The World Cup has got me reminiscing about my own playing days. They are too long ago for comfort, and yet some of those memories are as clear as if they happened yesterday. Unfortunately I’m now at an age where I don’t remember much about what happened yesterday, but that is by the by.
I do remember those cold, muddy Sunday afternoons when teams struggled to get 11 people into their mish-mash of similarly coloured shirts. Ours were mainly a shade of deep pink, after one mother failed to read the care instructions when it was her turn to do the wash.
However, my memories are not all rose-tinted. I’ll let you into a scandalous secret: some of the Jewish teams fielded players who were not Jewish. Nobody seemed to notice or care much. We had one regular, about seven foot three, he was, and our coach had to remind him on at least two occasions to wear his crucifix inside his shirt. Sammy Goldstein was his name, according the team sheet.
The team I played for competed successfully in the under 13 AJY League. We were brilliant. We went through two entire seasons hardly conceding a goal. This was not because our defence was so marvellous, but because our attackers were superb thus ensuring that the ball rarely crossed into our half of the pitch. I know this because I was one of those defenders. I spent most of the games chatting with the centre back about music and girls.
Orange quarters were flung around the dressing room following one match during a row full of recrimination because we had only won 9-1. So carried away were we having beaten the same team 24 – 0 two weeks previously that everyone decided they were due a hat-trick at least, including the goalkeeper. The end result was that instead of the expansive passing game that won us so many contests so easily we resorted to what looked like a posse of dogs chasing a bitch on heat.
Still, our domination of the Jewish football world was an embarrassment and we knew that if we were to really test ourselves we’d have to play in a non-Jewish league. And so the following year found us facing whole teams (plus substitutes) of seven foot three, fully bearded, fourteen year olds and on the receiving end of 24 – 0 drubbings. Our team, demoralised, broke up at the end of the season and I took up smoking, providing me with the perfect excuse never to undergo such pain again.
I still have my tacky gold medals from earlier successes against the Jewish kids stuck away in a drawer somewhere. They provide little comfort when set against the reality of our true ability as shown when we ventured out of that genteel world and into the gentile one, and that’s why you won’t find me moaning about England’s performances in the World Cup. It is, after all, a competition especially for the “goyim”, or “nations”, as my prayer book translates the word. I know just how Stephen Gerrard and his teammates must be feeling.