If your one for statistics, or Arsenal memory reminders, then this post is probably not for you but if you have sport in your blood and anything football rings your bell, this could just be up your street. I’ll start off with how this idea came to me and try not to bore you to much.
After reading the daily posts and commenting on one or two points, an idea struck home and I started thinking back to the time I played in our local football side and it made me wonder if what we played, was anything like the real thing.
Arsenal in those days was always one of the best teams in what was then termed as division one, they usually held their league position from midway up to the top.
I of course, was Arsenal through and through, so when I played local football, I always imagined myself as our latest center forward and having Tottenham’s training ground just round the corner from where I lived, gave me the benefit of seeing how professionals trained. I must admit our local team was miles away from it. (Yep, even from Spurs )
On our match days we would meet in the pub, have a couple of pints, then make our way to the ground. Some of the guys used to arrive late because they couldn’t leave the pub but we normally managed to start with eleven. Sometimes the groundsman never turned up, and we would have to change on the touch-line, leaving our clothes there until the game ended, hoping it wouldn’t rain. More often than not though, it did and the facilities were so poor back then, we’d have to change back into our damp clothes….
As years went by we got a sink but even then you had to wait your turn, I often wondered what the professional clubs facilities were like, bet they didn’t have one sink to share!!
We had to take our turn in washing the kit, funny thing was, we played in Arsenal colours but by the end of the season, with all the boys taking turns to wash the kit, we ended up playing in pink, we got a lot of funny looks from other clubs though. We all paid about a pound a week subs, that helped to pay for a match ball and a new strip for the next season, the referee needed paying as did the rent on the ground we played, we even had to pay for our place in the league.
Some, like me, had two lots of fees as we played in the Sunday league as well.
Then we had the cup games, once we’d been knocked out of these we’d all go off to Highbury and watch Arsenal. I used to watch the players come out and get that thrill, something I still get at the Emirates today as the fans start to cheer the lads on. As we watched the team in what looked like a brand new pristine strip, swaggering around, we looked at all the boots they had on, hoping we would some day be able to afford them.
One of the games I watched, someone got injured and stretchered off, another had to be carried carried off. It made me think back to the week before, when one of the other side that we were playing, broke his leg, and the game was stopped, until the Ambulance came and they took him away, close on an hour we waited and then the game resumed, a win for us as they never had a reserve.
Injury happened in our games as well, I don’t believe we were anywhere near the fitness of teams like the Arsenal, funny really I played local football for almost thirty years but I cant remember the term metatarsal ever! We had sprained ankles and broken legs ,concussions and the odd hamstring injury but the posh ones of today, never.
I suffered a hamstring injury once and the pain was unbelievable, so I know how Cesc must have felt, with mine though, despite it hurting like f**k, never stopped me working! Maybe i was lucky…..
As I drew towards the end of my playing days, my cartilage went. Twelve months I waited to have treatment, I was in much pain during all that time but I had to carry on. When it was done, I was in plaster for a fortnight, then back playing about two months after, needless to say my playing days were really over after that.
Players come and go in the Arsenal team, some turn out to be legends in the game - that’s usually a player that left a legacy of outstanding play in the minds of the fanatical supporters, players of skill and long service to the club or players who are idolised and sorely missed when they leave. But life goes on and a new player steps up to the plate and it starts all over again.
We, that is the guys I played with, often heard there was a scout out watching certain players in games played on our communal grounds, that’s when we all tried their hardest hoping to make an impression. In one of those so called games I scored five goals, got the headlines on the back page of the local rag but, like thousands more, I was never judged to be good enough.
So the difference between local and professional football was massive.
I often think back to those days and believe that at least we had a chance to become big stars but just wasn’t good enough. Right now I worry that with all the foreign players that are being brought in, the grass roots of football is a thing of the past. I am not against foreign players as they posses amazing talent but are British players are being passed over in preference to foreign?
I must admit, I was shocked when Arsenal was the first English club to field a complete foreign side, I felt we had let our country down but I suppose in this multicultural country we live in today, we have to accept change. This is happening throughout, be it religion football or politics. Foreign players playing for foreign owners in what seems a foreign country, I suppose the British will just have to try harder.
The trouble is, you cant make a silk purse, out of a pigs ear, so I don’t expect change.
Does grass roots football help the professional game, or is it over?
Written by Steve Palmer