My only goal
30 October 2003
In my entire life, I can remember having scored one goal in anything resembling an organised game of football. That is to say, in order to minimise ambiguities, a game with goalposts, 22 players, a referee, and the other accoutrements that determine whether or not a particular confluence can be defined as a game rather than a kick-about, beat-the-goalie, three-and-in, the Tranmere Rovers season 2001-2002 or any of a number of other hyphenated references to rather than instances of the game of football.
Why I have only scored one goal in anything resembling an organised game of football
The most powerful defence I can offer immediately for the unique status of a reasonably common experience (if somebody had only ever slept with one person, after all, you would assume they were odd, unless the claim is being made by either one of your parents, in which case they are lying) is that I have played less football than some, and as such have had fewer opportunities. Compared to, say, Gary Kelly of Leeds United and the Republic of Ireland, who does little but play football, my goals-to-games ratio is actually pretty respectable.
However. My school was a rugby school, which is to say a school in which rugby football was the official winter game, rather than football. This is no doubt connected to a number of dialogues of class and entitlement. This, in turn, is connected to why professional rugby players, although as far as one can tell generally as stupid as footballers, and arguably more stupid because paid far less, tend to be middle-class with it.
As we have mentioned before, rugby is not in any strict interpretation of the term a sport, but rather a vigorous means of keeping fit and meeting friends not unlike ultimate Frisbee. Nonetheless, the school placed a degree of importance on it, and football was actively discouraged, as it tended to distract people from playing rugby. This can be explained by the proposition that rugby is essentially not much fun to play.
A paraphrase from Diego Maradonna explaining why the attitudes and beliefs of rugby enthusiasts should not be taken too seriously, with particular reference to the previous sentence
If I am being criticised for my play, I throw a ball at the critic. If he catches it and throws it back, I know that I can disregard everything he says about football. Because, even if I were at a fine restaurant in my best suit, if somebody threw a ball to me I would take it on my chest and kick it back in the way God intended.
The role of the centre-forward, with particular reference to Patrick Kluivert, John Aldridge and Ian Ormondroyd, forgetting for a moment that Patrick Kluivert might more accurately be described as an inside-forward
Football, Sun Tzu once observed, is a funny old game. This is correct but incomplete. Football is actually several funny old games, and nowhere is this clearer than in the work of the striker. Patrick Kluivert might be said to be a good footballer; he is able to pass, move, trap the ball, head it and so forth. John Aldridge, on the other hand, was although not a particularly gifted footballer, an exceptionally competent striker, able despite the absence of many of the gifts that would normally conspire to put the ball in the back of the net to put the ball in the back of the net with never-tedious regularity.
Ian Ormondroyd, conversely, was neither a scorer of great goals nor a great scorer of goals. He was instead shit. When the lists of the centre forwards of freakish height but limited utility are read, his hapless brethren - Peter Crouch and Kevin Francis, chairmen in perpetuity - doff their hats at the name of Ormondroyd, who is the greatest of them all. They would bow their heads, but they already had to do that to get in through the door. Players like Ormondroyd are the flies on the windscreen of football; unable to head the ball efficiently but too far away to have anything but a nodding relationship with their feet, they lack the solidity even to retreat to central defence, where a reluctance to attack is far less of a disadvantage.
Such a centre-forward was I. In my defence, I should not have been there in the first place, and I believe that this, the only etc etc was also the only time that I had been played at centre-forward. Thus, I am statistically a better centre-forward than Michael Owen, and precisely as good a striker for my team as Steve Bloomer was for England. Although the logical corollary of this is that I could weigh in with a goal a game for England should my country ever call upon me, it is understandable that she has not, given that I am not and never was a footballer.
Why goalkeepers are not in the strictest sense footballers
They use their hands. If they are footballers, they are cheating.
Why games teachers have an impossible job
At some level every schoolboy knows that being good at games is not actually going to get you anything in life apart from peer respect between the ages of 7 and 21 and subsequent employment as a games teacher. Don't think I am selling these skills short; looking back, I would have swapped a good few A-Level grades for a fortyear of adulation in those formative years.
Notwithstanding. There was a boy at my primary school who was by an appreciable factor a better footballer not only than his peers but than all his peers put together. He had a natural gift for the game, and did little else with his time. Always the captain, always the matchwinner, always the hero. I have no idea what happened to him. Possibly trials with a local club, maybe even a stay in the youth team, certainly Sunday League football. Even at ten, we had a suspicion that if he was still wasting his time dribbling five times around us, he had missed his window to team up with Ian Rush. A professional player, even a bad professional player, even a bewilderingly bad professional player, even Ian Ormondroyd is an occupant of a percentile so tiny that the chances of being in it with him are depressing even to consider.
This means that no child who does not want to play games is going to be induced to show any enthusiasm for it by external consideration, as the only profit to be had from games is the having of games. It is the Media Studies of the schoolyard. On the obverse, children who want to play games will do so whether or not a charity case in a tracksuit asks them to, and are likely to resent, for example, being told to play rugby rather than a proper sport.
Given all this, it is surprising that alcoholism and existential nausea are not endemic among P.E. teachers - they are presumably insulated from the demons by an almost total absence of self-awareness neuroreceptors. It is less surprising that every once in a while such a wight might wonder, since the rugby pitches have flooded anyway, and the weather is too absurdly bad even to consider cricket, the school's other favoured non-sport, then why not let the little shits play football?
Nine conditions that would have to be replicated for a Phoenix from the Flames reenact
A tired and demoralised games teacher.
A sick father.
A desperately unhappy mother.
A nascent drinking habit.
A coincidentally well-timed run.
A pinpoint cross.
A vague wonderment as a hitherto unnoticed ball pings off my shin.
A feeling of no achievement whatever.
A decision to retire at the peak of my career as an outfield player.