I began my footballing career at the ripe old age of 6. It was around the same time I began karate lessons like every other 6-year-old in my class, but football left a much more impactful impression. This was the beginning of a lengthy footballing career, wildly varying in skill levels depending on my dedication to it.
Granted for many of my early career highlights, the football was actually more like a golden snitch that 14 kids chased around the pitch simultaneously. Nonetheless, I had found my calling. Of course, the gold medals at mini tournaments on a Saturday helped, and are still crammed proudly in a shoebox at home somewhere. Pro-star tracksuits and personalised boots (my annual birthday/Christmas present) became a dominant feature in my very limited wardrobe choices. But they were the most important possessions I owned from 6 until 15. Sharing the same badge on a tracksuit as 16 other lads you had grown up playing football with at the time felt like allegiance to an army squadron. That camaraderie and pride to be a part of a team, playing for the badge, was something that resonated with me from a pre-pubescent age. It was also drilled in to us by a working-class middle-aged man called Allan. Our coach and also my mate Lee’s dad, who also played for the team. He would often give us Coach Carter style pep talks before games, and shout at us in training. When running laps, he would exclaim, ‘If you’re not throwing up at the end of this you’re not running hard enough’. Although this was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it still made me run more.
f their own schedule, to help fuckabouts like me play football better. I am truly grateful for my grassroots team and every volunteer that moulded me into the man and average baller I am today.
After taking a well-deserved break from football, I refound my passion at uni.
The team consisted of many different characters as you can imagine any arts university sports team would. But that’s what made it so magical, none of us were there to put black paint under our eyes and go Gung Ho, we just wanted to kick a football about and have a laugh (and occasionally get piss up). The latter was a more regular occurrence than most of the players on pitch commitments.
However, after a great 3 years with an array of talent vastly varying in ability, a group of like-minded alumni broke away to form Soccer painters – now known as Painters community FC. Unlike most teams in uni, the quality of football was actually something to be admired. As I write this, our plucky team of creatives are unbeaten in the league and into the final of the Sunday league equivalent of the FA cup. We paint beautiful paintings across the pitch with our tekkers, and thanks to one of our many prolific strikers (Will Mowbray), we normally manage to score more goals than the opposition. Training and matches are very much a part of the week the whole team looks forward to. Thanks to founder Connor Winks, many of us can relive our fond memories of playing footy as a kid. Just with a higher chance of getting your leg broke for wearing brightly coloured boots, or rolling your ankle (just because that happens now).
Grassroots football is an essential form of escapism for kids and adults alike. It’s a time where you have nothing other to think about, but the defender or attacker in front of you. The freeness of kicking around a football is something almost every young lad from around the world can resonate with.
Some of the greatest names in football started off in hometown grassroots teams just like you and I. Obviously I didn’t make it on the big stage, but I told you about my ankle injury before. No, but seriously, the chances of making it are really really slim. That’s not a reason to enjoy playing amateur football any less though. As my old coach would say directly after berating us all, ‘Just go out there and have fun’, and that’s all that matters really.
So shoutout to Allan and every other grassroots squad up and down the country, you are truly making a positive impact on someone.