalposts and just deciding what was too far away from the goalkeeper to be able to save. Kicking shins by accident and thinking you were really something and might play for Ireland one day yourself, because anyone could and at that age you can do anything when you grow up because growing up is a long way off happening.