“I’ve got you a pair of boots,” said his father upon his return home from work that Tuesday evening. His selection for the team had come as a total surprise as he was much younger than the other boys and his ability wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. His father realised he was probably there more for his eagerness than anything else. He brought them home the next day. They were stiff black plastic with two blue stripes down either side and each one had eleven moulded studs. Size ones. They’d been dug out of the back of Bob North’s gas cupboard where they’d been forgotten about and they had that tart waxy smell, the same smell as his Grandad’s workshop and the PE store at school and other places that were starved of fresh air and daylight.
Weekends back then consisted of the Sports Report, John Helm and trips to a tiny little programme shop run by a short fat friend of his father’s called Bill. This one would be different. He was the smallest boy in the changing room on that Saturday morning. He looked round at the others with their broad shoulders and shin pads and he was absolutely terrified. His blue and yellow jersey was too big for him and it made him itch. He wore it outside of his shorts because he had ideas above his station, living in his own little dream world until the teacher who coached the team told him to tuck it in. As they ran out from the changing room everyone’s studs click-clacked on the tarmac that led to the pitch, and it was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard. It was October, and the autumn air was dense and still, the sort of atmosphere that has been consigned to the archives of memory and doesn’t exist anymore. The grass still had the morning dew on it because it was still morning and he stood on the right wing, noticing how the sound of the ball being struck didn’t reach his ears until a couple of seconds after it left his team mates boot, so thick was the air, and so enormous seemed the field. They lost five-three. He had played a weak back pass which had lead to their fourth goal but other than that he had been quite pleased with his performance. He felt good as he made the short walk home, swinging his boot bag by his side and bending down every few yards to pick up a useful sized horse chestnut.
He spent the afternoon reading his copy of Shoot magazine, and drawing a picture of Peter Beardsley on a piece of printer paper. After eighteen months he’d made the right-wing position his own, with his younger brother coming in to play behind him at right full-back. His father bought him some new boots for his tenth birthday, leather ones with screw-in studs, and the old ones that he’d made his debut in once again were thrown to the back of a gas cupboard to be starved of fresh air and daylight. And forgotten about.