The Twelfth Man

[September 2015 – I’m playing again…]

As another year passes, it strikes me that if I were professional football player I’d be in the prime of my career. Further, if I were a professional footballer at Arsenal I’d be looking ahead to tomorrow with a passion to make an impact, and to – as my father would say – have a say.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter, or who has taken notice of the favicon image that displays near the address bar when you visit this blog, will notice my fondness for the number 12. On the one hand it’s a nod to my belief in the power, joy and community of sporting support. But on the other – more impacting one – it’s a firm point at my days as a club player in SE London/NW Kent. I played in very competitive and then, as the years moved on, less and less competitive leagues.

I played in teams against Liam Ridgewell and Ben May. I won some trophies (the now defunct London Youth FA Cup being the crowning glory), had some great moments, and scored a few smart goals. From the age of five until the age of 16 I pursued my dream of  being a footballer, but in reality the closest I ever got was a failed borough trial and a dead leg.

I was never quite goo..well, determined enough. Often the first name on the bench in the days before squad numbers, I wore number 12. More recently, in Sunday League, I stuck with it as a nostalgic nod to my footballing past. And, should I ever get a number on the back of an Arsenal shirt, that’ll be it.

Of course these days I’m old enough to realise that I didn’t have the bite required to make it anywhere past the amateur level. My father (and others, less biased, believe me) told me I had all the skill (blog names don’t magic themselves up), but not the controlled aggression. Absent in me was the warrior attitude looked for in youth players of the late 80s/early 90s. Then I hit my mid- teens and, already demoralised, had a growth spurt and was well on the way to Mertesacker heights. A winger, over 6ft? No chance. I stopped playing, and only returned years later for what I knew was just the joy of the sport.

Becoming a professional footballer. A young, naive, pipe dream it may have been, but it doesn’t make me care less about football. I’ve realised that I shouldn’t let heavy defeats beat me up. That I have another profession to pursue and can detach a little to safer, sane grounds. And these days, I’m doing just that in the hope I can strike at some quite different goals.

But, Arsenal, all of this doesn’t make me want to be on the pitch at the Emirates very much less. Like Gazza at the end of his career feeling he could “still do a job” when obviously his time had passed, it doesn’t stop me seeing the balls I’d attempt to play when watching games, and it doesn’t stop the irrational hope that somewhere in an alternative universe a version of me may have achieved what I couldn’t.

I’m writing this now because Arsenal’s season has a chance to kick-start tomorrow. And if, by the slimmest chance, any of the players managed to come across this piece, I’d want them all to know not that I’m unhappy I didn’t make it to a position where I could have a say on the pitch tomorrow. But that I am happy they’re in a position in which they can. I’d want them to know that all of us Gooners, all of us 12th men and women, are behind them. And that this time next year another year will have passed.

Time waits for no man. It won’t be sympathetic to unfulfilled dreams. It won’t ever do you any favours. Yet it will let you “have a say”.

Arsenal, make no mistake, we’ve a massive game tomorrow. So guys, go out on the pitch and do what millions of us that can’t be out there wish they could. Try to have a say. And we will love you for it.

Arsenal vs Man Utd Sun 1st May 2011
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Author: AllTheSkill

One time fleet-footed wing-wizard. Now weekend super-sub, and occasional blogger.

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