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No.5: A Suitable Case For Treatment x 22

Wembley, it was said after Frank Haffey had picked the ball out of the net nine times in Scotland’s defeat to the auld enemy in 1961, was a graveyard for Scottish goalkeepers. Well our 3G pitch can be a pretty unforgiving surface as well for the custodians of the goal as Ron the Cat discovered this week. He let in seven and, unfortunately, let in would be a very appropriate description for the majority of those seven. I suppose to call it a graveyard would be inappropriate considering our advanced ages. Put it this way, if we were playing Walking Baseball and affiliated to the Major League team in LA we’d be called The Coffin Dodgers.

Ron has done remarkably well to play at all. Less than a year ago he virtually cut his finger and thumb off in an accident with an electric saw, they were dangling off his hand and were sewn back on in an emergency operation. He didn’t think he would be able to play ever again let alone in goal, so some allowance has to be made for the fact he cannot always use his hands with the confidence he once deployed.

In the world of young professional players health issues and DIY disasters caused by senior moments rarely play a part in the scheme of things. It has to be remembered that some of our seniors have survived heart attacks, or are battling diabetes or, in Bill Hyde’s case, awaiting a hip replacement. Christ, if any of my lot signed for a pro football club they would need to start the process at the very commencement of the transfer window, as it’s likely to take the full thirty days to complete the medical. If your favourite team signed a goalkeeper who had fairly recently near as dammit sawn a finger and thumb off, I dare say you wouldn’t think much of your team’s prospects for the season. Therefore, you can hopefully understand why my team lost 7-3. So, I won’t dwell too much on the match as our performance meritted a draw, which would’ve been an achievement in itself seeing that we had the weaker side whose strength was further diluted through circumstance.

During my time playing walking football I have witnessed three players breaking fingers in goal and one breaking a wrist. Seniors can still pack a wallop in their shots and it isn’t all down to the fact that our bones are more brittle. Back in 2016-17, when our numbers weren’t as great, we used to allow sons of players to turn out in our games. Oddly, they’d adhere to the ‘walking’ part of our game far better than us over fifties. One such invited player was Mark, the son of Ron Atticus. He had played a very high standard of non-league football at Mangotsfield United and had once scored the perfect hattrick (header, left foot, right foot). He took his turn between the sticks one match but a powerful shot from a near seventy year old, twice his age, broke two of his fingers and he then needed an operation. He was at that time the player-manager of a decent non-league side and didn’t want it getting out as he knew that if the players of his club discovered that he acquired his injury playing walking football he would be the subject of much ridicule and would probably lose the dressing room so to speak.

Personally, in the six years plus I have been playing walking football I have broken a rib, badly bruised ribs twice, busted my nose heading a last minute winner while simultaneously making contact with the back of a defender’s head, knocked myself out once, been concussed a further two occasions, done my ankle and knee ligaments when I stood on the ball and was out of action for four months, although three of those months were consumed by the final covid lockdown so I didn’t miss much football, broken or badly bruised toes on a few occasions and received a musculoskeletal injury to my neck. But this is the price one pays to keep fit.

I’m reminded of the time in November 2021 when the Gloucestershire Football Association contacted me on a Thursday to inform me that a woman wanted to join our walking football group and asked me if I could send her an email telling her all about us and the sport and suggesting she join us the following day. I duly did this and was keen to extol the virtues of walking football as a great means of keeping fit and healthy. Reading this made Helen even keener to join us and I welcomed her just hours later to our fold.

Imagine my consternation, therefore, when within three minutes of the kick-off I received the ball near the touchline and as the opposition defender big John Lord approached I decided to slip the ball past him with a bit of trickery, only to be unceremoniously upended with the crudest of fouls that left me writhing in agony with a dead leg. Through the pain I could hear someone say that it’s okay now I can get up as I’ve got my bloody free-kick. But what these heathens couldn’t understand was I was actually trying to play down my injury as I was aware that it possibly wasn’t making a great impression on our new female recruit who’d been told by yours truly what a great sport it was for keeping fit. Indeed, as the match progressed and I got slower and slower until inevitably I had to spend the majority of the second half in goal, I did so by causing as little fuss as possible so that my predicament would go unobserved by her.

At the final whistle I deliberately remained behind chatting to anyone who was available so that Helen didn’t then see me take about twenty minutes to negotiate the walk from the pitch to the car park that normally takes less than a tenth of that time when one doesn’t have the incumbance of a dead leg. Fortunately, my bravery in the face of adversity met with success and Helen is a regular and solid member of our group. Although, in that time she has picked up a couple of black eyes, from when balls have smacked her in the face, and a bruised abdomen.

Someone who had expressed interest asked if he could come along to watch us play the week before he planned to don his boots. He had not long returned from a holiday abroad and looked bronzed and athletic. When I glanced at him after about ten minutes of our match, the tan had been invaded by the white hue of shock and his pose no longer appeared languid and confident. More taut with fear. These impressions proved to be correct as at half-time when I sought him out he had disappeared one of our players saying that he had seen him beat a hasty retreat to the car park on about the 16 minute mark.

I suppose to his way of thinking we were all in need of treatment of the mental kind and so would he likewise be if he entertained the prospect of joining us any further.

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