Love is a powerful word. In the sporting world, to love is to be passionate. To love is to stand strong with your team whether you win, lose or draw. Football is one of those sports where one side of the party is almost guaranteed to leave disappointed. Football is one of those sports that leave you biting your nails from kick-off to full-time. Yet amidst all the chaos and agony that the beautiful game brings, few can be left to doubt the impact that such a sport can provide from a young age. This is the story about the first time I truly fell in love with football.
Growing up in a country like England, where football culture is so striking, it seemed inevitable that I would get a taste of the sport from childhood. Instilled from as far back as I can remember, Liverpool was my team. My father raised me the right way, unlike my brother who became an Arsenal fan – sorry Gunners. At the age of 7, I decided it was time to join my local team. Being hit with several options, I became lost in the sea of teams: Bedgrove Dynamos, Aylesbury Town, or Aston Clinton Colts. I researched for days, checklists were designed, strengths and weaknesses considered as I attempted to determine the right team for me. After days of struggle, I realised that it didn’t matter what team was the right match for me. Rather, it was the club where I believed I would enjoy the most. I joined Aston Clinton Colts. I was finally part of a team.
Aston Clinton Colts’ new signing was ready to be unleashed. At 7 years old, puny yet speedy, it was time for my debut. After weeks of gruelling one-hour training sessions in the 2008 January cold snap, the time had come for my first outing on the football pitch. Playing away against Marlow Youth (the Celtic to our Rangers), my manager informed me that I would be subbed on to play the entirety of the second half. The wait for the first-team action infuriated me, awaking a raging beast inside of me who was ready to be set free. When the referee, a father of one of the opposition players, blew the whistle for half-time, my manager instructed me it was time. I laced up my boots, pumped like Rocky, as the second half kicked off.
In a gritty second half, we trailed 1-0 as I struggled to get involved, feeling fatigued which most likely came from eating breakfast too close before the game. A rookie mistake. With minutes remaining, morale was down until a glimmer of hope appeared. Our captain won a free kick on the halfway line, it was time for the good ol’ fashioned ‘hoof it up the pitch and pray’. The ball was lofted high as I scrapped with the defenders in the six-yard box. Suddenly the ball ricocheted off the defender as my teammate struck for goal. The ball miraculously presented itself to me, with a clear shot on goal – this was the moment of my dreams. Shoot and you go down in the history books of Aston Clinton Colts (ok, maybe not but you get the gist). I slotted home before being bundled by my teammates. Words simply cannot describe how I felt, the elation of not only scoring a debut goal but saving the team from defeat. Seconds later, the referee blew the final whistle as we celebrated.
Not only was this the first time I fell in love with football, this was the first time I felt part of a team.