Ever since I saw Robbie Fowler score past Nigel Martyn for Liverpool in the 1995 Coco-Cola League cup semi-final second leg I have harboured dreams of being a footballer. The next day I asked the magic eight ball, will I play for Liverpool? ‘All signs point to yes’ came the reply. It was set. My ambition was to be a professional footballer. I harboured all the knowledge I could. It didn’t matter that I was on the Mossley Under 9 reserves or that later I was ‘Sub-Subbed’ for Carrick Rangers Juniors.My football dream was going to happen. The dream consumed me. I was going to be in Fifa. I knew what my stats on Championship Manager were going to be.
Years went by. Epic moments like Michael Owen darting past the Argentina defence at France 98 and Gary McAllister’s Liverpool winning ‘The Treble’ in 2001 became etched in the memory. I still harboured dreams of joining my heroes on the big stage.
Yes, I had never played 90 minutes for a youth football team and most of the guys my age who had a chance were already in England but I was getting pretty good at 5 a side in my PE class and I had started jogging around Monkstown and using a skipping rope in the private gym I fashioned in my garage. I was going to get fit. I was still going to make it.
Most people of my generation gave up on their football dreams when they saw a 16 year old Wayne Rooney score what remains the best goal he’s ever scored against Arsenal. He was the same age as me. A guy who I could have sat next to in GCSE maths was now in the premier league. You would think it was now time to just give up on the dream of being a footballer and just enjoy it for what it is, a hobby. But sometimes thats difficult. When I turned 21 I thought ‘Ah well, I guess I’ll never play for Northern Ireland under 21s, its the senior team or nothing’. When I turned 23 I thought ‘Ah well, I guess Liverpool will not sign me now because my re-sale value will be too low’.
Even now at 31 I watch that Disney Movie ‘The Rookie’ with Dennis Quaid about a 36 year old baseball pitcher who has a freak arm that pitches faster as he gets older and he ends up getting signed for the Major Leagues. That could be me. I could be the football version. I scored a goal in 5 a side last week. Perhaps I could have an Indian summer to my career. Perhaps there was a scout just walking his dog past the pitches at Tullycarnet right at that moment with a crazy notion to tell Jurgen Klopp about this hidden gem from Monkstown. I could have been the Andre Pirlo of Anfield commanding the centre circle pinging balls to Coutinho, Sturridge and Milner. Of course this is all crap. I have to face it. It is never going to happen. That magic eight ball lied…
Tonight as I went for a jog my mind turned to it’s resting phase, which is to imagine I was playing football again. But tonight was also the night I realised how delusional I had been since I was 9 years old. I have spent a crazy amount of time thinking about football, some would say obsessional. I wasn’t going to think about it anymore. Well not as much. The scales have finally fallen off my eyes. I instantly regretted the amount of time I wasted thinking about football. I could have learned a language with that brain space. I could have learned five!
As a nation, as a global population, many of us think about football far too much. If you think my thought patterns are crazy watch Football focus when they interview fans of Rottheram United or Scunthorpe. There are people who can’t get out of bed to face the day if their team lose. And it’s Scunthorpe! Why pour your whole life into following these guys? It’s just not worth it. Its just a waste of time. Even if Scunthorpe or Rottherham achieve all their dreams, even if they do a Leicester City, it is still not worth devoting your life to. There are other things more important. I guarantee you that after the initial euphoria of winning the Premiership the feeling wears off eventually. There is a hollow, a realisation that all the hopes and dreams that those players had of feeling complete as people would come true are now dashed. Life goes on. The football mask is lifted just briefly as the distraction it is from the mundane and more important things in life. Then its back to our national obsession. Back to our drug. Back to sleep.
The Football industry is not what it appears on the surface. At the top of the tree you have people like Christiano Ronaldo and Messi who don’t live in the real world. When Christiano Ronaldo refused to swap shirts with the Captain of Iceland in Euro 2016 it was the moment that football finally had no purpose. All the money, marketing and hype around football have created horrible moments like that. And we keep watching.
Then just below them you have hundreds of men in their 20s and 30s who have not spent a day of independence, looking after themselves. Who leave school underdeveloped and unformed. Who can blame them? They have had years of people telling them how great they are and that they don’t need to learn anything. If you still think you want to be a football watch some of the behind the scenes footage of Liverpool’s pre-season tour or the ‘Class of 92’ documentary. Most of these guys are so boring and one dimensional. The high-light of crack from the class of 92 is when Nicky Butt changes the Coke for Pepsi in the locker room. Sign me up.
Perhaps you too are latently giving up on your football dream. Perhaps you have finally accepted the cards you have been dealt in life. That’s ok. Look around you. Even if you have an ‘Average Life’ that is unreal. You may never lift the Champions League in Istanbul but you can go to Nando’s with your mates and eat awesome chicken thighs. You can go and talk rubbish in the Pub and people will listen to it. There is so much joy to be found in the world if you just clear up a little bit of space in your mind and look around. You don’t have to watch Match of the Day every night. Football can go back to being what it started out as. A bit of fun.