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Dressed for success?

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Dan Walker | 16:33 UK time, Wednesday, 21 October 2009

I was looking after the kids on Saturday afternoon. After failing miserably to get two-year-old Susie interested in Final Score (despite the comedy of the beach-ball incident) I decided it was time to chuck her and little sister Jess in the pram and head for a tour of the local shops.

We were queuing up for breadsticks in our local shopping emporium and two blokes in front of us - about 35 - were buying the nation's favourite sugary sports drink.

Susie asked me, in an awkwardly loud voice, why the men were wearing shorts. In fact, they were wearing full football kits - one West Ham and the other Chelsea. The subject of their conversation was quite entertaining. They were talking about the aforementioned beach-ball incident, which resulted in Darren Bent's shot taking a wicked deflection and beating Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal. This was the best bit...

West Ham bloke: "Did you hear about that beach-ball thing at Sunderland?"
Chelsea bloke: "I know - Benitez must have been mad. I am sure the referee should have disallowed it!"
West Ham bloke: "I have never seen anything like that before."
Chelsea bloke: "That's nothing. I was playing in a match once and a bloke hit a free kick that was going in before it hit a dog in the face."

At that point in their conversation, I laughed out loud and the two blokes became aware that I was listening in. I explained that I would have loved to have been there for the dog incident. The guy who was playing in the match assured me that the Labrador involved was unhurt and became something of a team mascot.

The conversation moved to their slightly worrying outfits and continued out of the shop. They were on their way to a football kit party where - unsurprisingly - everyone had to wear full kit. Shirts had to be accompanied by the correct shorts and socks. Shin pads were also an essential item.

Everyone who was going all played for the same football team, who had signed a strange pact when they were at school to attend this party every year until one of them turned professional. The West Ham bloke laughed. "Obviously the plan was that these get-togethers should have finished a long time ago, but we'll keep going just in case." It was at this point that I glanced down at their stomachs and wondered if the dream was now well beyond their grasp.

We said our farewells and, as they strolled off to their party, the girls and I tucked into the breadsticks and headed back. As I wandered homeward, I couldn't help thinking that there was a little bit of those blokes in everyone who has ever kicked a ball.

I lived in Crawley until I was 18 and for at least two thirds of that time I was convinced I was going to be a professional footballer. My heroes were Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle.

I used to pretend to be Hoddle for hours on end in the back garden and, at one point, even asked my parents to call me 'Glenn'. Thankfully, they declined. Even the hideous Hoddle and Waddle (or was it Glenn and Chris) collaboration on 'Diamond Lights' did little to dent my enthusiasm for the pair.

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I was actually a half-decent footballer in my younger years. Much of that was down to the fact that I am now 6ft 6in and stopped growing at about the age of 12. You know how every school team has one massive kid - normally with a beard - who is huge. Well, that was me - without the beard. I was a big unit and defenders were tugging at my shorts while I was heading in goal after goal. Anyone who has played with me beyond the age of 16 will know that I have struggled to maintain the goals-to-games ratio that made me the envy of all young lads at Three Bridges Middle School.

It was in my middle teens that I realised I wasn't going to make it as a professional footballer. There were two incidents which really sealed it. The first took place at Gatwick Airport. I can't remember why I was there, but I remember spotting Glenn Hoddle and his Swindon team-mates in a queue. Quick as a flash, I got a pen and paper and asked for a signature. I was ignored. I had spent the summer pretending to be this bloke and he'd just blanked me and my mate, Pete. Crestfallen and heartbroken, I moved away with my view of professional footballers forever bruised. There was a suggestion, made by my mum later, that perhaps he didn't hear me, but I had been pretty persistent.

The other incident was far more disappointing and including it here will only deepen the wound. Our school team - Hazelwick - were playing in the County Cup final against our fierce local rivals, Thomas Bennett. I think I was about 15 at the time.

Dan WalkerMe in my prime. Yep, I know, that's a rugby ball tucked underneath my left arm

I somehow managed to bag two goals in an inspirational 4-2 win. One of them was a tap in from three inches but it was significant moment for all involved. The report of the game made the inside pages of the fabled Crawley Observer that weekend and I sprinted to the shops to get my copy. I flicked through the paper and found the report but to my horror read this:

"The game came to life in the second half with two goals coming from Hazelwick's David Wacker". My heart sank... the biggest moment of my football career and no-one knew it was me! The only good news was that I got off lightly. Our coach, Steve Avery, was gutted to see a quote from a "Mr Ovary". Looking back, those two incidents were the nails in my footballing coffin.

And so we come back to those blokes in their full football kit. Okay, they looked ridiculous, but why let the dream die? I'll be honest, despite the fact I am spectacularly average at football, there is a small part of me that still thinks that if Fabio Capello saw me playing with the rest of the staff in the Football Focus office on a Tuesday, or with my mates from church on a Friday, he would make a mental note: "If Frank Lampard gets a knock between now and the end of the season, that bloke has got a chance of making the plane to South Africa."

I know it's stupid but every now and again when I do something tidy on a football pitch a little voice in my head thinks that Real Madrid, Barcelona or even Crawley Town might have read that report in the Crawley Observer and are still out there looking for David Wacker! It's invariably at that point that my next touch shins the ball out of play.

Friends, I know you feel the same way. Get your kits out and I'll see you next week.


  • Comment number 1.

    haha, great blog Dan. i love how down to Earth all yours are. and i agree; everyone whos ever had a kick around with their mates or alone in the back garden, at one point, has want to live the dream.

    i feel sorry for Pete and yourself though. i'd have been gutted if one of my heroes ever pulled a white one. but then again, i wonder if all that malarkey has changed now with the likes of C. Ronaldo and Torres being the targets... then again, maybe not.

    i myself am 'apparently', a good footballer. but i think thats just moral support from the lads in school. i mean, im a pretty fast runner and can usually get away with kicking the ball a hundred miles and then running after it. but im also good with the dead ball and rather nifty with ye'old circus tricks. 'round the world' and everything.

    but never in my life would i think id be playing for the likes of United, Chelsea and co.

    i wish.

    nevertheless, i'v been encouraged to carry on attending my weekly, local footy training sessions; by a cousin of mine who regrets letting his stomach turning into 'just another belly'... but not for the prospect of the big time; instead for what its all about.. the passion, the keeping healthy aspect and the sheer excitement of kicking a ball.

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh, to be 'spectacularly average'. The highlight of my footballing career was hitting the corner flag from the penalty spot in an under-8's village cup game. I also once put another penalty over the retaining fence surrounding the university pitches - a moment that will live with me forever, thanks to the goalkeeper's joyous shout of 'SPOON BOOT!"

    That said, it's all about heart, this game. You can have all the tricks in the world in your locker - I have a friend who is the only known exponent of the constant double-Cruyff - but desire and will to win always get you through, despite your almost complete lack of talent. That, or forget about real life and become brilliant at FIFA 99 instead...

  • Comment number 3.

    I remember someone saying that there are 2 distinct stages in life. The first is dreaming that you'll play pro football. When you eventually realise that it'll never happen, you're in your forties and going into stage 2...

    dreaming that your kid will play pro football.

  • Comment number 4.

    Every Thursday without fail we come together for 5 a side, as it has been since my mid teens when professional dreams died...

    Last week after 8 years of trying (in this particular league) we were crowned Champions...!

    Never stop dreaming...

  • Comment number 5.

    Love the blog Dan!!

    I've been aware of your career ever since your days at university radio, and am pleased to see how far you've got.

    I'm not the biggest footy fan in the world and had only just got to grips with the offside rule when it changed, but I really enjoy watching the show, and my football knowledge is improving week by week thanks to you. It's a regular talking point on a Monday at work. I must admit (without wanting to re-open the can of worms) we mostly discuss the shirts. I tend to be on the side of the more 'interesting' ones personally. But never mind, enough of that.

    Keep up the good work! Looking forward to next weeks blog already!

  • Comment number 6.

    Great blog. I think you're right, everyone who plays football aspires to be professional, I know I did. My journey took me to Sweden and Norway in search of it!
    Would be interesting to know, what do you think is more important when trying to make it as a pro, (obviously both would be great but..) Talent or Hard work and dedication?

  • Comment number 7.


    I can tell you from bitter experience that you can have all the dedication and hard work in the world, but if your only talent is the ability to scuff an apologetic shot at the keeper when clean through on goal, you will never amount to anything.


    I am already on to Stage Two at the tender age of 32 - my son Tommy already has the passion for football, but it remains to be seen whether he will be cursed with his old man's unique ability to kick his own standing foot from six yards out. The turning point for me was several games at Hillsborough last year when I realised that there was not a player out there in blue and white stripes who was born before me.

  • Comment number 8.

    I presume you have met, interviewed glenn since. how were you with him, and has he ever managed to redeem himself dann?

    Also, mid-teens is no time to give up on a pro career, i know people who have gone from amateur to semi-pro at the age of 18 and eventually gone into the professional game to a very high standard. You have to remember that some 16 year olds can seriously lose their way when associated professionally, and if you are trying hard with a county or semi-pro level team, then 18 - 20 is still very young to be taken on.

  • Comment number 9.

    There are plenty of players with no talent in the premiership, and how they got there is beyond me, what kills me are the ones with Talent who throw it away, Sol Cambel, Gazza, Stan Collymore, Benitez :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    kevin moran turned professional at the age of 21

  • Comment number 11.

    I used to play as Gary Lineker in the garden. When I was about 8 years old I got his autograph. He was talking to someone in the players lounge at QPR after losing with Spurs and he was obviously a bit upset, but he still signed the programmes for all the kids. In addition to getting autographs that day, I remember Paul Parkers kid was sick on the floor and I thought Erik Thorsvedt was He-Man.

    Dan, you should have been a Keeper (6ft 6!) Maybe you could still solve our keeper worries and make the plane to South Africa??

  • Comment number 12.

    It's good to see I'm not the only one still dreaming brothers and sisters.

    Sausagearms I used to play with this goon at university who had a shot we used to call 'moon boot'. I wonder if that is similar to the 'spoon boot'?

    Congratulations on the victory MobbyBartinez and MikeStar01 I think you have hit upon an interesting point there. I agree with collie21 there are so many people who have had the talent but throw it away. Robbie Savage was on the sofa last week. There is someone who freely admits that he hasn't got buckets of talent but he works his backside off... and good on him.

    Tomefccam I have interviewed Mr Hoddle a few times since and always found him to be interesting and intelligent... full redemption is still a way off though. If he sent me a bag of fig rolls all would be forgotten.

    And finally Willchimp. I would happily accept any position in Capello's team. You're right my height should help me out in the goalkeeping position the only problem is that I can't dive to my right. Not sure why... it just won't happen. I think that probably rules me out.

  • Comment number 13.

    DW wrote - "I flicked through the paper and found the report but to my horror read this:

    "The game came to life in the second half with two goals coming from Hazelwick's David Wacker". My heart sank..."

    Could of been a lot worse mate, they could of put an extra n in the middle of your misspelt surname.

    Good effort again, & nice to see you giving feedback on the comments, you went missing last week, which I thought was a bit of a shame, but I'm sure you had your reasons.

    Finally, what happened to your sweet tooth? Breadsticks are no subsitute for biscuits & do-nuts.....Mmmmmm do-nuts.

  • Comment number 14.

    Just had Glenn Hoddle on the phone. He said he would have sent you the fig rolls, but he believes that your inability to dive to the right makes you disabled, and hence atoning for sins in a previous life.

    That Hoddle!

  • Comment number 15.

    As a youngster, and I know we all say it, I honestly beleive that I was good enough to be a pro, definately at lower league level. I just never got spotted. My mate in school was on Arsenals books and he kept Paul Merson out of the reserves, him and Niall Quinn up front every week, he once said that I was the most difficult opponent in the school and invited me to come to watch him at Arsenal training, for whatever reason I didnt go and here I am 25 years later after a very successful Sunday league career working shifts, OH well, theres always living the dream through my 2 boys.

  • Comment number 16.

    Great blog dan, really enjoyable read:)
    I was on the books at Mansfield Town for 7 years, from the age of 7 to 14. I was told i had "talent" just didnt work hard enough to achieve what people had expected. Which was really hard to take, after football being all i'd dreamt of. Im now almost 17, and playing a good standard in the 1st division of the Nottingham youth league, and have never moved on from even trying to be a semi proffesional in the future. Its true when people say they will never stop dreaming of that moment, putting on the club shirt.
    I hope that one day the hard work may pay off somebody may give me that one chance every boy wants...:)

  • Comment number 17.

    Holloway2Holland you're right there partner... I suppose I did get away with David Wacker!

    You're right I did go walkabout last week. It was a combination of computer woes, a day off and foolish business. As way of an apology I promise never to touch a bread-stick again.

    I am sure there are a lot of people who feel your pain ALLYJOHN and don't give up JoeMansfield19... you're only 16. Don't forget collie21's wise words about Kevin Moran!

  • Comment number 18.

    A good blog Danny boy.

    Alas my my career highlight is probably getting wacked in the face and knocked out as a one man wall for my local Sunday team. Still, I stopped the goal I suppose.

    I now like to think of myself as and old fashioned no nonsense defender but others say I'm merely a hacker. Bah. Whadda they know.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hoddle is obviously quite a deep individual, I don't think this should detract from the fact that he definately is a very interestingcharacter, and has some excellent views on football. If only he'd stayed at chelsea around 5 more years and took over the england job then, with the likes of beckham, owen, scholes, ferdinand etc in their peak. if only...

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi Dan, nice blog very true, my footballing highlight came when I was ten and won a penalty shootout for the team, it has all been down hill from there but everytime I kick a stone or a leaf(it is Autumn) I still wonder if Sir Alex is secreting looking! Love FF but can I make a suggestion that you do a feature like behind the scenes at the clubs? Like match day at Old Trafford what goes on, kind of like what they do on MOTD 2. They are great, its brilliant to see what goes on that you never see

  • Comment number 21.

    realronburgundy it's all about taking one for the team sometimes. Glad to see you can look on the positive side of being knocked out.

    Very much agree with you Tomefccam on Hoddle. He does know what he's talking about and I wonder whether he will ever get a top job again.

    There is something great about catching a stone perfectly isn't there DarellD? It's like the old bouncing ball scenario. No matter where you are if a ball comes towards you in the right way you can't stop yourself from hitting it as hard as you can on the half-volley. I once saw my dad do it at a kids party. Caught a young lad full in the gut but - despite the concern for his welfare - we all knew it was a great strike.

  • Comment number 22.

    Forgot to say DarellD... fully behind you with the behind the scenes stuff. The more the better. I will pass on your thoughts to the chief.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Dan, great blog! A very entertaining read, although I was a bit suprised that I had to follow quite a few links to find it! Surely a good blog like this should be easier to find on the BBC? Sort it out!!

  • Comment number 24.

    Great blog Dan! I normally write under name of SylvesterMate, but somehow managed to lock myself out!

    Yes, I too was a great footballer in my younger years - still love playing. I have managed to find my orange and brown Nigerian kit from the 80's - not sure if I can still get in in, but will give it a go - see you next week for a quick game!!

    Even my girlfriend (who never wants to know anything about football) loves reading your blogs - so you must be doing something right!! Keep it up!!

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks for the nice comments people of the internet.

    I am not sure why things change from one week to the next HannahBigFace. Sometimes there is a link on the main sport page, sometimes on the football page but occasionally we make you work to find it.

    Sadly I have no control over all that. I would imagine that is the domain of the web uber fuhrer. I will try and get someone in a headlock and make sure it's easier to find next week.

    Glad to hear your girlfriend is enjoying the blogs SilverSlai. If I keep it up maybe soon she'll let you watch Match of the Day!

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm only 16. A average footballer with a big belly (Not a good start). But i have passion and i think i have the off-the-ball attributes to be a good player.

    But i have never played for a team. Apart from 5 a side. My highlight in 5 a side is scoring 7 in 7 for midfielder. But suffered a goal drought for at least 4 months. But im lethal with my left foot. Hurt two players out using the ball. One in the face and One in the unwanted area(that was against a teammate.)

    Highlight in proper football would be curling a 30 yard free kick with a bunch of friends.

    Check out old school mate named Ryan Wilson he is in Stockport Academy. He is really amazing by far the best at my old secondary school.


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