A day in the life of an amateur Saturday League footballer

football

A day in the life of a local league amateur footballer

The whole routine of my Saturday's have been disrupted by this untimely break because apparently footballers need time off too. Selfish, really. There's currently no Soccer AM on TV on a Saturday morning, no Jimmy Bullard lashing football's at a portly comedian in goal, hoping that he can get one of them into a bin located in either top-corner.

Without football, what purpose do we have? We've now got no excuse when the missus asks us if we fancy going shopping on a Saturday afternoon. Usually between the hours of 12pm-7pm on a Saturday, i'm uncontactable, watching a Premier League tie contested between two sides that i've got absolutely no affiliation towards at 12:30, on my way to whichever dog shit-ridden playing field I plan on shanking through balls and mistiming challenges on that particular week.

This is the story of my Saturdays during the season, and that of the many other amateur local league footballing heroes up and down the country, I do hope you enjoy.

The changing room

It's 1:45 and I arrive to see that, yet again, the council have taken little to no care in the upkeep of the changing rooms but I don't care because i'm just here to play football, i'm not interested in facilities, though i'm sure health and safety would have a field day here.

Head to toe in a Joma tracksuit which my local Saturday League club have kindly subsidised for me for £30 (isn't that just the normal price though, gaffer?), I walk into the freezing cold, tiny dressing room which still has last week's tactics plastered all over it because nobody's bothered wiping them off, greeted by a sea of half-hearted high fives from the lads.

Some are sat down, ferociously flicking through Sky Bet to see which Price Boost they're going to back this weekend: "it's got to come in soon, surely?" says second-choice right-back, Dan Smith - known to everyone as "Smithy", so much so that he's forgotten his name is actually Dan.

Smithy knows that he's on the bench, he always is, but he passed up the opportunity of a post-work pint last night because "what if this week is finally the week the gaffer lets me show what I can do". His commitment to the cause is admirable, but he's crap. Always gets roped into running the line as he feels it'll give his chances of starting a boost, it never does.

Other players are stood up in the changing room, desperately attempting to complete an around-the-world with an under-pumped, weather-beaten Mitre football that's been in circulation for roughly five years now. It's usually the striker and creative midfielder refusing to sit down; they're restless, eager to get changed and get warmed up but the gaffer hasn't arrived yet which means neither has the kit.

Grime music blares from the speakers, much to the disgust of Andy Brown, known as "Browner" - a tough tackling centre-half who's been at the club for eight years. He's 34 and has been doing the rounds at county league level for years now, he's a seasoned amateur who once got paid £30 a game to play in the Evo-Stik north.

Browner hates Grime music, doesn't have any time for it whatsoever and hastily takes charge of the music duties with a bit of old school Garage. "This is better than any of that rapping bollocks" he tells centre-back partner Gareth Fricker, known as, you guessed it, 'Fricker'.

Fricker, or Fricksy, is a slightly younger but just as experienced player who has worn the same Copa Mundial's for ten years. He won't wear anything else, claims they've now "moulded to the shape of his feet" and to change them would be a foolish move. Together they've kept 14 clean sheets and scored 9 goals from the heart of defence, they always pose a huge threat from set-pieces, probably because they're both over 6ft 2 and built like brick shithouses.

The gaffer

Finally! The gaffer arrives, which means so does the kit and more importantly, the Deep Heat. Christ my hammy's tight, I need to work on that, make it more supple, I just really can't be arsed. It'll ping one day but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Kev is here and his reason for being late is because he's been working all morning, or as he puts it "grafting". Kev's managed the side for three years now and is a painter and decorator by trade, drives a 2009 Ford Transit which hasn't been taxed in months. Will eventually get caught but until then is riding his luck.

The 46-year-old used to play local league but a dodgy knee put an end to his footballing career years ago, he got into management instead and lives for it. He's passionate, uses the word c*** far too often but has a good heart, always tells you you've got potential but need to be "more committed" after he's had a few beers on team nights out.

He slams down the kit bag, in it lies 18 poorly-washed Macron kits sponsored by the local boozer, the one you all go to after the game for a pint of flat Fosters and some stale cheese sandwiches (cut triangularly), the one where you see that your BTTS acca has yet again been let down by a last-minute penalty missed by Arbroath against Annan Athletic.

The kit

There is a gigantic, panic-fuelled rush to pull out a decent pair of shorts and socks. The shirts are out of your control because they're numbered, but the shorts and socks are anyone's and only four pairs don't have holes in, while just six of the 18 pairs of shorts still have a fully-functioning waistband.

Result! I've managed to blag a pair of the decent shorts but have to make do with a couple of holes in my left sock, you take what you get I suppose. Maybe I could just pretend they're there on purpose, i've had to cut them to release tension on my calf like Kyle Walker does. I take one look in the mirror and realise my legs reminisce that of a baby sparrow's, though, it'll never wash.

It's now half 2, kick-off's in 30 minutes and we're still fannying about in the changing room. I've heard enough DJ Luck and MC Neat to last a lifetime and really need to get these hamstrings ready for 90 minutes of football in the freezing cold. We need to know the starting XI before heading out for a lacklustre warm-up, however. Kev is reading out the team and although I've been playing fairly well this season and was at training on Thursday night, I still get that nervous, butterfly feeling in my stomach.

"What if i'm not starting, i'll be devastated, it's so cold out there" I think to myself, leg bouncing up and down, head firmly pointed at the floor as the gaffer slowly works his way down the list of nicknames in front of him. I'm pretending to be assured but don't want to come across as cocky in case I am on the bench, then I really would look like a twat.

Get in! Name read out alongside some form of generic instruction like: "always show him down the line, stop the cross" - yes obviously i'll try and do that but if he's rapid I might struggle. I nod, though, confirming to the gaffer that all is understood, I know my job and i'm ready to go.

The warm-up

With the starting-eleven read out and three disgruntled lads threatening to quit because they're on the bench again, we all venture out to the shitty bit of grass next to the pitch. The actual pitch is terrible and full of molehills anyway, so warming up on it really isn't going to make a difference, but Kev insists you do your pre-match drills behind the goal to preserve what's left of the main playing surface.

Cones laid out, straight from the FA Level 1 coaching handbook, assistant manager 'Stuart' has prepared a warm-up for us all. We all know it off by heart, of course, because it's the same fucking warm-up we've done all season. Open the gate, close the gate, lunges, heel-flicks follow knees-up religiously (has anyone ever not done those two exercises together?). A bit of handball to get the legs moving and then it's two touch in the middle, subs on the outside of a poorly marked out square to act as a wall pass for both sides, one touch max.

The lads on the outside are statistically the worst players in the team, that's why they're on the bench so i've got no idea why we expect them to be able to bounce a pass back into play first-time, they mess it up every time which just leaves the rest of the team pissed off. Assistant boss Stuart, who is a long-term friend of Kev but played one league higher than him back in the day, so now feels as though he's the most knowledgable man ever when it comes to amateur football, is FURIOUS that nobody is taking the pre-match warm up seriously.

"I tell you what lads, you are gunna get fucking steamrolled if you go out there with his attitude. You think you've already won, just because they're bottom of the league doesn't mean anything, sort it out!" he bellows after the fifteenth stray pass from our central midfielder, who was clearly out on the piss last night. His eyes are bloodshot and he still smells ever so slightly of vodka Redbull; I also saw on Snapchat that he was in Revs at half 3 - this is going to be a struggle.

Kev allows us on the pitch to get some shots away at goal, in it stands 27-year-old Tree Surgeon Josh, thick as two short planks but a nice lad. He's 6ft 4 so only natural he'd be a keeper. He's a great shot stopper but has terrible distribution.

Luckily he's not tested at all as all but one of our shots actually make it on target, mine certainly doesn't. Only leading goalscorer, Liam Howson, or simply "Howie", manages to wrap it top-bin. Of course he does, he's excellent, Liam. He's played higher, had trials at Crewe once apparently and who am I to question him, even if the dates in his story don't quite add up. Scored 28 goals in 17 games so far, thus justifying the salmon pink Adidas Predators he now wears.

Pre-match

Back into the changing room now and it's time for yet another 'inspiring' team talk from Kev and Stuart, which basically just consists of him saying 'fucking' every other word and pointing to the channel on the tactics board on the wall. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is listening to a word he's saying. Everyone's pretending too, obviously, but nobody's actually taking it all in.

At the end of the day, it's local league football, there isn't much too it. Don't try and get fancy, the pitch will snake you. Get the ball, pass it, retain possession. If in doubt lump it into the channel, Liam will get onto it and make something happen. Never bottle a tackle because, in the words of every dad ever: "you'll get more hurt if you jump out of it". Words to live and die by.

The room absolutely reeks of Deep Heat, what a glorious smell. I can't explain to anyone who doesn't play football why I love it so much, but if you play the game at any level I guarantee that whenever you catch a whiff of it, it brings a smile to your face.

I've tried explaining it to the missus, she just thinks i'm a weirdo, she's right. Everyone's bandaging up their knocks, while the constant cries of "anyone got tape" are greeted with replies of: "you want us to wipe your arse as well?" from the management duo.

There's always one lad with tape, though, usually a sub that doesn't even use it much himself but he's a sparky so has plenty in the work van. He gives it out because he's a bloody nice lad, and when he gets it back there's barely any left for himself. Usually named Matt or something.

The time has come, the ref (who must be touching 70 years of age) knocks on the door, it's time to go. I'm as warmed up as I can possibly be and the nerves are kicking in. No matter how long you've played football for, at whatever level, you're a liar if you say that you don't get that slightly nervous, anxious feeling before a game. It's what makes it so special.

I've waited all week for this, turned up to training straight from work on Thursday night alongside seven others, done my bit to earn my start. Now I've got to keep the shirt, no silly decisions. Keep it tight for 10, gage the game and take it from there.

Half-time

Half-time comes and we're 1-0 up, Liam scored a 14th minute header, superb work. More importantly I haven't fucked up, few nice passes here and there, clipped a lovely ball into the channel and even won a header, a solid 7/10.

I'm feeling good heading into the changing room, hamstring is a little tight, mind, I've really got to get that looked at. Kev says well done but then launches into a foul-mouthed tirade at us about becoming complacent, almost as though he's bollocking us in anticipation of us throwing the lead away, weird bloke.

The half-time squash has been filled up by Stu and it's fair to say he's got the juice to water ratio completely wrong, again. It's so weak, think i'll stick to water. A few more pieces of worthless information later, the interval is over and it's time to get back onto the pitch, the flow of the game is interrupted and i'm freezing again. Hammy is getting increasingly tighter, but i'll survive, see you in 45.

Post-match

The final whistle blows and we've done it. Despite a nervy end, where they scored in the 82nd minute, a well taken finish from our left-winger, trainee accountant Sam Dixon (Dicko), on the hour mark cements a 2-1 win for us and we move to third in the league with a game in hand over the top two. It was far from comfortable, we made hard work of things but all in all a solid performance resulting in a valuable three points. Kev is pissed off we conceded late on and didn't kill the game but ultimately pleased we won.

I've had a steady game, retained possession fairly well, got ahead of myself at one point and attempted a step-over which was a really silly move. I got tackled and they went through on goal but luckily Browner was on hand to clean up my mess alongside calling me a "dopey tosser", that's fair.

The hamstring held out, just about, but any longer and i'd be struggling. I really need to get that sorted. The showers are on, either too hot or too cold but there's no better feeling after a win than warming up in those disgracefully unhygienic leaking taps. I could piss faster than these, but it'll get the mud off I suppose.

Towel off, tracksuit on and time for a beer and a stale cheese sarnie, maybe a really flakey sausage roll if i'm lucky. The acca's lost but we go again, Burnley vs Watford is the late kick-off, there's definitely a RAB to be had on that. Watch the game, back home for a change then it's out on the town. Same white All Saints shirt, same black skinny jeans and brown Chelsea boots - why change a winning formula? I'm aching like fuck, their number 8 left one on me but a few more pints and that'll fade away, we'll worry about it tomorrow.

It might just have been a game of football on a crap pitch, I might have paid a fiver to play it, it might be a terrible standard to the onlooker and there may have only been five people watching, but there's absolutely nothing i'd rather be doing on a Saturday afternoon.

Same again next week.

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