16 September 2009

"Oi, fourth years get the new shirts!"

Hedon County Primary school's football team, 1981-2. There's me on the left of the front row with one sock lower than the other and a digital watch, the staple fashion item of all primary school kids in the early 1980s, still on my wrist.

This was the first football team I played for. I was eight years old when I was picked to play at left back in the team and was pretty proud as only two other lads in my year were selected. I was the youngest by a good few months but not the smallest - look at Steve Platten, the lad with the large shield in front of him. He was smaller than me, a year older than me and a genuinely talented footballer who ended up being offered YTS terms by Hull City when he was 16.

From what I remember, school football at both primary and secondary level relied on cup competitions to provide serious games for the youngsters, while also playing plenty of friendly matches. There was no league, that I can remember. We were a good team for a bunch of eight to 11 year olds and reached a few of the cup finals, though never won any. Don't be fooled by the trophies on the photo - they were won by other teams at the school and were just placed in the photo to make us look good, while the one in the middle was our own Man of the Match trophy, in the team's colours.

The most memorable final was in a competition called the John Chignall Cup (I know this as I still have the certificate, but I've no idea who John Chignall is/was), which held its final at a neutral venue in the area. The deputy headmaster (not the head himself, who was an anti-sport, child-hating tyrant) suggested to the various year assemblies that maybe they'd like to go and support the team, and sent letters to parents informing them of it.

Before we knew it, two coaches had been booked because of demand, and so while the team travelled on a minibus to the venue, half the school was following as we headed for Driffield for the final.

Our opponents, from a primary school in Cottingham (a very large village immediately north of Hull) took an early lead. Our goalkeeper, Kirk "Yashin" Hudson, is someone I've seen a few times recently and he recounted the goal as if it were yesterday - he acrobatically pushed a shot on to the crossbar and a scrounging striker followed up to head in the rebound.

In the second half, we pushed and harried and both the captain Jeremy Ruffle (who I think later emigrated to Canada) and I had goals disallowed. I had been put upfield as a further attacker but was called offside as I stuck the ball away. My dad and both grandads were in attendance and all three reckoned the referee conned us, though on reflection maybe they were just being polite to a gutted nine year old lad, as we never did find the equaliser and lost 1-0. I should have timed my run better, as I'd learned about offsides meticulously while playing at left back - again, I have the talented Platten to thank for that. Being taught the offside law by a ten year old is fine when you're only eight.

Some of the players on the photo then left for secondary school and Mr Abbott, our teacher in the photo, had to begin the process again with the players who stayed behind and new ones emerging from the years below. The team was never quite as good though, even as we grew older, fitter, stronger and more aware of how to play the game.

You may notice that the shirts differ slightly in shade and quality. This is because only half a batch was ordered to replace some of the older shirts which had become too frayed and unwearable. However, some more of the older shirts survived, as you can see, and indeed continued to be used for the two further years I spent at the school and in the team. The general consensus was that the eldest boys, the fourth years, got first refusal on the newer shirts, the ones with collars, but looking at the photo and knowing the ages of each lad on it, that obviously didn't always apply.

Paul Kelly, poor lad on the far left of the back row, is wearing shorts that look considerably too big for him. All the shorts were this size, so heaven knows what sort of mutant primary school kids the manufacturers assumed Hedon had when they were first made. Paul was in my year and a good deal taller than me, so I am fortunate that my seated position hides just how bad I looked in equally vast shorts. A serious gust of wind could easily have floated me away.

Although we had a minibus for that cup final, most of the time we'd all pile into Mr Abbott's car for the short away trips to schools in neighbouring villages. We'd get changed prior to setting off in order to save on luggage space and it provided the difference between getting a full quota of 12 or 13 lads into the car and not. Unbelievably, Mr Abbott drove a 2CV. A blue one, in fact. And all of us managed to get into it. Some of us were very small, remember. The Health and Safety people would have a fit today, but back then even drivers didn't have to wear seat belts, never mind passengers.

I carried on playing football until I was about 15, both for school and for Sunday League teams, but my early promise as an eight year old didn't develop much and by the time I stopped playing I was very, very average indeed. I haven't played much in adulthood due to a couple of ankle injuries, yet only yesterday a mate who runs a Hull City supporters' team put an appeal out for players for a game this weekend as he was short of them. I have thought about it, as I loved playing, but at 36 and with limited fitness I'm too wary of being crap.

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