When I was a lad I loved my football and I loved West Brom. Jeff Astle was my hero and I also had a penchant for the German player Günter Netzer. Why? Because Günter Netzer played for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Mönchengladbach had a killer football strip. I used to watch football on the telly, but of course ours was black and white and the size of a fridge.
One evening I managed to watch a European Cup game on one of the only three channels we had back then. Borussia Mönchengladbach (BMG) were playing and I immediately noticed the simple all white strip apart from the three ‘what looked like’ grey, darker grey and grey on the front, a little like a West Brom shirt. Then one day I saw a colour photograph of my hero Günter in ‘Shoot’, which was the most popular footballing magazine at the time, and noticed the stripes were actually real colours. The black and green stripes looked incredibly suave, international and cool to me.
So ‘that football strip’ went straight onto my Christmas/Birthday list. I’m not quite sure how my parents managed to get hold of a Borussia strip living in a small town called Kingswinford in the West Midlands but they did and I was gifted a BMG strip for my birthday.
Next PE lesson at school, I wore my brand new BMG strip and I-LOOKED-EPIC! I ran out onto the field in the midst of all the blue and white tops of my West Brom mates and the gold and black shirts of my Wolves pals. I was Gunter Netzer. I was legend. I even began answering everyone with a loud, ‘Ja, ja’ or ‘Nein, nein’ , just like I’d heard Germans say on a TV programme I used to love called ‘Colditz’. However there was a slight problem…I was really, really rubbish at football.
The day of the game arrived. It was overcast, a bit chilly and grey. The match was mid afternoon on our home pitch and I woke especially early to ensure my all important football kit was in tip top condition and packed neatly into my tiny ‘pump-bag’. There was no school kit available for this particular game for some reason so the teacher had simply asked that we all wear white shorts and a plain blue top. Therefore, my kit consisted of a pair of the obligatory WBA white socks, this time with navy blue hoop at the top and of course held in place with elastic bands, white shorts, made from some sort of industrial canvas, complete with rear pocket and draw string waist adjuster. I didn’t have a blue shirt so I improvised by using a v-neck blue knitted long-sleeved jumper. Not ideal but I was going to score at least 10 goals so this small inconvenience was a minor blip in my journey to footballing-folklore.
Finally my kit was topped off with the all important footwear, my football boots. However, they were what you might call ‘classic for the time’. They were hand-me-downs from some distant cousin and looked as if they had been carved from a block of oak. Allow me to describe these ‘foot-instruments’ that were supposed to propel me into football stardom. They were black of course as no-one would EVER wear white boots back then (they were for tennis players and ballet dancers.) They had black-painted steel toe caps, they had two white stripes on the sides, the laces were at least 4 metres long and they had at least 40 studs per sole. They were, shall we say, industrial strength boots. At the time, I did not realise this. To me they were my finely tuned weapons of mass goal scoring, they would fuel my skill-fest and I would dazzle the teacher so much that I would retain the number 9 shirt and be raised to the heady-heights of the first team. I’d probably make captain, become head boy and soon be under the wing of Johan Cruyff. I was wrong.
I don’t remember too much about the game except for the team line-up. It appeared that the teacher had selected a less than able band of sports men. I expected to be lining up next to the usual suspects of our first team but I was not. My team was made of shall we say ‘completely rubbish footballers’. In school you always end up with a few archetypal individuals, the fat kid, the reclusive kid, the kid who looked like he lived in a tree, the speccy kid, …I could go on. Everyone of them was lined up next to ME in the team that I expected to be known forever more as the ‘dream team’. The only kid who knew where to stand when we lined up for kick-off was the goal keeper, who, by the way was the smallest, skinniest kid in our school. From my position on the centre-spot all I could see was a huge yellow shirt, with a tiny ‘pea of a head’ poking out of the neck and an even huger pair of white gloves. Star goalkeepers used to be given the nickname of ‘The Cat’ due to their agility and ability to scoop impossible shots out of the air. Our goalkeeper could have also been called The Cat because he was about the same size as a common Tabby.
What happened next was a frenzied-blur. The whistle blew and every single player, bar the two goalies, ran for the ball. We continued to run around the pitch ‘as one’. We were a twenty legged beetle, aimlessly running forwards, backwards, sidewards. The ball was lost in the midst of our collective scrum. No goals were scored at all in the first half, neither goalie got a single touch, neither did the ball ever go out of touch. We must have run about 6 miles each..in circles.
The half-time team talk was mumbo-jumbo to me. The PE teacher also seemed to be rubbing his brow a lot and and shaking his head forlornly. Soon after we resumed and both teams had to be told that it was tradition that we switch sides of the pitch for the second half.
Just before the start something happened. Just before the ref (who was one of the opposition teachers in Chelsea boots with his trousers tucked into socks) blew his whistle to restart this epic, primal boy-dance, I remember one of the Dad’s, who was watching us, shouted out. He was calling ‘Over here!’, and gesturing with his arm. I was in the centre spot but thought I better go over as he may be a scout for Real Madrid or something. As I reached him I realised I was in a huge amount of space on what they refer to as ‘the right wing’. I then noticed that one of our team who was just about to be swamped once again for part two of the ‘dancing beetle’, noticed me. I was un-marked and standing perfectly still. In a flash he hoofed the ball, which was ‘a lace-up caser’ blown up so hard that I remember hearing the ‘ping’ as he kicked it in my direction. My brain responded, the adrenaline flowed, I immediately knew what I had to do. After almost falling over the leather brown caser I nudged it towards the oppositions goal and ran for all I was worth. This was my time, this was my moment, I was Günter Netzer in a woolly jumper.
Their goalie stood motionless between the goal-posts, arm above his head anticipating some action. I had one thought in my mind…he was ‘going down’ because I was in perfect harmony with ball and feet. I finally reached the penalty area and crossed the creosote burnt line marking the edge of the box. The ‘dancing beetle’ was heading my way in a cloud of dust, they meant business. What happened next defined my footballing career. I was perfectly placed in front of goal, I placed my left foot in the perfect position to the left of the ball. My favoured golden right leg cocked back, I took aim and booted the ball with all that was within me.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to deftly kick a perfectly aimed football whilst wearing steel toe-capped football boots that were built in the Second World War but lets just say, they don’t lend themselves to skill and precision. The bulbous toe-cap failed to slide itself precisely and neatly under the ball in order to give the ball the perfect amount of lift so that it could glide past the goalie and into the back of the net. Instead the toe-cap met the ball flat on and all sense of direction that was meant to transfer from foot to ball was at that moment lost forever. The ball swerved fiercely right and It almost snapped the corner flag as it curved past it a tremendous velocity at few inches above the ground for what appeared to be about a half a mile. I never played football for any school team ever again.
I was last seen a mile away in Pensnett looking for the school’s caser.
© Andrew Mark Rudall 2013