You never truly forget the slap of a freshly pumped size 4 to the thigh on a frosty morning.
As a kid, Saturday and Sunday league football was a unique environment where aggression, ability and puberty coagulated in front of a ten-body strong crowd to create a series of shared experiences. For better or for worse, we all grew up during those frosty 9am kick-offs.
Without ever realising it, for years and years your weekend morning had a certain ceremony to it. The scoffed down toast, the rush out the door, forgotten shinpads, cramped backseats, stud keys, double hat-tricks, oversized shirts and scabs on knees that never heal. You still got home for the afternoon TV match kickoff though.
Here’s a few things everybody who grew up playing in Saturday and Sunday Leagues will remember.
1. Car park mobiles for changing rooms
These four walled freezers provided the ideal location for 17 teenagers to get changed in.
2. Mitre balls on bare thighs in winter….
Unless there was a small swimming pool forming by the centre spot, matches were never cancelled. This meant cold mornings in places like Edinburgh inevitably brought a size 4 mitre ball to your thigh forcing a slap so hard it echoed across the county.
3. ….and cracked soil in summer
Even when the sun started to come out the pitches turned from a quagmire to sharp, crude mud. Slide tackles were a no-go and who’d be a keeper?
4. Overweight strikers
He never tracked back but he sure could smash in those 30 yarders and tell you about it in the car ride home.
5. Shouting the same things, without fail, every match
Take your pick: “all day”; “we’ve gone quiet lads”; “get rid”; “let him know you’re there”; “watch the bounce”; “man on” and hundreds more.
6. The Tinker Man
Invariably your coach would’ve been someone’s Dad who was foolish enough to give up his Saturday or/and Sunday mornings, but you’ll never meet anyone more loyal to “keeping it alive”.
7. And his questionable “warm-ups”
Perhaps four laps round the pitch pre-match wasn’t the best use of energy.
8. Formation? What formation?
Tall kids stand in defence, small kids on the wings and the guy with the hard shot can go and stand up front. Quite similar to Spurs a couple years back actually.
9. The division bully
Every league had that one player who played for a boys club or had some trials with Hearts youth team and had probably already s****ed a girl. To be fair, he did turn up and proceed to smack in 6 goals each time.
10. The loyal crowd
Every week, flasks in hand, and scarfs round mouths cheering you on. I don’t even remember whose parents they were.
11. Synchronized celebrations
You definitely saw something funny on Soccer AM and spent more time practicing the choreography than set-pieces.
12. The offside trap
There was always one admirable soul trying to enforce it, however each shout of “push up” sounded increasingly more desperate as the game moved on.
13. Never knowing where you were in the league
“Right boys, we are either fourth…or bottom.”
14. Muddy boots in the car
Entire continents’ worth of mud left in the back of Toyota Corollas.
15. Adidas Predators
Honourable mentions for Diadora Bombers and Mercurial Vapors. All classics.