Friday 18 July ~

This week we're having a daily look at some topical articles in the WSC archive. Today, Andy Korman explains how he had looked forward to receiving summer coaching tuition from a major football figure. Instead, he had to make do with Ian St John. From WSC 57, published in November 1991

Many years ago my granddad decided that £30 was a small price to pay to keep me out of what was left of his thinning hair for one week of the school holidays. He booked me into the Liverpool branch of the Bobby Moore Soccer Skills Coaching School. A green and callow youth of some 11 summers, I nevertheless convinced my mother that I was sufficiently mature to take the bus two stops to the ground on my own without being arrested, molested or seduced by the delights of cigarettes and drink.

On arriving, I discovered several huge piles of bibs and cones, no doubt left over from the mother of all cycling proficiency tests, and some footballs made from genuine imitation leather, ie real plastic. I also discovered that my bunch of skinny kids was to be coached by an amiable short-arse by the name of lan St John. Some poor sods in another group were being yelled at by Ron Yeats, a man with a face so red and belligerent it looked like his neck was exploding.

Warming up consisted of a raggedy trot round the pitch's perimeter, while St John tested out the alignment of the goal posts by leaning against them. As the temperature was only just into the 90s we were obviously in need of increasing our body heat, but I was secretly rather pleased not to be in the care of Yeats, who was leading his lads out of the gate, heading for Speke Airport.

Over the next few days, St John earned his money by husbanding his energy and inventing nicknames for us all. Stretching his imagination to the limit, he came up with “Hafnia man” for me, no doubt inspired by the name of the Danish canned meats company emblazoned across the Everton shirt on my chest in letters three inches high. I had earlier silenced the derision this kit had caused in my fellow students, bedecked in the favours of Liverpool, Real Madrid, Brazil etc, by claiming that I didn't actually support Everton but Andy King was my uncle. (This blatant lie has tormented me ever since, and convinced me that the team's total lack of success for the following seven years was divine retribution. Lads, I'm sorry.)

We did, however, find time to smooth the rough edges of our footballing ability and, in fairness, have an all-round good laugh. The one black spot occurred when a “professional referee” (sic), one N Midgeley, came to give us a talk. When he offered to clear up any area of the rules that confused us, I asked him why Joe Corrigan had once been booked for pacing out the distance to the penalty spot on a muddy pitch. He told me that was a stupid question. I bet he didn't know.

When Friday arrived, we were obliged to pass aptitude tests in the skills our coach had taught us, such as shooting, heading, tackling and the like. Since there was, apparently, no category which involved sitting around in the centre-circle lying about what a good player you were in the Sixties, I feared that even the bronzest of awards would be beyond me and I would have to settle for a career with Lincoln City rather than Internazionale.

Luckily, Uncle Ian was to be our examiner, and he brought all the zeal of his old teaching to this new task. Shooting was first. From a distance of 20 yards, each student was required to hit the target with at least five shots from ten attempts. Positioned barely outside the six-yard box, we timorously side-footed the ball along the ground towards an unguarded goal. Even when we missed, St John employed all the refereeing strictness of John Virgo in Big Break. Yeats's lads, performing ostensibly the same exercise, were somewhere near the centre circle peppering a hockey goal defended by Big Ron himself. While our chipping test degenerated into an orgy of carting the ball over the bar as hard as we could (sometimes, I am ashamed to say, out of our hands), the Yeats elite had to make the thing spin backwards on landing.

I passed these trials easily. As one of the abler traffic cones could have done the same this was little to shout about, but I did manage to partner the best player in the one-two exercise. Since the Saint had described this lad as “the new Peter Ward” (which, looking back, must have been some sort of compliment, I suppose), I raced through and on to the next problem, heading.

This was, and always has been, my footballing Room 101. I would now be required to score a few goals, as opposed to glaring at the ball in fearful anticipation before performing the complicated feat of jumping out of the ball's way while appearing to hurl myself towards it. I needn't have worried, however, for our coach had surpassed himself. Not only did we eschew our regular target in favour of a rugby goal, but this in turn was defended by a goalkeeper of quite alarming brevity of stature. His shirt sported the legend Sefton Boys AFC, and indeed he may have represented his district, but only if Subbuteo had marketed a .00 scale replica of the team.

In the final exercise, St John tackled with all the animal ferocity of Duncan Mackenzie, while one youth was seen running away from a guffawing Yeats, tears streaming down his bloodstained face,  issuing empty threats involving his big brother. I graduated with a certificate and octagonal patch, each bearing a somewhat Cubist representation of Bobby Moore, a sun-tan that made me look like I was wearing a white T-shirt when I got into the bath and an enduring incapacity to beat a goalkeeper from outside the penalty area.

One moment from this week of what may loosely be termed “coaching” has provided me with years of undiminished pleasure. Each Saturday lunch time during the football season, I tune into ITV with the quiet satisfaction that the cheeky Scottish imp playing straight man to Jimmy Greaves was once smacked squarely in the testicles by one of my free-kicks.

More... Ian St John