A lot of people are surprised that I like football. I’m not the typical sort of football fan – I’m bookish and a little reserved, not especially imposing in person – so I can’t really blame anyone. Indeed, after a good few years of following the hometown team in primary school, I fell out of love with the game, until starting college.
I was once good enough to play for an Under 11 team, and I was a nifty centre midfielder before the tall players got their proper growth spurts and I had to compete with them. Unfortunately, after a good ten years of inactivity I was rusty to say the least. I got back into playing football with flatmates from halls, a low-pressure environment for me to relearn the basic motor skills. The goal – an ironic pipe dream turned life goal – was to make it on to the university football team. Borrowing some bloody awful Asics football boots from my brother, who kept playing for those ten years and consequently embarrasses me every time we play, I was cautiously optimistic.
Come the day of the trial, my now-housemate was stricken by a concussion after hitting his head on a kitchen cabinet and couldn’t join me. I considered not going, but I decided the worst that could happen was short-term (if moderate) embarrassment. Immediately I was out of place amongst some flashy Adidas football boots and athletically built undergrads, but I stuck around anyway. The trial would be run in the form of rotated games between picked teams. The first sign of trouble, however, arrived as we were hit with the stark realisation that our team was composed entirely of players who wanted to play at centre midfield. Nonetheless, and no matter what Tony Pulis would have you believe, you can’t field a team entirely of centre midfielders; naturally I found myself out at right-wing. For that first game, I proceeded to sprint myself stupid and contribute precisely nothing to our attacking threat, and we lost 2-0. Disheartened, I volunteered to play the next two games at left back where I thought I would have less chance to ruin all my team’s offensive capabilities.
For the second and third games I had a relative amount of success, making decent challenges but still getting skinned by the opposing right winger who I suspected was starting to pity me somewhat. A fellow defender had appointed himself team captain, and bossed the line extremely well in spite of my troubles. All in all I was feeling outclassed by opponent and teammate alike. I was enjoying myself in a sadistic sort of way, especially when I managed to fool people into thinking I had the slightest clue how to play as a full back. I was unable, evidently, to convince the coaching staff of this, and I was not invited back for the second day.
Unsurprisingly, a few jokey kickabouts with friends on the Common was not enough to tie down a place on the university team. But it wasn’t all bad news. Winning the second and drawing the third, I would be stupid to put my team’s improved fortunes down to my performance at left back, but it was an intriguing learning experience. As much as it pains me to say, I won’t be giving Andy Robertson any nightmares for the foreseeable future.