Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My own Rickie Lambert moment

Rickie Lambert’s Boys’ Own rise to the status of England’s saviour may owe a fair bit to fortune (or, at least, the misfortunes of others – Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge, and one might argue, Roy Hodgson), but there’s no doubt it’s a stirring reminder that, even in today’s money-mad, largely predictable game, the unexpected can still happen.  To compare very (very) small things to great, it brings to mind my own fairytale footballing moment, when, from nowhere, I was presented with a golden opportunity to put years of mediocrity behind me, and write my name across a tournament.

The tournament in question was the five-a-side championships, a one-day event for the media and marketing industries. It was March, 2002. Arsenal were on their way to the Double, prompting Sir Alex to postpone retirement. England was awash with the joy of Becks, after that late free kick against Greece that had secured World Cup qualification. Nobody, outside of the medical profession, had heard of the metatarsal bone.

I was in my first job out of University, as a glorified telesales person, helping advertising agencies to get meetings with minimally influential people from the marketing world. After some cajoling, and a few midweek training sessions, we had assembled a team to compete against the best our glamorous industry had to offer. I was captain, inspiration, and on the bench. Our team contained a former Sunday league player, and two ex-professionals, one of whom even featured in 1990s computer game Sensible World of Soccer. By contrast, I had been described, by one uncharitable observer, as the worst footballer in the world (and he was a Middleborough supporter, lending his opinion of crap players some weight). I had arranged our participation, hence my elevated status within the squad – but there was no way I was going to get in the starting five. I am under five and a half feet tall, so I couldn’t even justify picking myself in goal.

One of our ex-professionals had procured some bespoke kit for us, a striking yellow jersey, combined with blue shorts. From the waist up, it was a little bit like watching Norwich City, albeit at a particularly low ebb in their history. From the sidelines, I could summon up the spirit of Jamie Cureton, the striker who scored with his first touch for the Canaries after coming on as a sub. The tournament kicked off without me, and we breezed through our early group games, our veteran brigade defying aging legs and creaking knees to score some tasty goals, and our hastily-recruited goalie (a ringer from outside the company – like one of those overage players in the Olympics) even saving a penalty. I paced on the touchline, biding my time, awaiting my chance.

That chance finally arrived in our final group game, when I was able to get on the field, with our passage already secured. In fairness to myself, I must point out that I had already played in our second group match, and even claimed the assist for the opening goal, before being substituted for kicking one too many opponents (I get a touch of small man syndrome when playing football). Nonetheless, it was in this climactic match in the group stage, that my chance for goalscoring glory finally arrived. Charging forward to support a quick breakaway, I headed for the far post, as my good friend Tony hared down the wing. As he rolled an immaculate low cross into my path, I drew back my bright green Diadora astroturf boot, as our ex-professionals roared their encouragement from the touchline, and took aim.

We reached the final of that tournament, though I can’t claim much personal credit, where we came up against a client, and lost one-nil. Probably for the best. I got a round of applause from “the lads” for organising everything. But the team never played together again. The recession hit, and we couldn’t get the money to enter in 2003. The company then fell apart, as various people left. Most of them turned up for my Stag Day, a week after the tournament, which began with a game of football that wasn’t allowed to finish until I’d scored. These days, I’m playing a few times a month, and rather better than I used to. Tony’s doing very well for himself, too – MD of a flashy digital agency, and playing hockey for Staines. So maybe there’s a lesson for Rickie Lambert – even a fairytale moment doesn’t have to be the very pinnacle of one’s career.

And my own Cinderella moment? I swung my left foot, missed completely, and ended up on my arse. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending, after all. Good luck Rickie. You deserve it. End of story.


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