Monday, 28 February 2011


Towards the end of the season we were all sitting in the changing room at our training ground when Steve unexpectedly walked in and announced his resignation. We were all totally shocked and the gossip started about who his successor would be and what changes the new boss would make. It’s amazing how football changes within seconds and players careers are thrown up in the air because a new manager might play a different style or system and you may not be part of his new plans. Any player could go over-night from being the golden-boy to the golden-goose and all this insecurity turns players into live for today ‘merchants’ and that is why at the end of their careers they sit down and realise that they haven’t secured anything for their future. It’s quite sad what happens to players because through injury or rejection your footballing life can end at any given time and I believe there should be more emphasis on your education and re-training of new skills while you’re still in the game. There should be people from the PFA holding regular meetings at every club to push home the facts about retiring and be firm about the reality of finishing because on the whole footballers are lazy and blind and very child like so a firmer hand needs to be taken with them. Believe me, when you finally sit down when it’s all finished and wonder what the hell am I going to do, it’s one of the most empty, dejecting feelings you will ever have, so make sure you ‘nip it in the bud’ before it’s too late. GET EDUCATED.

Sorry! I just totally digressed there for a moment but I feel passionate about this subject. Back at Brentford, Steve moved onto the Manager’s post at Watford and his life-long friend and assistant, Phil Holder, took over at the helm at Griffin Park. It was my worst fears, because not only were Phil and I different personalities but I had already been told that we were going to play a more ‘direct’ game. It’s funny how coaches come up with the word ‘direct’ or in other circles ‘pressure’ as if they feel more comfortable describing the game they want to play. Whether they wanted to play a ‘direct’ game or a ‘pressure’ game it meant ‘whack’ or ‘welly’ to me and signalled the end of midfield play and sadly the end of my Brentford career.

Phil’s personality was naturally aggressive and everyone was treated the same. It was his way or no way and in my opinion his management style was in complete contradiction in how I believed a leader of men should handle his privileges. I suppose when football, and I use that term loosely, is played in this ‘direct’ manner an aggressive and dominant Manager is needed to make his ‘foot soldiers’ obey him.

In one season my career went from a highly-rated Mid-field player that Brentford turned down a substantial fee from Coventry for, to a free transfer and a regular benchwarmer. My final words to Phil in his office at the end of the season was that I was proud that I stuck to my principles and didn’t get sucked in to his abhorrent style even if it may have cost me my career. I walked out of his door and out of the main gates and only in recent times found the heart to go back to my Brentford.

My time at Brentford was more or less filled with great football, great memories and great people. I would like to think I had a good relationship with the supporters and that I tried to entertain them and produce some quality for them to remember. I always tried to respond to them if they sung my name and when I scored, and to be named in the supporter’s all time great Brentford team was an honour. I would hope that I left with pride, honesty and principles that didn’t crumble no matter what sacrifice I paid and maybe in years to come there might be another player who can ‘wiggle it just a little bit’.

Sunday, 27 February 2011


From my earliest recollection I was always kicking something around and watching or talking about Football. We used to go and watch QPR, Arsenal and Arsenal reserves a lot of the time and it was always the individual who I loved to watch. The player who looked different, acted differently and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention - long hair, shirt out, socks down type of confidence. I never remembered the result after a few weeks but I will always remember that one moment of genius, originality that made my adrenaline flow. He entertained and the only player on his day that could run the show for 90mins because he played the game for fun and that’s why I was at games, to have fun. Charlie George was my hero with Stan Bowles, George Best, Tony Currie and Alan Hudson not far behind and as I got older I learnt about a player called Peter Knowles who played for Wolves and walked out of football to become a Jehovah Witness. These players had the ‘R Factor’ – that rebel arrogance to stand up and be counted - to have the audacity to try different skills even though they might not come off. People called them ‘flash wankers’ and booed their every touch, but they always had the last say because such talent will always return to slap you in the face. When George Best walked with the ball on the half-way line for Northern Ireland against Wales with his shirt out, socks down and one boot in his hand and stood with his foot on top of the ball beckoning Terry Yorath to get the ball from him, it was the greatest moment I had ever seen, better than any goal I had ever seen because it was a moment in sport where one man had the confidence in his ability to show it off to the world. No one was going to get the ball from him and he couldn’t give a toss what people thought. When most people say they have a bad attitude or couldn’t care less they are the furthest from the truth. This player is normally the best trainer, the best thinker and most sensitive among the majority. Terry Yorath closed Bestie down, he side-stepped him and shot from the half-way line with his left foot. It looped in to the keeper’s hands with no chance of being a goal. ‘What was the point?’ I hear you say. The answer is there is no point, it didn’t matter, it was pure theatrical entertainment and I loved it. The 1970s was a great era for this type of player because most teams had them and the football was exciting and cavalier to watch. People should have made the most of them because the next decade was looming. The dreaded 1980s was around the corner when football went from entertainment to statistics, where skill was replaced by ‘crunch’ and passing the ball made way for ‘whacking it‘. The worst decade in football for anyone who had skill and ability, it became a hindrance to have it and there I was smack bang in the middle of the ‘Billy Bash-It’, ‘Willie-Welly’, ‘Graham Taylor’ theory of football.

Friday, 25 February 2011


I was first exposed to this style of theory when Spurs played Watford in a reserve game at Vicarage Road in the early eighties. We couldn’t believe it, there we were having the audacity to pass the ball on the grass and Watford were playing a game I had never seen before. A game based on long balls, pressurising and as long as the ball was in the air they were happy. It was shell-shock football and fortunately we won the match but little did we know how much of an affect this was to have on the British game. As Mr Clough once said ‘If God wanted us to play football in the clouds, he would have put grass up there!’

Through the 80’s with our exclusion from Europe more and more Watford’s were appearing, especially in the lower leagues where it was manifesting itself like an uncontrollable disease, everyone seemed to be playing this ‘percentage football’. Over a period of 2 to 3 years the words ‘touch’, ‘play’, ‘class’ and ‘pass’ were being replaced with new shouts of ‘hook it on!’ ‘turn them!’ ‘corner-flag!’ and ‘channels!’. Managers were changing their thinking and the majority of players just followed like sheep. 

Individual thinking for players was replaced with robotic brain-washing. It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in football, coaches actually setting up training exercises to smash the ball over the defence and into the channels and corner flags. There was an exercise with Phil Holder on a Thursday one day for everyone to work on defensive headers, one chipping the ball from about thirty yards away and his partner heading it as far as he could. Every player had to do it from defenders, midfield and forwards. When we all came in on the Friday, the day before a game, we couldn’t move our necks and our heads were thumping. This was the new style of Neanderthal coaching.

Players became scared to play short balls and frightened to try anything against the grain and the longer this went on a new breed of footballer was appearing. He had to be strong, fit and take orders without question and the only position that was condemned was midfield. There was no link from defence to midfield and midfield to forwards. All you did was support the front or cover the defence, you tackled and closed people down and fought for scraps like wild dogs for a bone. When you got possession you could only have one or two touches maximum as long as you released it in a forward manner. The Midfield play-maker was becoming extinct to the point where he was actually being replaced by Centre-Halves because they could do a better job in the ‘LARRY LUMPIT’ style.

I have never been so bored in training. When players love the training they are always out before it starts, playing keep-ball, cosmic and having a laugh. Keep-ball was stopped as it had no bearing to the way we played so the lads just sat in the changing room waiting to be summoned to the drill yard. It became a regime and our game became regimental. We ran and went through team play until it was second nature and Rodney Marsh’s quote of a ‘grey game, played by grey people on grey days’ had never been truer. The beautiful game was getting uglier and if you had any natural ability you were the Quasimodo. Through this period at Brentford, Phil Holder had replaced Steve Perryman as Manager and his dogmatic style suited this type of game along with the new coaches he employed.  As an older Pro and someone who was brought up on strong footballing principles, Phil and I were always clashing and I am glad to say I continued to play as much as I could within the regime. From being a regular in the first team I was now a regular ‘Judge’ always sitting on the bench. The trouble with this type of play is that when it all goes wrong you don’t have any style to revert to and it really looks poor. I believe I hold 2 records at Brentford. The first one being the first player to come on and score in the number 13 shirt and secondly making a record number of consecutive substitute appearing. I was Phil’s ‘get out of jail’ card. If it all goes wrong, sling on Cockers and see if he can do something different.

My personal life was taking a nose-dive. I was relying heavily on booze to cope with my situation and I reverted to smashing up my flat just as I did when I was bed-bound at the age of 15. This was my way of handing my predicament and the depths I had sunk to because of football. You tend to do extreme things when you only have one thing dominating your world and when it doesn’t go your way you turn to extremities to forget it. It all sounds a bit over the top but when one individual thing has created your life since you can remember and it all starts going pear-shaped, on top of the drink you feel you have failed in life and your small world starts to crumble.

As an older Pro, you have more or less established yourself at the club so you can choose whether to conform or stand up and in my experience most players conform. This is for a number of reasons, firstly self-survival, secondly no real principles about the game and finally they will play any way the Manger tells them to. The players I felt most sorry for were the youngsters, the YTS or young pros who were trying to establish themselves. They were not being taught the basic fundamentals of football and every Saturday when they watched the first team they certainly weren’t learning anything. If you had the three “S’s”, Small, Skinny and Skillful you had no chance and many excellent youngsters fell by the wayside. Brentford had some really promising kids who had done really well in the League and FA Youth Cup but because of Management thinking there has only been one player to move on. Marcus Gayle went to Wimbledon and although he had some skill his size was a bigger advantage. These youngsters were good enough to progress and be the life blood of Brentford for many years to come but sadly due to this style of Football, once again it failed them. So not only did a certain type of player drift out of the game but future stars were doing the same thing.

This was the real crucifixion of British football.

Sunday, 20 February 2011


Right through the F.A. books and courses taught this method of coaching and believe me it was really based on statistics studied of many years and hundreds of games. Words like POMO (position-of-maximum-opportunity) were spoke about and many managers, coaches and players got swept along on this carpet ride of eighties neck aching style. Maybe they thought it was a short cut to success by minimising mistakes, but they really lost the plot as to what the beautiful game is all about. I saw managers and coaches who either played in footballing teams or were quality footballers themselves change overnight. I saw players who could pass and think, change into micro-chip ‘androids’ and I saw youngsters trying their best to play an alien form so they wouldn’t fall from favour.

I was once told by Phil Holder that although I was against this style I played long balls more than anyone else and my reply was simple. I said that mine was a long pass not a long ball and there is the difference. Answering him back infront of a changing room full of players and embarrassing him certainly wont pencil you in for the next game but I was now on a bigger mission and couldn’t care less.

Matches you played in were becoming increasingly boring with the match ball taking 2 ‘aspirin’ before kick-off. The worst was at Abbey Stadium one evening against Cambridge. John Beck was there manager and renowned for his uncompromising ‘Larry Lumpit’ style. Even before the game he had his forwards warming up in our half receiving long balls from defenders. Also there were signs strategically placed around the touch line that you had to aim for in given situations. I was in centre-midfield with Keith Jones, not the biggest of midfields, and they had two six-footers marking us. This definitely wasn’t football as I knew it and I touched the ball six or seven times the whole game and half of those were set pieces. The two ‘nuggets’ in midfield were just there as ‘stoppers’ and the number 8 would take every throw-in over the half-way line and launch it as far as he could. With about ten minutes to go he went to take one and pulled a muscle in his shoulder which just about summed it all up for me. It is so easy to destroy anything creative and their creation was based on destroying. I just wasn’t enjoying it and I couldn’t understand players resorting to these tactics. As far as managers were concerned I do not know how they put together and watched their team week in and week out play this ‘Mogadon’ style. Didn’t they want to be entertained? After games was a bigger joke when players were being told how well they had played for kicking balls out of play near the corner-flags because that area is the hardest position to escape from. Lads thought they had a good game for actually lumping the ball into row Z. Keepers weren’t allowed to throw the ball out to full-backs and defenders couldn’t lay short balls into midfield, even if you were in acres of space and screaming for possession.

Meanwhile back at HQ where Charles “never heard of him” Hughes and Graham “do I not like that” Taylor were drafting new chapters in British football, people were returning from Bisham Abbey or Lilleshall having gone for their full coaching badge with horror stories of how coaching methods were based around the sad ‘computerised’ thinking of these ‘statistical sticklers’. Right throughout the game at all levels everyone was starting to preach ‘THE METHOD’ as if they had been indoctrinated into a ‘CULT’ with guru’s Hughes and Taylor conducting the brainwashing. But, just around the corner English football was just about to reap its rewards.

For whatever reason Graham Taylor was manufactured into the position of England manager and now the game had to change. We watched England fail for World Cup Qualification and have a very poor European Championship. I saw him in one interview when Paul Gascoigne was struggling to get over an injury, have the cheek to say that he was short of quality midfield players. He obviously couldn’t see the connection between his coaching methods and the production and cultivating of quality midfielders over the past 6 or 7 years. A whole generation had been bred out of football and Mr Taylor has to take his fair share of responsibility. He was now at the top level and the one position you need desperately is midfield thinkers. When you are playing in World Cups or European Championships it’s always in the summer in hot climates and possession needs to be retained and the pace of the game controlled. It might take one great through-ball to unlock the tightest of defences and win you the game at the top-level so all the best countries had great midfielders. Can you imagine England playing his Watford style on the World stage (although I would have had more respect if he had stuck to his principles)?

So when he needed the real class it wasn’t there and in the long run it cost him his job. A classic case of reaping what you had sewn, but what a price so many paid. Failure in both competitions was the best thing that happened to English football for years because Mr Taylor resigned and now we could concentrate finding and rebuilding the ‘LOST BOYS’. Fortunately we have better and more midfielders to choose from now and the future looks healthy with youngsters coming through with real quality to learn from. Kids with ability are flourishing again and football is a pleasure to watch. I dedicate this chapter to the ‘LOST BOYS’ of a generation who are out there and will never be forgotten.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Hey Guys, sorry for the delay but I would like to take you inside a footballers sense of humour and some of the funnier times at Brentford.

My time with the Bees in hindsight was a halcyon time full of great characters when players could still relate to the supporters and make them part of the entertainment and Griffin Park was my stage.

During a game early on in one season I fell in to the crowd on the half-way line near the dugout and when I looked up an elderly gentleman was standing there wearing a flat cap. I decided to remove it from his head and take a throw in with it on mine and proceeded to play till a shrill voice belonging to Phil Holder shouted out ‘this isn’t a f***ing circus!’.

A relationship was born and Mr Flat Cap would call me across before every home game and proceed to unveil a hip flask from inside his jacket pocket from where I would have a crafty swig of Brandy to the cheers of some inebriated fans. Can you imagine any footballer doing that today?

This is so funny, I will try my best to draw a mental picture about my mate Bliss and fellow Northerner Andy ‘the beast’ Feeley. We went on a Pre-Season tour to Lisbon to play in a tournament with Brighton, Sporting Lisbon and a couple of other teams. We had played in an evening game and Steve and Phil who were staying in a different hotel to the players decided to give us the next day off to rest or do some sight-seeing. We all ventured to the seaside by train, split up and arranged for everyone to be back at the train station at a given time. Now! You can guarantee letting loose 15 footballers on a foreign town that we have a slight chance of some mayhem ensuing. It was a boiling hot day in coastal Portugal and we all split up in to ‘mates’ groups and wandered off. Some decided a nice brunch with a couple of glasses of Portuguese Rose was in order while others perused the fashion shops and market places. Our meeting time back was 6pm at the train station for the journey back to town and ready for the evening meal. Six o’clock came and all had gathered except the 2 Northerners, Messrs Blissett and Feeley. We waited about half an hour and decided to embark on the journey back to our hotel. We finished our meal minus 2 northerners and sat in the foyer relaxing and having banter when the moving of the revolving hotel doors caught our attention. What greeted us was ‘The Beast’ and ‘The Tash’ leaning against each other with the mandatory footballer’s flip flops in hand. Looking at them from head to toe we saw sunglasses on head, t-shirts with sleeves rolled up, white arms, shorts rolled up with white legs. They both seemed to be walking as if treading on a floor full of drawing pins and when we looked down to their ankles and feet they greeted us like a stop sign at a traffic light. The Northerners had decided a day on the beach was in order because sand was a rarety in their part of the world. Accompanying them were a couple of plastic supermarket bags with a bottle of something strong and the equivalent of some cans of Lisbon Special Brew. Now! Can you imagine what happened? More and more booze consumed, they managed to rent a parasol for which to shade their milky white bodies from the burning costal sun. After emptying most of the alcohol they had done what all blokes tend to do and decided to have a kip back to back with their legs outstretched surrounded by squashed empty cans. One problem with this is that the parasol didn’t extend the shade to their feet and ankles so a few hours later when they awoke they realised that what is essential to any footballer is their feet on which they had not put on any Ambre Solaire.

Even funnier, Steve made them both play in the game the next day and watching them put on socks and shin pads was painful but every touch of the ball was met with an ‘Ahhhhhhhhhh!’ expression on their faces. Thanks boys for the memory – absolutely hilarious!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


My next mission was to see if I could stay in professional football after being exiled on the bench for a season at my Brentford. A very difficult situation, because once you are ‘out of the frame’, other managers want to know why, and then phone the manager that exiled you and he certainly isn’t going to give you a glowing reference. He doesn’t want you to go to another club and be a success because then his judgement is questioned so I am sure other managers were told that I was disruptive or a bad influence of which nothing could be further from the truth. So now I had to start again and prove myself of which at the age of 28 I felt was a bit of a joke. I did a pre-season at Brighton and was offered to stay on a non-contract basis of which I refused because I saw that money was getting tight in the lower leagues and more players were just being used on non-contracts. And when they had finished with you, you were cast aside.

English football was at an all time low with more and more players were leaving clubs and being forced into the insecure world of non-contracts. I had a contact number for an agent moving players abroad and by now my finger was itching to dial and the calling of foreign pastures was looming. My type of midfield play was out to graze and the appeal of the continent was getting greater. I made the call and he told me to send him my C.V. and if possible to get a video of myself. Both I did and within two weeks I was meeting him at Brent Cross ready to get the hovercraft from Dover to France and travel through France to Belgium.

Peter Harrison was a mid-thirties Geordie with a likeable personality and had played for a Belgium Premier team called Charleroi. This was the guy taking me across two countries to try and fix me up with a club. He had watched my video and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t playing at a high level in England and said he had every confidence in finding me a club abroad. Peter had arranged a game in France first at Lens of which I turned up and a training game between reserves and first team was being played of which I was allowed to take part. I walked into the changing rooms not knowing the language nor the players and got changed into their kit ready to play the game. One of the coaches that spoke broken English was assigned to tell me what was going on and where I was playing. I was selected in centre midfield, my favourite position, and then made my way with the reserves to warm up on the pitch where the 1st team play their home games. The pitch was surrounded by a red-ash running track, the track by a small moat and then came the stands. This was a typical continental stadium. We played 3 half hours and I knew I was having a really good game. The pace was slower and midfielders were encouraged to take possession of the ball from defenders on a regular basis (that makes sense doesn’t it!). This was football heaven, being played on the deck with quality, pace and skill. The game ended and Pete and I were taken upstairs to meet officials and the manager who had watched me play and while I was showering had seen my video. Pete was talking to them in French and I was sitting next to him like a ‘numpty’ but could tell by facial and body language that things looked OK. Pete stopped now and again to let me know what was being said and told me they were interested but he felt I should play more games for teams in Belgium. 

It was a weird situation, Pete saw my ability for the first time, except on video, and he convinced me to go to Belgium and play a game for his ex-club, Charleroi, in the Premier division because he was confident about the outcome. He explained the situation to the Lens officials and they told him to keep them updated on my decision. So, there we were back in his Mercedes travelling to Belgium for another game and me feeling like a footballing prostitute being touted to all clients. It was exciting in a way because I knew I was playing really well and so did Pete.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


We arrived in Charleroi late in the evening and I was staying in a room above an Italian restaurant whose owner was a friend of Peter’s. Pete left to stay at a friend’s house while I got ready for bed with the pungent smell of garlic wafting through my room and a tingling of trepidation of not knowing what was going to happen next.

Pete phoned me the next morning and told me to treat the place as home and not to worry about anything because he was covering all expenses. This was my base and how fortunate that Italy is my favourite country and of course my favourite food. Pete met up with me for lunch and said that I was playing in a reserve fixture for Charleroi tomorrow evening and so I had some time to look around the town. Charleroi was a mix of old and new with lots of historical buildings intermingled with pavement bistros and bars. The town’s folk were quite young and there seemed to be a cosmopolitan atmosphere running around. I felt so comfortable and non-threatened which made you relaxed and confident. I sat outside a restaurant, ate a bowl of pasta, drank a glass of Bordeaux and then made my way back to Gino’s for a siesta.

The following evening Pete picked me up and took me the short journey to Charleroi’s training pitch, ready for the game-come-trial for me. Once again I walked in to the changing room not knowing the language nor the players and met the coach who briefly explained who we were playing and what position I was in.  It was a strange feeling but as far as I was concerned I was there to perform in a one off game. I was playing well so all I had to do was go and show off. We won the game 4-1, I scored 1 goal and made 2 and played even better than I did in France to the point of trapping the ball with my bum with 20mins to go. After the game Pete was raving and he told me that the coach and other dignitaries watching were very pleased with my performance. News had somehow reached the club President who had been at an all-day carnival in the town and we were both invited to his tent as guests. Pete said that if you were going to meet the President then they must have been very impressed and that more than likely an offer was going to be made. We made our way back in to the town following one of the officials, parked up and was lead to a marquee where loads of people were eating and drinking. Pete and I sat down and were asked what we wanted to drink. We sat there like a couple of lemons with 2 beers for a while when I saw a portly gentleman with a glass of champagne and a cigar making his way over. He shook our hands and introduced himself as the club President and proceeded to talk to Pete in French. Every now and again ‘El Presidente’ acknowledged me with a smile and the little English he knew. He asked Pete and I to stay the rest of the evening as his guests and wandered off. A couple of minutes later I felt a tap on the shoulder and there was ‘Mr P’ standing there with a bowl of oysters on ice in one hand and a bottle of Moet in the other. He sat them down on the table, pulled 2 ‘Lardidars’ (cigars) out of his breast pocket for us and proceeded to talk with Pete again – this was my kind of man. I could tell they were talking money and I was encouraged to be part of the conversation even though I couldn’t understand a bloody word that was being spoken. By this time things were moving very fast and my brain was racing quicker than my heartbeat. Their banter lasted about 10mins and when Pete came up for breath and told me that Charleroi wanted to sign me for 2 years with a £20,000 signing on fee, a basic salary of £500 p/w net plus bonuses, a club flat and a club car. The offer was so much more than you could attain in England at the time and I couldn’t believe that in such a short space of time a foreign country desired my services in favour of my homeland.

That feeling that every footballer craves for was running alive throughout me – that feeling of being wanted along with the security of time and money gives you so much confidence. The champagne and beer was tasting better and better and I am sure if a contract was put in front of me I would have signed it there and then. Instead Pete and I left after a couple of hours with a commitment for Pete to speak again in the morning. I shook everybody’s hand and left the tent to go back to the hotel. I laid my head down on the pillow and awoke later in the same position with the lights shining in my eyes where I had forgotten to draw the curtains. About 9am the phone rang and Pete said he was coming around for breakfast and a chat. He arrived and we sat downstairs in the restaurant and spoke over toast and coffee. He said that he had spoken again that morning to Charleroi and they were just waiting on my decision before drafting up a contract. He advised me to go back to England and speak with my family and ring him with my decision after a couple of days. The honest truth is I would have signed that day but I took his advice and we made our way back to Calais to catch the hovercraft back home. I should have put pen to paper while I was in Belgium because I was never to return to Charleroi and this transpired to be the biggest regret in my footballing career.  Later on all will be revealed because there is a story within a story.

Monday, 7 February 2011


I spoke to Colin Lee, of Ex-Spurs and Chelsea, who was Youth Team Manager at Brentford and now coach at Reading. He invited me to train at Reading and I ended up playing quite a few league games. I was there about a season when St. Albans contacted me to find out what I was doing. I explained that I was non-contract at Reading but I would come down and have a chat. It was the end of the 91-92 season and Reading were not forthcoming in any contract security, so I saw John Mitchell, St. Alban’s Manager, who offered me a 2 year deal with a signing on fee. I still thought there was a professional contract out there for me so I once again signed non-contract forms for St. Albans. The money was cash in hand on a weekly basis and as good as most lower league teams, and so I was re-embarking on a semi-professional career with the hope of another Pro-cub or even rekindling the Charleroi experience.

Playing non-league is a totally different game because to the great majority of the players it’s another income to add to their normal job either as spending money or mortgage money. It’s a different attitude and application to a pro and it does take some getting used to. Players of mature years still have bad habits even with the basics and sometimes frustration creeps in. The worst one has nothing to do with 90mins but to player’s reaction after the 90mins. Their attitude towards losing was amazing. There I was sitting in the changing room sulking and in a temper because we had got beaten while others were laughing and joking 15mins after full-time. It was hard to take but it taught me for once how football was put in to perspective by normal blokes. Also, a lot of the player’s equipment was in a right state. Their boots and pads were put in their bag after a game and the next time they saw daylight was an hour before the following game. The boots had the mud knocked off, out came the polish and then the shining began. My ‘Daisies’ were spick and span the night before because of a life-long habit of preparing for a game in the same way.

I just acted as if I was still a professional. I would train in the mornings and afternoons over the park or gym on my own when I wasn’t at St. Albans. I was 28, never had a job and would not even know the first thing about getting one. I left school at 14 with no qualifications and so all I was doing was acting normal.

The longer I played non-league, the more enjoyable it became because I was getting used to the different ways and taking in to consideration that lads were doing a full day’s work and then coming to football. Some were on building sites, really grafting and then giving their all for 90mins. Football was their release and not their living and they enjoyed every minute of it. At St. Albans, the majority of us got on really well and this made for a great atmosphere on and off the pitch. The standard of play was high, we were encouraged to play out from the back and we had a lovely playing surface at Clarence Park. I was playing with a free spirit and a sharp mind which created some great football and as the months ticked on I was getting quite attached to The Saints. 

Come January, I was really enjoying myself and St. Albans were twisting my arm to sign a contract. The Belgium chance had melted away and the offer being made to me was very tempting, so at the back end of January, with us top of the league and in most cups I put pen to paper and committed myself for 2 years. The money was good and the signing on fee was excellent. I knew this was the end of the road for me at Professional level but the difference in quality was minimal, the real difference was in fitness. The last 20mins of a game was where a Pro’s energy really came through and that extra yard was the difference between winning and losing. I knew for sure that the enjoyment level was greater playing semi-pro and my ambition now was to relax, play great football and help St. Albans progress as a club.

Little did I know that The Saints and I were embarking on a love affair together which gave me some of my greatest moments and the freedom to express the real ALLAN COCKRAM.