I've been warned by Gemma that nobody wants to read this but I will go with it anyway, you can always have a read when you're finding it hard to sleep.
My Playing Days
For as long as I can remember I've been a fan of football. My siblings and I had a "School Days" book where you could record details of your school years along with the school photos and pieces of work you had produced. In my first school year entry at the age of 5, there was the question 'when I grow up I want to be..", My answer was soldier and a goalkeeper, keeping those options open.
Growing up the majority of my evenings were spent down on the 'Rec' playing football with my cousin, Graham, and friends. From jumpers for goalposts, monkey bars as goalposts, the youth pitch and sometimes even the 'rusties' (an abandoned full size goal, that never got put back in the pavilion) pretending we were the footballing idols of the time.
I was at an early age when my parents split up and my trips through to see my dad's side of the family were weekend visits. My dad would take me and my older brother, Paul, over the road from our grandparents to play football on the field, where he liked to give his own little bit of coaching, probably reliving his footballing youth when he played as goalkeeper.
This did mean though that team football would not have been option, as I wouldn't be available most of the time. I carried on playing on evenings and weekends, but didn't get much competitive football. A game between two age groups of Edlington White Stars was the closest I came to a real game for a many years. I continued to play football with my cousin and joined in his training sessions for Edlington Top Club Juniors, but with him being a school year lower I was too old for his team even if I was home that weekend. All through my school years I would practice alone if there was no one else around, keep ups, shooting and skills in the garden and I remember one school holidays taking part in a Nike football school at Doncaster Dome learning skills and playing mini tournaments and on the final day we meeting Liverpool legend, Ian Rush. On another week we would have met Manchester United and England full back, Paul Parker, and I remember feeling disappointed at the time but with 660 games for Liverpool with an average better than a goal every other game is an incredible achievement. Teenage years spent paying football on the "square"(a tarmaced piece of land between two houses at the bottom of our street that had a lamppost and a painted line on the wall as a goal) and the market car park, many gravel related injuries but none of us cared.
It would be in my final school year, at 15, when I would play for my first team, Edlington Town FC. I used to love the going up to the training sessions and playing the games with lads I had gone to school with for years. Although I really enjoyed the season I have no idea where we finished in the league, but I'm sure if we'd have won the league I'd know about it. Not scoring throughout the whole season was my one big disappointment.
The next year, Edlington Town FC was no more, but the Top Club team had moved from the Under 16's to Under 18's. I won our kit from an online giveaway from Genie (O2's mobile data company) and looked forward to playing with the team I had trained with for years. My first appearance was as a substitute and within 2 touches had scored my first goal, controlling with my left foot just inside the box and then volleying with the right just inside the right post. With the goal drought over I could relax and enjoy my football. Over the course of the season I was mainly used as a substitute in a team that had worked so long without me in the past but still managed to contribute a fair amount of goals.
Of course, the next season I was too old for the team once again but by that time there were many players in the team playing in one of the club's senior sides on a regular basis. That season I got some red Adidas Predator Accelerator boots, my favourite boot out of all I've ever owned. Playing in the Doncaster Sunday League, we had a mixed bag of results but with a very youthful side sometimes this was expected.
I still played in college for one of their teams and played Thursday nights with my dad and his workmates.
One of my favourite memories from the season was coming on late in the game against the Moorlands Prison Inmates team (obviously at their ground) where at 7-0 down I closed down a defender near the half way line, intercepted his pass and closed in on goal, spotting the keeper rushing out and putting a curled lob in from 30 yards. Even though it was only a consolation goal it's moments and feelings that stay in the memory. The following season I had a reoccurring knee injury after running a half marathon and restricted myself to goalkeeping. The highlight of that season would be a penalty save against the Doncaster Deaf School when I tipped a well placed shot around the post diving to my right. The knee just wasn't right and that was the end of my Edlington Top Club days.
My first full time job stopped me from continuing the Thursday football even when my knee had recovered, but when I swapped jobs for the building trade I had my evenings back and joined my dad again in his games on the astroturf pitch at Harworth. It was playing in these games where I met some players from Gamecock FC, a pub team in the village playing in the Worksop Sunday League. In 2007, I joined their team and was up and running early with two goals on my debut in a pre-season friendly. Getting back into 11 a side games was hard and spent most of my time as a sub, pitching in with the odd goal. The highlight of my time there was a cup game where I came on for extra time and managed 3 assists and a goal with a calmly placed 1 on 1. My last game came soon after, our goalkeeper turned up with what he suspected was a broken shoulder, but wanted to play regardless. I started the game on the right wing, but it wasn't long before we were 1-0 down with goalie obviously struggling. He then came rushing out and took out their striker, handing them a penalty and earning himself a red card. I volunteered for the net with a feeling I was not going to get us a victory playing outfield and needed stronger players in their normal positions.I got a finger to the penalty but could only push it into the side netting. 2-0 down with 10 men, I was prepared for the worst. Against the odds, we became the better side and I didn't have much to deal with in the match. A Lionel Messi style performance from one of our strikers inspired our team to a 5-2 comeback, but I felt like I was done for Sunday League and never played again. My boots starting the season were Adidas Tunit's, which could have taken the favourite boot title had they not fallen apart after a dozen games.
Since then I have kept playing 5 a side football from time to time and now play regularly with the Evestrust co-founder (Martin) and former members of the Heroes team. During the Heroes training session last year Clynton (the charity's other co-founder) asked me when it was my turn to play, after watching from the sidelines for three years as the charity's photographer I knew how great the event was and told him this was my year!
Watching football (TV)
My first memory of watching football on TV was a cup game featuring Manchester United, my older brother at the time was a Manchester United fan and I picked to support them with him and stuck with that. He went on to support Sheffield United.
Although England missed out on the USA 94 World Cup, I have fond memories of the tournament and tried to tape (VHS! kids, Google it) as many games as I could due to the time difference. The Republic of Ireland had some great moments, but the Brazil team with the likes of Romario and Bebeto entertaining throughout and taking the trophy after beating Italy on penalties in the final after Roberto Baggio's missed spot kick.
Euro 96 hosted here in England. Two wins and a draw saw England top the group including that Gazza goal against Scotland and two goals for Shearer and Sheringham in the 4-1 win over Holland. Penalties were all important though as this decided two quarter finals and both semi finals before Germany won in the final with a 95th minute Golden Goal from Oliver Bierhoff.
Match of the Day was a must for every saturday night and Channel 4's Football Italia every sunday dinnertime.
The France 98 World Cup was the biggest one for me, the Brazil team looking unbeatable and with Ronaldo the one to watch in his signature R9 Nike boots. It wasn't to be for Brazil after Ronaldo had a fit the night before the final was put into the starting lineup at the last minute after pleading with the coach but could not perform his magic and was outshone by Zidane as France were 3-0 winners. The level of this tournament was great and Ronaldo was a star but Brazil were hardly a one player team with the likes of Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu and Denilson playing very exciting attacking football. Denilson usually deployed as a sub was great to watch with pace, fast feet and skills rarely seen up to that time but didn't produce the end product like Ronaldo could.
Back to Match of the Day and Champions League watching Manchester United's Treble winning season, which included the Giggs goal and Schmeichel penalty save against Arsenal and great ties in the knockout rounds with Juventus, Inter and the dramatic late win against Bayern Munich.
The Nike football adverts brought a tricks, skills and a more street style of the game to fans and was the kind of thing I would try learn and recreate.
2002 saw Ronaldo come back from the disappointment 1998 and terrible injury problems a different player, but still world class scoring in every game except the England game and ending the the tournament as the golden boot winner with 8 goals. 2006 would see him break the World Cup scoring record with his 15th goal in his 3rd World Cup.
A 5-1 England v Germany game and the Beckham free kick v Greece were national highlights but the England story always ended in disappointment!
My favourite players are those who entertain and the Real Madrid v Barcelona game of 2005 saw Ronaldinho inspire Barca to a 3-0 win and (even with one of the biggest rivalries in football) the opposing fans gave him a standing ovation after his second goal.
Watching football (Live Games)
Some of my favourite and most memorable live games
Sheffield United v Manchester United 1992 - My mum took me and my brother to the opening game of the newly formed Premier League (92/93 Season). Brian Deane scored the first ever Premier League goal and went on to win 2-1, but I got to stand in the terraces at Bramhall Lane and watch my heroes for the first time. Amongst the United line up was last year's Legend team member, Clayton Blackmore (pic below), Doncaster Rovers manager, Darren Ferguson and United greats such as Schmeichel, Giggs, Hughes and Kanchelskis (who I later named one of our pet cats after)
Sheffield United v Southampton 1992 - My older brother, Paul, was a mascot for this match and I sat in the stands with our dad, while my mum accompanied Paul, meeting the players, having a tour of the stadium and watching him join the team out on the pitch from the sidelines. United won 2-0. Two time Evestrust legend Perry Groves was playing upfront for the Saints with Matt Le Tissier.
Sheffield United v Manchester United 1993- The two sides met again that season in a FA Cup 5th Round tie and also ended in a 2-1 defeat with Giggs scoring the consolation. Although Eric Cantona had transferred from Leeds United since my first game he was rested for this game much to my disappointment!
Brazil V Portugal 2007 - Drove down with a friend to the Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal, for the International Friendly game. Although Ronaldinho and Robinho had pulled out of the game through injury we were still entertained by the array of stars on the field such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Deco, Quaresma and Adriano. Portugal won 2-0 with Simao and Ricardo Carvalho scoring.
Doncaster Rovers v Bristol Rovers 2007 - A trip down to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium as Rovers reached the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final. I watched the game from one of the executive boxes with my in-laws. Rovers raced to a 2-0 lead only to be pegged back in the second half. The game went to extra time where defender, Graeme Lee scored the winner. This Rovers team featured 2 players who would go on to play in the Evestrust's legends game; Midfielders, Brian Stock and James Coppinger.
Doncaster Rovers v Leeds United 2008 - Rovers finished the League One season in 3rd, behind Swansea and Forest and reached the Play-offs final. Leeds United finishing 5th also managed to book their place in the final. Over 75,000 people in the new Wembley Stadium witnessed the 1-0 win thanks to a James Hayter strike. The two Evestrust legends also starring in the victory.
Arsenal V Manchester United 2014 - Another trip to the Emirates Stadium to witness a rare 0-0 draw between the two teams and get see some United stars. Rooney, De Gea, Vidic, Van Persie, Mata, Carrick amongst the team and Arsenal fielding the likes of Ozil, Cazorla and Giroud.
My Uncle Paul featured in a charity football match between retired Leeds United players and a team of Doncaster's Sunday League players. I don't remember the score but was a good evening out and a great moment for him as he was selected as the Doncaster Select XI goalkeeper.
There were many more games such as Rovers brilliant league cup run in 2005, beating Manchester City and Aston Villa (ever-present Evestrust legend Lee Hendrie only an unused sub in this game) then denied victory by Arsenal with a last gasp injury time of extra time equaliser by a Gilberto Silva goal. Arsenal then went on to win the penalty shootout. Arsenal fielded some of many first team players including Robin Van Persie.
Sir Alex brought a Manchester United XI down the the Keepmoat in 2007 to take on the Rovers. Anderson made his United debut, but not many regular first team players on show, though some players featured have gone on to have successful careers as Gerard Pique, Darron Gibson, Darren Fletcher and Johnny Evans.
A trip to Doncaster Rovers' 2-1 win over Yeovil in 2013 was my treat for my nephew, Kain watching Rovers for the time. Although he's didn't seem too bothered about watching the second half after he'd see the kid's area inside the stands at half time.
Over the years I've owned many football shirts. England national shirts from many eras and some foreign club and national sides, but the majority have been Manchester United shirts. Each shirt having it's own history and memories attached to it, whether it be personal memories or moments of the team.
92/93 Away Goalkeeper Kit - This was my first football shirt, I asked for the full kit for Christmas as Peter Schmeichel was my hero at the time.
92-94 3rd Kit - The design inspired by the original Newton Heath kits.
93/94 Away Kit - Who can forget the infamous Cantona Kung Fu kick?
95/96 Third Kit - The Grey kit worn for a grand total of 4 and a half games and famously ditched at half time while playing Southampton. Visibility problems? Bad luck? Poor excuse? Who knows? I had KELLY 11 printed on the back with Giggs being my favourite outfield player I stole his number.
98/99 Away Kit - Treble winning year, this kit will be remembered for Giggs' FA Cup goal, picking up a loose pass on halfway, dribbling through the defence, firing over Seaman and the subsequent topless shirt twirling celebration.
00/01 Home Kit - Saw United win their third consecutive Premiership title.
01/02 Home/3rd Kit - A White and Gold reversible shirt released to celebrate the centenary year of the club. Van Nistelrooy's notching an impressive 36 goals in his debut season.
02-04 Home Kit - I had this shirt with BECKHAM 7 on the back but this was the last one he would wear before moving to Real Madrid. This shirt also marked the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo.
06/07 Away Kit - I won this shirt from a Barclays bank Premiership promotion. Van Nistelrooy also moved on to Madrid but the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo, Solskjaer, Saha and Larsson were around to fire United to another league title.
07/08 Home Kit - Another league title and a Champions League final victory over Chelsea with John Terry's slip on their final penalty meant sudden death ending in an Anelka penalty being saved by Van Der Sar.
Sorry, but we're nearly at the end I promise. My Nanna used to have comic and magazine subscriptions waiting for us when we visited, while Paul went for Dandy's & Beano's and later 2000AD comic, I also started with the comics but moved on to Match and the Manchester United magazine.
The picture on the left is me with my Match magazine on the beach in Kenya (1998) having my picture with a local to send in to the magazine as part of their 'around the world' feature. Football fans may recognise my shirt, the Croatia away kit. That holiday included a memorable Britain v Rest of the World beach football match trying to stick to the right wing on the wetter firmer sand. Upon leaving the resort we gave an England shirt to one of the activities organisers who had looked after us over during the holiday and he was visibly touched by the gesture.
My bedroom walls usually featured all the Man United posters that we're in the these magazines and when international tournaments came around there was more paper than wall.
Other collections such as SoccerStarz caricature models and Panini sticker albums deserve a mention too.
Video games would be another football addiction for me starting with a managerial game on the Amstrad, totally text based. The Sega Mega drive was the first console I had a football game for with the bird's eye view style games. Then FIFA came along and changed football gaming. I've owned every FIFA going through the years whether it be on Sega, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft console or PC. Konami do have to get mention too as I loved their ISS 64 game which I played regularly at my cousin's and the first few years of the Pro Evo editions of the game which outshone the EA Sports offerings of their times. On the right is me in FIFA form using the "Game face" feature that debuted on FIFA 10 and enabled to to create a 3D model of your own face using their website or with the camera accessories of the Playstation and Xbox consoles.
Although I haven't seen a game at Old Trafford I have been in their museum and stadium tour for my 30th birthday on a weekend away in Manchester, just before a visit by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
If you made it to here you deserve some kind of medal or something!! Thanks for reading.