The Beatles - Yesterday
Ever since I remember I have played sport. Mainly football and golf but I have always been active. Me, my brother and friends would go out on our bikes first thing in a morning and would return when it got dark. Yes, I am that old that I am at the back end of the generation that grew up with little technology ruling our lives so we went out and played. We were also lucky to live where we did really. We had a small wood that had some good biking tracks which we would modify to add jumps and bank corners. There was the pit top near the woods which we use as a sprint section. One time I was so desperate to win I carried on sprinting right to the line, forgetting I had a severe lack of brakes and ended up crashing into the big metal gate at the end. How I didn't do some serious damage is beyond me. Across the road from our house was a football and cricket ground, and next to that was the local park with more bike tracks, a pitch and putt course and a huge field to play football on. This is where I got my love of sport from.
Cricket was always something of a distraction through the summer while the football season was over. I enjoyed it don't get me wrong, but I was never in love with the sport. I started at Wath Cricket Club Under 11's. I went there with Mark Barlow, a friend I had made when from my junior football team, Hoyland Common Falcons (Falcons for short). I went down Wombwell with my mum to the local sports shop which was run by the dad of the one of the lads who also played. We both had no idea what I needed to play so we got a helping hand from him, as well as a good bonus for him with how much it ended up costing! I came out with a full set of whites, pads, gloves, box, helmet and of course a bat. It was a Slazenger V6 bat. Not the biggest or best but decent enough for me that I played with it right up until I joined a senior team. The bag that I got that day still holds my cricket gear which has sat in my parents’ garage for a very long time. We had a decent team run by one of the lads Grandad's. Can't remember his name right now but he a pretty fair coach. If you didn't perform well you were demoted down the order or not selected to bowl, regardless or reputation. I was a fairly average player half decent at bowling and was a very attacking batter. Basically, if I didn't hit the ball for a boundary, I was more than likely bowled. I learned to calm down a little bit to be a half decent middle order batter, but I was always there for a good time, not a long time. I played for a couple of seasons where we enjoyed success and I believe we won the league, maybe a cup. But I decided I wanted to concentrate on football so gave it up for a few years. I didn't bother again until my then Falcons manager Ted Willis persuaded me to get the bag out of the garage again and come join him and Jamie, his son and our goalkeeper, at Birdwell and play for a Saturday league Seniors Team. I was 16 at the time and had started giving up on the dream of being a footballer so what harm would it do being out and about on a Saturday playing cricket. We were a half decent team of young and old guys. The best part was the banter between us all. No one was safe from getting some stick. But it was all harmless and a good life lesson. No matter how good or bad we played, we had a good time. There was a great bond between us all which made it all worthwhile. Even if you were fielding long on both ends because you were a young'un and you could do all the running. I gave up again on cricket when I was being a roadie for my Dad's band on weekends and didn't take it up again until I joined the RAF. It was never the same though. We had the banter but it wasn't like that Birdwell team. Maybe because we were all of a similar age and the competitiveness took over. I gave up for good in 2013 due to injury. a running theme in what’s to come.
Football has been and will be forever my number 1 sport. I have played it for as long as I can remember. From knockabouts in the garden with my brother and mates. To travelling around the country playing for various clubs and RAF. My first experience of junior football came from being dragged around watching my older brother play. He played for a good team and I was allowed to listen in on the team talks by their manger Nigel Dobson. I great man manager of junior football. Regardless of results he was proud of what the team did. At the end of season presentation for my brothers’ team I was allowed to go and pick up a trophy as one of the other lads had not turned up. I spent most of the evening practising my handshake as I was only 6 and left handed so never had to shake hands right handed before. It felt amazing collecting the trophy and I wanted more. A couple of years later I got my chance when I started playing for the Falcons myself. Adrian Evans was the manager who was one of the dads of the players. I was playing in the year group above as I was friends with them all and was still in the class above for my age at school. I started as a left back. Mainly because I was one of 2 players that were actually left footed. We were an average team that could have done better than we did. I left in them to join my proper age group at the under 14 age group. It was for the best as I was in and out of the team and was no longer in the same class or school of all the players so socially it was also becoming a little awkward. One of my best friends Garry Milner still played for them so I kept up to date with the scores and how they were doing. Martin Keys was the manager of the lower age group. A fat man who was like a pit bull in his mannerisms. He started me out at left back but quickly moved me forward to left midfield. It was like I had found my calling. We had a skilful team which were great on the attack and solid on defence. I was on the left with John Smith on the right. We were more like wingers than midfielders. Constantly looking to get on the front foot. Simon Ambler would hold the ball up front as we bombed on down the wings. Big Edward Parkes was solid in the middle of the park, with Chris Thrall and Steve Hodson the brick wall in defence and Jamie Willis in goal. We had a great season winning promotion to the top division. I was player of the season, which I thought I would never get. But it drove me on to try and be the best I could be. We lost in the final of the Easter tournament at Hunstanton but look forward to the next season as we beat the Junior Blades (Sheffield United feeder team) twice in the process of getting to the final. The next season came and we added to a few players from Stocksbridge, Luke Burkinshaw, Grant Handley and Lee Swift. We had another good season where I believe we finished 4th in the top division. Once again, we lost in the Easter tournament to the same team from London. This was when I first injured my ankles, badly spraining the ligaments in the final. Tensions started to creep into the team as well. It wasn't until the season had started and registration was complete that Martin told me that the Young Owls (Sheffield Wednesday feeder team) wanted to look at me and he refused. Being a massive Wednesday fan, I felt betrayed that I wasn't told and allowed to go and play for them. The Sheffield parents didn't really get on with the other parents and it was starting to show. Tensions came to a head the next season in an away game out towards the Peak District side of Sheffield. It was an ill-tempered game Grant had been stamped on but got up and spat at their player. This ended up in a brawl not only on the pitch but on the side-lines too. Martin took us all off the pitch saying it was a disgrace and all hell broke loose. The split between the parents came to the fore and the Sheffield lads were taken away. Martin went with them. We never saw either again when it came to the Falcons. Which was a shame really because all the lads got on well. I completely blame Martin for how the situation came about and how he handled it. Ted Willis (Jamie's dad) took over and we struggled on to the end of the season with 8/9 players each game. When we managed to scramble together a full team, the new guys had never played junior football before and it showed. We struggled on for a few more seasons but it was never the same as when I first joined. In the meantime, I had a couple of trials. One with Barnsley schools’ team. I managed to get about 15 minutes game time in 3 short games so obviously wasn't the one they were looking at. The next trial was for the Rotherham schools’ team. When I turned up, they had me down as a goalkeeper! When I told them, I was a left winger they seemed to stop caring. There were 2 games played on pitches side by side. I was sub for the first game and didn't get on. When they swapped the teams around for the second game, I was named up front. Although I found this a little strange, I did my best. Setting up 3 goals and scoring 1. Not that this mattered as all the scouts were looking at the other pitch. The already had their favourites so why look at the other game. By the age of 16/17 I was giving up on my dream of being a footballer. I certain player named Wayne Rooney who is a month younger than me was taking the Premier League by storm and I knew I would never be as good as him so just played for fun. When I was 18 I joined the Prospect Tavern pub side with Dave, my brother. We weren't a bad side, but we definitely weren't good either. I had a great season on the left-wing scoring and setting up the majority of goals. It was toss-up between me and Dave for player of the season. I was working with my dad on the night of the presentation so couldn't make it. I got a text message from Dave saying I had won both players player and managers player of the season, and he had to accept the awards for me! I was so happy to have won, but even more so that Dave had to accept them on my behalf! Had a couple of indifferent seasons there before moving down the hill to The Market 'A' side. They had a settled side of young and old heads and I struggled to get in at left midfield. So, they converted me to centre half. Definitely a strange position for me but I wasn't as nimble as I once was, plus the late nights drinking didn't help. I was to be the young lad to do the running next to Pete Jones. He was the gaffer and would always give me a good bollocking if he had to do any chasing of the ball. The mixture of old and young worked well and we got promoted to the top division. In the summer the old boys retired and in came all the lads around my age. We didn't have the fitness or discipline to be a good team and it showed. Bless Matty Rodgers for taking over but he was no gaffer then. Although he's having success now with the Juniors so maybe the experience of trying to being our manager has helped him. Bryan French eventually took over and we started playing some half decent football. I stopped playing pub football in September 2009. I had just picked up a knee injury and was due to join the RAF at the end of November so couldn't afford anymore injuries. After I joined up, I didn't play again until I moved to RAF Northolt in 2011. They had a Sunday league side as well as a station team so I played for them a few times. I remember one game, playing at left back once again, pinging a cross field ball to the right winger. It dropped right on his foot as he sprinted through. The ref came over and went 'Just like Paul Scholes that left foot of yours'. It made me chuckle but I got the buzz for playing football again. One of the Officers on base asked me if I wanted to play for the Officers reserve team in a friendly. I jumped at the opportunity. If I was to shine for them then I thought it was a way into the station side and possibly, maybe, a long shot at getting in the RAF side. I had a decent game at centre half and was asked to play again the following month. Which I did and had another half decent game. Then I was playing in the station 5-a-side competition when I went over my ankle yet again. It took 18 months to fix so my chance was over. It would be on detachment in the Middle East I would play my final games. A Navy ship was coming into port for a week so it was arranged we would have a couple of games against them. The first game was a steady 2-1 win for us and I didn't do too badly in a mixture of centre half and left back. In the second game however the red mist descended. The Navy right winger tripped me up in the first 30 seconds. I chased after him and as the cross came in, I booted him up in the air and gave away a penalty. For the rest of the game I just kept booting him up in the air. I even stamped on him, for which I am ashamed of. We were playing quarters due to the heat and the Ref came up, an RAF copper, and told our manager to take me off before I got sent off. Which was fair play. Anyway, the left back had to come off pretty much immediately, so on I went and carried on booting the winger. It was only after the game I found out he was a fellow Wednesday fan and was a lovely guy. I felt so ashamed for doing what I did. A hip injury playing golf on August bank holiday 2014 put a stop to my footballing days. So, it was onto a more relaxing game, and less chance of injury (allegedly). Golf.
I have always liked playing golf. The first club I ever picked up was one of my Dad's wedges and knocked around a couple of wind balls in the back garden with Dave. My Dad plays right handed so I played right handed, with a left-handed grip. I never found it strange and played like this for many years. We would go across to the park and play pitch and putt. Me and Dave would also play every now and again at the pitch and putt at Hemsworth with Grandad Stephens. I would look forward to this as they gave you 3 clubs not just the 2 clubs you would normally get. Crazy golf in Whitby was also a favourite when we were on holiday there. My first half set of clubs (still right handed) were Howson ones. It allowed me to join Dad and Dave at Hillies Golf Club in Wombwell for a round of 9 holes. It even got to the point where Mum would drop me, Dave, Jonny and Garry off and pick us up afterwards. It was something else to do apart from play football all the time. It was only when I was getting my first full set that I would change to left handed. We went as a family down to American Golf near Hillsborough to select them. The guy showed me a few sets and I got hitting the balls at the big screen which seemed so futuristic at the time. I was hitting them well surprisingly as I had only just that day swung a club left handed. I had my heart set on some TaylorMade ones. They felt great in my hands and knew I would have them for years. I forgot how much they would cost but it was definitely 3-4 hundred pounds. They were just about to ring them through the till when my Mum pipes up 'What about these?'. She points to some MacGregors which were on sale next to the till for about £150. I was adamant that I was getting the TaylorMade but she insisted I tried them. So, I did and was hitting them well enough so we got the MacGregors. I wasn't as happy as I should be when getting your first full set but then again, I had just missed out on my dream set. I played with them for years. It was only a part time hobby so no need to upgrade them for anything else. As I joined the RAF I found out that stations had their own teams and it was another way to get out of work so I started taking it a bit more seriously. I would go for rounds after work on my own and decided to upgrade my clubs so not to look like a complete amateur if I was ever selected to play. I got some Ping Eye 2 irons, on the advice of my Dad as they were the go-to clubs for a decent salesman back in the day, for cheap off eBay and got them regripped. Then a few other second-hand clubs and bag to make it look like I've been playing with them for years and also because I was skint at the time. I told the Captain down at RAF Northolt I played off 20 as that what I calculated it to on the internet. I've never had a proper club handicap and he didn't ask for a handicap certificate so I was in the clear to play. The more I played the more confident I got. I was starting to get better and better. We played and away fixture against RAF Henlow. I was still playing for an official league handicap so was keeping score alongside the match play we were playing. Me and my partner were picked against the RAF Secretary and his partner. I had the round of my life. I was 1 over for the front 9 and could see him getting angrier as we went around. Always commenting after every shot I played. I eventually shot an 8 over (79), which to this day I have never bettered. Regardless of how well I've done, good or bad, I have always shaken the opponent’s hand after a game of whatever sport. He walked off in a huff because I he had lost. There's no need for that at the level we play at, or any level. I carried on playing well and even continued out in the Middle East. Playing on the end of European Tour season course in Dubai. I played terribly, to my shame, on that course but at least I can say I have played there. It was after I came back from there and played with Beever and Ash Kilner on August Bank Holiday 2014 I started having further problems. I had just 3 putted from 3 foot and was seriously annoyed so went to rip a drive off the next tee. Predictably the ball sliced off to the left, however I was in agony with a pain coming from my hip and back. I couldn't even bend down to pick up my tee. But stupidly carried on with Beever picking up my ball for me. I was on 2 weeks leave and was going to go on the Banger Run around Europe the weekend after so didn't bother with the doctors. I could barely move but carried on as best as I could. Camping in the cold and wet didn't help at all. When I eventually got to see the doctor, I was sent to physiotherapy. Initially it had taken away the majority of pain but I still got pain constantly in my hip. Somehow, I was still allowed to play Station golf and was doing an average job for RAF Coningsby at the time. It would take a day or 2 to recover but I was allowed to continue playing so I did. When I moved to MOD Abbey Wood golf took a bit of a back burner. I had been on 2 lots of rehabilitation to try and resolve the hip pain, as well as numerous scans and 2 steroid injections. However, the pain never went away completely. They found a slight deformity in my joint but nothing to cause the pain as such. When we moved to Belgium golf started up again as I became part of the committee and was playing regularly on a Thursday evening. But the hip pain was still there. It started to get better and I was having some pain free days. Then one day when back in the UK I went to play golf with Dave at his club. I had arrived early and went to get my clubs out of the back of the car and I was completely immobilised by agonising pain in my back. Dave came and found me bent over double unable to move. After an hour or so and some considerable slow movement I was off to hospital with back spasms. They gave me some painkillers and sent me on my way. When I got to see the Doctors back in Belgium I was signed off for a week and given more medication to take to ease the spasms. After this I was in pain mainly with my back but still with my hip and now my knee was hurting. With physio this eased up and I was back on track. I even started running for the first time in 4 years. I was still getting back pain but the physio here in Belgium and doctors back in the UK were happy because my hip pain had eased. Golf was becoming easier to play again. That was until the 10th hole of a 27-hole tournament. I was in the fairway bunker and on the down swing I went into spasm. I don't think the guys who I was playing with actually saw my swing. Only that I had shanked it well over the green. I could barely stand and was gripping onto the golf trolley for dear life. Stupidly I started to go and look for the ball before deciding it was best if I went home. Once again, the doctors said it was just spasms. But this time I wasn't so good. Everything has become a chore. I get weakness in my legs when I walk. The pain in my back varies from constant nagging to absolute agony. I went back to the doctor and they sent me to hospital. From the initial CT scan they said that ones the bones on the vertebrae should be one piece but mine had been in two pieces from birth and was lucky not to have issues from now. This was causing instability in my spine and the L5 disc has been damaged from this problem. I have since had MRI and bone density scans to see if there are any further complications and what the full extent of the problem might be. As I write this blog I am still awaiting a decision on my future. Over 3 months from the last major problem playing golf, and over 4 years since the original injury.
I chose The Beatles Yesterday as my song for this blog as I look back fondly on my sporting achievements and how active I used. I definitely feel like half the man I used to be if not less. There is a dark shadow overlooking my future and how active I will/can be in the future. All I do now is hide away at home trying to keep on top of this problem so I can be as active as I can with my son. It's really hard not to be constantly down about my current predicament but as yet there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Just the little rays of sunshine that come from spending time with Ed and Becky. At least I will always have that referees’ comment, 'Just like Paul Scholes that left foot of yours'.