IT’S fair to say I had dreamed of this day quite a lot since my junior football club was told it had been chosen by Grimsby Town to supply the ball boys for a crunch game in the old Division Four.
Save from actually turning out on the hallowed Blundell Park turf, this was going to be the closest I would ever get to rubbing shoulders with my heroes.
Cumming, Brolly, Ford, Wiggington - names etched in the annals of the Lincolnshire side - were like movie stars to me and now I could play my part - albeit small - in the Mariners’ inexorable rise towards the hallowed ground of Division Three, or so I thought.
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To be fair, it didn’t start out well and went downhill from there.
We were housed in what I now remember as a small Nissen hut, well away from the glamour of the dressing rooms, the trophy cabinets and the directors’ lounge.
The tracksuits they supplied us with had been worn many times previous, but were yet to see the inside of a washing machine. Ill-fitting and smelling ripely of their previous occupants, it was all I could to prevent myself tripping bottom over breast as we ran around the cinder track that separated the pitch from the stands.
Spot procured, the whistle blew and I prepared myself to be an integral part of the afternoon’s activities. Sadly, for most of the match I was greatly under-employed, resorting to chasing lost causes, much to the chagrin of the boys just up from me, for whom the ball seemed to be drawn, almost magnetically, to them from the boot of our big Number 3.
As the game wore down, the ball and I seemed destined to remain apart and so I took to chatting off and on with my friends who were stood behind me.
Turning my back was clearly a mistake. As an attack broke down, the ball, infinitely heavier than those played with today, struck me forcefully on the back of the head, knocking me clean off my feet.
In those days it was all standing and you could practically smell the fans’ breath on your necks. All of a sudden I was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons as cries of derision rang out from the Barrett’s Stand.
It was all I could do to stem the tears, but I bit my lip and carried on as manfully as a nine-year-old could, determined to be ready should I be called upon again.
Within minutes the opportunity came to restore my badly dented pride. A pass went astray down the left wing and the ball arced perfectly in my direction. I caught it expertly and then ran as fast as my feet could carry me and handed it over.
Imagine my surprise then when the likes of “What the hell are you doing lad?” “You bloody idiot” and other choice statements rang out from the dockers behind me. In my haste, I’d handed the ball to the opposition who were able to mount an immediate attack on an ill-prepared Grimsby defence.
The outcome escapes me, but the fact I was never asked back probably tells its own story.