A goal for a works team is as important as the Champions League
12 May ~ A Monday morning dominated by headlines about Preston North End and Deepdale reminded me how football can make horrible jobs bearable, even convince you to remain in them. Chesterfield captain Ian Evatt was confronted by home fans invading the Deepdale pitch to celebrate Sunday’s play-off semi-final victory.
Yet the scene of Evatt’s low once staged the highlight of my own otherwise risible playing career. Works football – Sunday League teams – can mean as much to those of us with no skill or fitness as a Champions League final means to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
I played for neither my primary nor secondary school teams. Both were part of North Ayrshire’s football talent conveyor belt. But I was a talentless, lazy egomaniac, mincing along playground opposition goal-lines hoping for tap-ins. Consequently I didn’t get a sniff at organised 11-a-side football – strips, nets, referees – until working at the local head office of a nationwide travel agency.
Mail room for six months after leaving school, office lackey for the remainder of my teens, I spent five years pretending I hadn’t made a mistake and another two attending further education night classes. Before starting university at 23, football both eased and maintained my situation. Still living with my parents, I could afford the pub around Rangers and Scotland matches. Older colleagues would tolerate me on office nights out because I genuinely enjoyed their anecdotes about following their clubs.
Twenty minutes up the Clyde Coast was the Invercyde National Sports Centre at Largs, its Astroturf pitches available for hire. In 1988 our employer sponsored a Largs Sunday League – the only way our coterie of accountants and admin staff would ever graduate from playing ourselves at five-a-sides to facing others on the proper pitch. Two years of occasional full-sided friendlies against local supermarkets and council staff became sustained hidings from pub sides. Every drinker in Largs had definitely played for his school team. Ordered up front by our defence, for two seasons in a row I scored more of our consolation goals than anyone else.
Spectating clearly remained my footballing forte – and no university team would touch me – but in those three or four years I experienced what it was to be sent off, miss crucial penalties, dread retribution from psychotic opponents and lose a few seconds of consciousness through the coruscating euphoria of heading home a cross from our 52-year-old director of finance despite the attentions of two centre-halves from Beith & District Young Farmers.
When league “form” began sapping office morale an internal cup competition was arranged. We defeated “The Rest of Scotland” (our Glasgow offices) and our North of England colleagues triumphed over the south. In July 1989, Deepdale’s temporary synthetic, rentable pitch hosted our final. The previous evening I got very drunk in our Preston hotel and staggered across the M6 motorway for service station nosh. Pre-match I was told I would have been dropped if we didn’t work in an office with only 11 non-female staff.
We won 2-0. Too hungover for nerves, I converted a first-half penalty and, five minutes from time, handled the ball in their box. As two Geordie credit controllers appealed to an unsighted ref, I staggered on and lobbed the protesting keeper. Deepdale’s been thoroughly redeveloped since. But whenever it’s on telly all I ever see is the old Town End covered terrace, behind that ball rolling down the inside of that net. And the company newsletter misspelling my name. Alex Anderson