I wrote this blog post almost 1 year ago but never published it. I am sure my ego was in charge so here goes…..
My earliest memories of kicking a ball was well before we got into the competitive world of organised football around 8 years old. In these early days I just loved kicking a ball endlessly. Most of the time it was on the street directly outside our front door. There were two concrete posts which we used as goals. Grass on one side and a multi-purpose surface on the other side (concrete slabs and tarmac). On the good days we used the grass but on the majority of days when it was raining then it was the ‘multi’ court. Cars were never an issue as they took their chance if it was left too near our ‘goals’ Other times we used garage doors as goals. The game was generally the same (repetition, repetition, repetition) with usually 1 keeper and 2 or 3 outfield players knocking in crosses from both sides. Volleys, half-volleys, headers. If you scored then you went one up and if it went past then a goal to the goalkeeper. We would lose ourselves for hours in this simple game of ‘crossy’ During this time maybe a big game would evolve either down the local school grass pitch or next to the adjacent garages where we had effectively an enclosed pitch of garages on one side and a fence surrounding the rest of the perimeter . This meant the ball never left the pitch. The ages ranged from us being the youngest but we played with boys maybe 4 or 5 years older. Yes, we were easily pushed off the ball but we kept coming back for more. Most nights and weekends were spent in this fantastic learning environment.
So we moved on to organised football with East Mains Thistle. First year of full 11-a-side at under 9’s. I played a year above myself as my friends were in this age group. Memories of gravel pitches at Brancumhall with blowing gales. Standing at the back trying to be a centre back. Although this was our first taste of wearing a proper strip, the street games continued and we even had a ‘street team’ I did ok and won a few medals during these early years. You seemed to get a medal for everything back then and had a board full of them. I couldn’t tell you what most of them were for.
At around 12, I trialled for Celtic Boys Club. They were the premier club in Scotland at the time and pretty much regarded as such. In my trial I played directly against Peter Grant, who went on to play for Celtic and Scotland. I must’ve done alright as I got in. This led to me being part of a team who won every game they played for the first two years including two Scottish Cups. My third season was the last one as we lost our 3rd Scottish Cup final appearance. During this time I signed an ‘S’ for Hamilton Accies which meant I was also training with them. Subsequently, I left Celtic BC and joined Aberdeen BC who were based in East Kilbride. A couple of good seasons there but the team finished at under 16’s. At the end of the season I was also released by Hamilton Accies. I then joined East Kilbride YC for two great seasons at under 18. This was rounded off by winning the Scottish under 18 League Cup (I think). This was a brilliant time playing with a bunch of mates from EK. Not only a brilliant time but a great set of boys who just had a great laugh.
In effect my youth football was now over. I was working and joined EKYM who played in the Scottish Amateur league. A good team and again great bunch of local lads. During this time I also turned out and played a few reserve games for Partick Thistle and Airdrie. It was during my third game for Partick that they said they liked me but (being gently let down) asked me to go to Ashfield and play junior football. As a young boy, this was a steep learning curve playing against a lot of ex-pros and experienced junior players. It certainly toughened me up. My problem was I always lacked pace but junior football was perfect for me. Over the next ten years included two spells at Ashfield, a brief season at EK Thistle and was finished off at Neilston Juniors where I probably enjoyed my best spell of football. However at 29, I tore my ankle ligaments and was out for a year. I then made my comeback after the next pre-season and was really fit and ready to go. In a friendly against St. Mirren I stretched for a ball and managed to tear my knee ligaments. So there it is at 30 years old and career over. A failed footballer.
Everyone reminisces fondly on their career and we remember the good times. I notice in Facebook and Twitter how good we all were!! This is where the ego has created an image of ourselves that has been created in our mind. I know I was ok to a certain level but never good enough to make it to the top. That realism still hurts today and that is, I believe, why I coach the way I do. Being a ‘failed footballer’ allows me to see the mistakes I made and try and help the kids I coach.
As a player, I felt too much stress in trying to win. It was drummed into me that winning was everything and I remember the tears when games were lost. I am pretty sure this was the effect of 3 years at Celtic BC but is still stayed with me in later years. My play was too fearful. As a coach, I now try to go the opposite way and get across that winning is only an outcome and not always within our control. Developing players to be the best they can be and playing the right way is key to my coaching.
Consequently, I have learned all the ways not to create a ‘failed footballer’ Instead I hope to build people who have a love of the game and doesn’t matter where they play and at what level. My story is not complete and I am the ‘director’ of it. Like all good stories, we face a challenge to overcome. I am woking to overcome this baggage and enlighten the players that there is a ‘way’ for all of them, no matter their ability.
So what is your story? Is it the ego driven narrative of how good you were or can you learn and apply it to your current situation? This is what I am trying to do but only my players will be a judge of its success.