Back in the glorious summers of our childhood, when the sun shone all day (and for all I know all night) we didn’t just swim every day. We also played football.
Nowadays near the end of each Premier League Football season some team will end up having to play, say, four games in thirteen days, and their manager (and a big hello to Arsene Wenger from Arsenal, if he’s reading this) will complain about the madness of the fixture pile-up, moan about the unfairness of it all because their opposition have not faced the same schedule (usually because they are inferior teams and have been knocked out of most competitions by that time) and, if his team loses, blame the defeat upon the tiredness of his players.
Our fixture schedule consisted of three games a day. We would all meet in the mornings, play until the first mother appeared to call her child for lunch, meet again to play until teatime and finish with a game that went on until we all got called home for bed.
And we were playing in summer – sunny, wonderful summers, if you’ve been paying attention, and we were Irish, so half of each team were red-headed or freckly, yet we never seemed to suffer the kind of exhaustion or de-hydration problems that National Teams from these islands succumb to simply because the World Cup is always played in June.
Some people (hi, Arsene) might say that this was because there were about twenty-eight of us on the pitch, so we didn’t have to run as much as modern professionals do. I would counter that by pointing out that we were about ten years old, yet always insisted on playing on Dalkey United’s full pitch. I would also point out that we actually ran more than a Beckham or a Ronaldo, for two reasons. The first was that there were no nets in the massive goals, nor crowds around the pitch, so that every time the ball went out of play one of us would have to run to get it back.
The second, of course, was that none of us kept to our positions. If the ball was kicked out to the left wing then all twenty-six who weren’t in goal would run after it. Someone would get there first, kick it in the other direction, and we would all set off after it again. We must have looked like a pack of hounds chasing a small round fox.
I have mentioned that we played on the full pitch. That was because real players played on a full-sized pitch, and we emulated them in every way. At corner-kicks we all gathered in the centre of the goalmouth waiting to head the ball in, although we knew that whoever was taking the kick could only move the ball about ten yards, and all along the ground at that. We had the same attitude when the goalkeeper was taking a kick-out, we all moved into the other half of the field and optimistically yelled for the ball.
It never reached us. If the keeper was kicking the ball out of his hands it would usually travel about two feet straight up into the air.
When Johan Cruyff did his famous turn by rolling the ball around and behind his standing leg we all tried that. When Rivelino scored by bending the ball using the outside of his foot we all tried that. When Pele tried to score from inside his own half we all tried that, though we knew in our hearts we’d never be able to kick it that far.
When Ernie Hunt (playing for Coventry against Everton in 1970, there are some facts you just don’t have to look up) scored his donkey-kick goal (if you watch the link, wait for the action replay to see why it’s so special) all of our free-kicks for the next three months were taken in that way. Generally the player trying the first part of the move would simply hit himself in the back of the head with the ball.
None of us ever dived. Any of us who got injured would hop or limp about for a few minutes until we recovered. All of us could kick the ball with either foot.
Schoolboy Leagues began in Ireland in those days at Under-14 level. When Tinson1 played first it was for the Under-8s. The kids learn to pass and move, and to stay in their positions. One team around here has their kids warm-up before games, and warm-down after them.
I watch them sometimes for a few minutes if I’m passing by. I hope they’re having as much fun as we had.