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No. 7 Switching Sides

After the Easter break we had a game that involved me switching sides. This is a fairly rare occurence now as the vast majority of times the players inform me that they’ll be available to play, they attend. This enables me to select two sides, the dark shirts and the white shirts, the evening before the Friday encounter weighing up the strengths and abilities of the players to select even sides.

Unfortunately, on this particular Friday, one of the lads told me that he might just get to us in time or be slightly late. As it transpired he didn’t get to us at all. This necessitated me switching teams from the whites to the darks at half-time as the latter were the ones a player light and it was three-nil to the whites with the prospect of more to come with perhaps little in reply. Within five minutes I had reduced the arrears with what John South calls ‘A typical Jonaldo goal’. This is essentially meant as a rather disparaging remark, meaning that I am in the right place at the right time to notch a fairly easy goal. But I actually take it as a compliment as not everyone has this ability as evidenced when Southey a couple of years back at a post-match analysis at The Swan stated that he had tried to get in positions like I find to score easy goals but had singularly failed to do so. He then proceeded to go around the table asking fellow players if the ball ever found them in the box as conveniently as it always seemed to locate me to provide the coup de grace and all sided with him in his observation.

I dare say the likes of Gary Linekar and currently Erling Haaland encountered this sort of envy and marvel from their colleagues as they racked up their impressive tallies in the goals column. John Lord, our solid and dependable defender who played up front in his prime, calls me ‘sniffer’ as I have a nose for being able to scent a chance and where it will drop. My partner simply says that I am a goalhanger which is ludicrous as I don’t spend much time in the box and float around causing mischief wherever possible to the designs of the opposition, but when I enter that penalty area it is with the chilling efficiency of an executioner. Well, I like to think so. My partner had two sons who played, one of those, like myself, was somewhat of a goal machine with that innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. Something that cannot be taught as it’s natural instinct. The other was an industrious midfielder with the talent to unlock defences. In her eyes, the latter was the player and receives the acclaim. I have every sympathy for the former. The skill bestowed upon us makes it appear that we expend little effort compared to so many others in the team. Hence the disparaging remarks. But the goals we score render us the most essential component of that team. It’s only through my modesty, the fact that I am a quiet assassin, that this important point gets neglected but it is hard to keep my light under a bushel at times.

I suppose my partner is assuming the role of the slave who used to accompany Roman Generals in their chariot when they received the plaudits due to them on a triumph through the streets of Ancient Rome. The slave’s presence was designed to keep the hero humble, for there is no point in being revered if one doesn’t retain a modicum of humility. She keeps my feet on the ground. Quite literally, actually, for a few weeks ago I conceived the idea of doing some jumping exercises so I could leap in the air as I did in my prime and enable me to reach even more crosses with my head. I was told not to do this as at sixty it would more than likely cause me an anke or knee injury and limit our options for daytrips and the like.

Football isn’t always a microcosm of life, although I have been predisposed with the knack of being in the right place at the right time as far as converting chances on the pitch is concerned, when it comes to choosing the right checkout to queue at in the supermarket I invariably select the wrong one. But, when that occurs I smile to myself and think rather that than not being a fox in the box.

I don’t want to give the impression that all my goals are unspectacular. I have scored some corkers too, particulary with diving headers. I love those. Some have reminded me of Allan Clarke’s winning goal in the 1972 FA Cup Final. Little did I know when I watched that with awe as a child that I would be scoring goals of equal brilliance like that fifty plus years on, and that like him I would rejoice in the nickname ‘Sniffer’.

Before the pandemic, we weren’t as well organised with our football and players didn’t pre-book, they turned up on the day. This meant hastily selecting sides with far less care as to their ultimate balance as I handed out bibs as we used back then. Inevitably, this went wrong on occasions and switches to the teams needed to be made to make more of a game of it. The most notable instance of this happened when the team I was in was leading 7-0 at half-time. We decided to swap our best player, Martyn Stephens and another for two of our opponents, Steve Prince and the solid defender the Londoner we just knew as Terry. The final score was 7-7. All very nice for the majority of us. But it meant that Martyn effectively played a match in which his teams scored 14 goals without reply. Whilst, conversely, Steve Prince and Terry played a match in which their teams scored sod all and conceded 14. Steve Prince still laughs about it to this very day. However, Terry wasn’t so well disposed to it all. In fact he never played again. I seen him on a couple of occasions at shops in the year or so after that infamous match and he was friendly but showed no appetite to return to our football. He informed me that he now played tennis to keep fit. I can only assume this is because the heaviest defeat he will ever have to endure in a tennis match would be 0-6, 0-6. instead of two halves of a football game 0-7, 0-7.

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