As a young child football was my first love, the first thing I ever fell in love with other than my family of course! From the age of 4 or 5 I would be out in the garden running round with the ball at my feet as much as I could, I loved the feeling of kicking the ball. I had no idea what I was doing but it felt so good!
At 6 years old I watched my first World Cup on the TV, it was Mexico 86 (showing my age now!!) and I was enthralled by it. Watching the games, collecting the stickers, filling out my wall chart, it was heaven! I remember the huge disappointment of England getting knocked out by Argentina but being encapsulated by the way Maradona played it was mesmerising like nobody could tackle him and the goal he scored (obviously not the handball one!!) for me still goes down as one of the greatest of all time!
Back in those days there was very little football on TV and after the World Cup there was no football to watch other than Saint and Greavsie on Saturday lunchtime. Then one day my Dad told me we were going to attend a match at our local professional club, Cambridge United. To say I was excited would be an understatement!! And I certainly wasn’t disappointed, going to the game blew my mind!! Being so close to the players, hearing the crowd chanting and shouting, smelling the turf from where we were at the front of the stand was without doubt the most enthralling experience of my young life. I was hooked on the game, and my new team Cambridge United.
Everyday I would nag my Mum and Dad to take me to the games and I went on to attend a number of games that season and at Christmas I received my first Cambridge United kit, a tradition that would continue over the next 30 plus years!! I remember opening the present and seeing the yellow and thanking my lucky stars and santa I’d got what I wanted!! I’d wear it everywhere, socks, shorts and all, and everyday be out in the garden pretending to be my new heros, George Reilly, Lindsay Smith and Laurie Ryan!
The next year I wrote to the club asking if they had any ball boy positions available thinking it would be a massive long shot to be given a position of such importance at such a young age!! To my disbelief they responded with a shiny card I could show at the gate to ball boy at the home games, what a result I hadn’t even sent a CV or covering letter!! I remember my first game distinctly against Tranmere Rovers, I’d hit the big time! I was positioned in the North Habbin stand in front of the Tranmere fans, not an easy initiation and some of the words I heard that day were words I’d never heard before but they certainly didn’t sound pleasant or should be repeated at home. Cambridge won the game 1-0 with John Beck scoring with a speculative 30 yard shot which slipped through Tranmere goalkeeper Eric Nixons hands and into the goal, I had to tone down my celebration with where I was standing but was buzzing inside and felt my ball retrieving (I touched the ball once!) had played a significant part of the victory!!
The season after I turned 8 years old and was at the age I could join a team, so off I went with a few school friends to try out for the local grassroots club Melbourn Tigers u9s. It was incredible, the coaches were fantastic and we all had so much fun. That season was the one of the most memorable times of my life, playing games with a referee and nets in the goals. It was like heaven and best of all our kit was yellow! Back then quite incredibly we played on an 11 a side pitch with 11 a side goals, which fortunately is very different now. But I wasn’t complaining, I loved it!
Now when I look back now I can’t remember any tactical or technical coaching I was given from the coaches but I will be forever grateful and will never forget them for how enjoyable they made the environment and how much fun I had playing the game. Without these positive first experiences and positive role models I had to look up to there’s no way I would have been fortunate enough to have a career in football.
Being a child’s first football coach is a massive responsibility when if done in the right way can develop a love for the game for the children that can last a lifetime. Now I’m convinced even if I didn’t go on to play professionally I would still love football as much as I do now because of those coaches and how they made me feel.
This is what we are striving to achieve at The Football Fun Factory on a mass scale. Our superstar Head Coaches are passionate football coaches who endeavour to give children a positive experience playing the game regardless of ability. And using football as the vehicle to develop positive life skills which without doubt it has the power to do. Football is for everyone and when enjoyed the positive outcomes are huge, and we fall in love with it.