new frontiers (issue 7)

Soccer In The Good Old Days

Schooldays. The happiest days our of lives? What do you remember most about those days? The lessons, the teachers, the pranks, fellow pupils or the endless games of soccer?

At my school, it was the endless games of soccer. The play time soccer games really started when I started a new school at 11 years of age. It was an all boys school. No more games of tag and kissing in the playground that were the usual playtime pursuits at primary school. Well maybe, the odd one (in more ways than one) continued those primary school pursuits, but for most of us it was soccer and more soccer. Soccer at break time and soccer at lunch time. In the concrete playground during winter, the playing field in the summer. Every day. In the early years we weren't allowed in the classrooms at break time unless it was wet.

As first formers we were very good. We sat in alphabetic order and only spoke when we were spoken to. Soccer was accordingly well regimented. We picked teams, 3 a side, at the start of the year, organised a league and played league games at virtually every opportunity during that first year. We must have played each of the other teams 50 or 60 times.

Outside school, things were little different, soccer at every opportunity, though less regimented than at school. We picked different sides for each game depending on who turned up.

Picking sides was often a delicate matter. Picking captains usually more delicate. Captains were either the leaders of the gang, the biggest (often the same), those who provided the ball or those who we had to keep on the right side of. That is those who had a ball, those whose mum would feed us regally at half time, but most often, those who had big brothers who we were scared would beat us up if we fought with his younger brother.

The captains had several serious matters to consider when choosing his team. Did he pick the best players? Probably not. More usually he would pick his best friends, the ball owner and the best fighter or biggest clogger (usually one and the same).

Invariably, the smallest players would be picked last. Inevitably, and totally in contradiction to professional soccer, the little runt would find himself in goal. Funny in those days anyone could go in goal and retain his footballing skills unlike today's modern professional keeper who can't dribble or kick straight if he has the ball at his feet and an opposing forward within 20 yards.

The game would kick off. Even then, matters wouldn't be simple. The teams would fight over which side a late comer should join. The losing side, the side that didn't get the last player to arrive or the first side to claim him. But, usually, he joined the side of his best friend. As the game progressed, players would drift away through boredom, or more often when their mum blew the final bedtime whistle. This would often lead to one side finishing the game with twice as many players as the other.

Whatever, in those days we never had substitutes. If you turned up you were guaranteed a game, even if it was 29 a side. Just as well really, for neither did we ever have injuries. None of those modern groin strains and pulled muscles for us. We would play whatever, even going against our trainer's (usually mum or dad) better judgement. If we could stand up, we were fit. I even remember once playing on with a broken arm. I was still playing when the ambulance arrived. They put some strange sort of inflatable splint on my arm. The ambulance man told me to blow into the tube, it inflated the splint and off we went. He made some joke about it being a breathalyser, I felt more like a subbuteo player with my arm extended.

We even organised games against other teams as a result of an advert in "Football Monthly" in the "Fixtures Wanted" column.

Our first game was against a Stockton Lane who turned up in a grey kit, 20 years before it became the vogue for a season change strip of several Football League clubs. Only trouble was, these grey shirts also saw duty in the classroom.

Another team we played was against a 7 a side team from Woodthorpe. They dictated terms, their 7, not our 11, a side. I suppose with them being generally a year older that was their privilege. However, I remember, our manager having selection problems as to which players to leave out. Then, when the game started, he had even greater difficulty having only 7 players on the pitch at any one time. Those players not selected took the law into their own hands and played. Even so, our 11 lost against their 7. A week later, we received a stern letter from the Woodthorpe side offering a return fixture but rebuking us for fielding 11 and stressing that if we accepted their offer of a return game, we had to stick rigidly to 7 a side. I think we binned their letter, certainly, we never played the return.

Suddenly, a few months later, we left primary school. Guess who were the spotty second formers. Yes, that's right, the Woodthorpe mob. They made our lives a misery.

Another problem facing our side was where to play our games. For proper fixtures we would play on the pitch of the local village side. Our only problem was that the father of our star striker was (and still is) a leading light in the York & District Soccer League. His son wasn't allowed to play on the pitches. We went into all our proper games minus a star striker, banned from playing for fear of losing his pocket money!

Back to school, and the second year saw play time games take on a new air. Teams were formed, regularly, around groups of friends. As new friendships formed or friends fell out then teams would accordingly merge or split up. Because of the temporary nature of many sides, competitions were largely knock outs. Few leagues could sustain a stable set up for the duration.

Arguments raged from before the start of the game (over which team's ball to use) to after the final whistle (or bell). Goal size was often disputed, blazers would be piled high to form the posts, the cross bar was anyone's guess. The only way to avoid a dispute was to score by shooting along the ground into the centre of the goal.

Referees, when you could find one, were often less than useless. One referee gave an offside decision against us, the player was in his own half! His arguments only resulted in a dismissal, he ran off with the ball. Mr Hicks, where are you now?

Other disputes would rage over every decision, penalties being a particular nightmare. Whether it was a foul, where the imaginary penalty area extended to and where the penalty spot was. It was useful to have a giant in your side as his 12 paces were considerably further away from the goal than anyone else could manage. Invariably, the captain would remove his number 9 shirt and don the keeper's gloves to face the penalty. Almost invariably, he would face the captain of the opposition.

Disputes would rage throughout the game. Did the game end on the bell or just before. What about injury time and time wasting tactics. Many a time, teams fell foul of strict teachers starting lessons punctually after play time in the classroom furthest away from the pitch.

Tactics took on a whole new meaning in cup ties. You could hold out for extra time if you knew the opposition had a pressing engagement and couldn't stay beyond the bell. Then you claimed a win by default.

Even if you got to the lesson in time, you would fall foul off the teacher. Either your tie wasn't done up properly or you would get caught chatting to your mates at the post match inquest.

The keeper was always the busiest player on the pitch. As well as his defensive duties, he had other duties to perform. When his team was attacking, he would neatly rearrange the pile of blazers ensuring the goal became a few inches narrower. It was an art form to reduce the width of the goal, but not by too much that the opposition would notice. Depending on the type of school you went to, he might also be responsible for the safety of his teammates valuables. I remember, on one occasion, we put all the valuables in a carrier bag, expecting our keeper to look after it during the game (Graeme Crawford did exactly the same), except our dozy keeper left it in the changing room for any passing thief to pick up. Fortunately, none passed by.

Games would be played with a 1-1-8 format, the better organised teams would deploy their 8 forwards in a free roving role, they could go forward as much as they wanted as long as they all retreated when the team was defending.

Rarely was the pitch rectangular. On the school field the bounds of the pitch were dictated by having to avoid the cricket square, the newly seeded goal areas of the proper pitches and the pitches of the next year up. You tangled with those delinquents at your peril. They thought nothing about kicking lumps out of a youngster who inadvertently strayed onto their pitch. If they didn't kick you, they were liable to either hold your ball hostage if it strayed into their area, or they would kick it away. Even then, trees, but more likely stray dogs (and all problems associated with dogs!) would cause problems. Rumour had it at my school, that Scarborough regularly sent a scout along to watch the play time action. Apparently, he had his eyes on a sturdy collie dog who had exceptional skill and was known to be a ferocious tackler around the ankles.

My little brother, who didn't much like soccer, perfected a neat tactic, hiding behind the trees that ran the 2 sides of the pitch, he'd jump out when the ball was wellied forward and have a clear run on goal.

On one occasion, we played a team in the grounds of Clifton Hospital. That presented a novel problem. The pitch doubling as the take off zone the for K Cars hot air balloon. Have you ever played with a hot air balloon, its ballast and ropes to navigate around as you made that mazy dribble from deep inside your own half?

At the end of the day, when you got home, your mum would play war about all those green stains on your trousers.

Winter provided another problem. Banned from the playing field, confined to the playground you kicked the ball on the roof at your own risk. The one who kicked it onto the roof had to retrieve it, risking the wrath of teachers and malicious prefects eager to hand out detention and lines.

Even the 3 day week in 1973 couldn't defeat the game of soccer. Games were rearranged for platform 14 of York Station. As the 3 day week finished, so did our interest in trains and playing football. We were grown up.

Geoff Potter

Thanks Geoff. My favourite schoolboy soccer memory is the day that I scored a hotly disputed hat trick. One off the knee, a right footer and, most disputed, when one of the opposition defenders allowed the ball to bounce off his knee, onto the post and into the net with me in close attention. In those days, no one liked to concede an own goal so I claimed it along with my hat trick. 3 goals, none more than a yard out, none struggled more than 6 inches over the goal line. What would a team like Manchester United, or even York City, pay for someone who could score a hat trick every game? Unfortunately, the call never came. What's your favourite schoolboy soccer memory? Write and share it with New Frontiers.


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