The wonder of Wembley
Happy New Year everyone! I am currently considering ways to get rid of my little Christmas gut. I think there might be a gym membership on the cards and some sort of fig roll-free zone until March.
Anyway, this week's offering needs a disclaimer. There will be some people mentioned in here that many will consider famous. There will be several mentions in here of me playing football with these so-called "famous" types. Under no circumstances does this mean that I am:
a) lost in showbiz;
b) turning into a celebrity-loving fool;
c) struggling to remove my head from my own backside.
Now we have got that sorted, let us continue. A few weeks ago I got a phone call from a lovely lady at Umbro. She left me a message on the mobile of dreams. It went something like this:
"Hi Dan. It's Ronaldinho here from Umbro (I have changed her name to protect her identity). I was just planning game at Wembley next week and I wondered whether you wanted to take part. There are loads of people who want to play so if you can let me know asap that would be great."
I was in a dilemma. Should I ring Ronaldinho back immediately and betray my cool exterior or should I leave it a few days? I thought about playing it cool for approximately 11 seconds before the fear of not playing hit me like a left hook from Manny Pacquiao. I caved in and rang Ronaldinho (just a reminder that that is not her real name) straight back. I was in.
Even though the game was 10 days away, I found myself thinking about it with alarming regularity. I had a few games of football pencilled in before then, but all my thoughts were directed towards Wembley. I've come to the conclusion that footballers are talking rubbish whenever they trot out the cliché about taking "one game at a time".
My mind went back to the only time I had previously played on a proper pitch. It was at Old Trafford in 2003, when a Manchester United backroom team took on a Media XI. They had David Gill playing for them upfront and had never lost a game.
Letting fly - unfortunately the ball flew wide
Lou Macari, our manager, sent us out of the dressing room feeling 10ft tall. I set up James Cooper from Sky Sports News for our opening goal and then, 10 minutes before half-time, came the chance I had been waiting for.
An attempted clearance from the United kitman hit me on the chin and bounced perfectly into my path as I burst through the defence (it was more of a waddle past a bloke with a dodgy hip). I was one-on-one with the keeper.
Looking back, I could have easily rolled the ball into the far corner, but I went for power, a decision I still regret to this day. My shot whistled the wrong side of the post and we went on to lose 9-2 with an annoyingly good Gill getting a double hat-trick.
This time, I was determined that my preparation would be perfect. I even considered taking the concept of a pre-match meal seriously for once. That all went to pot when the fiends at my local supermarket were offering 2-for-1 on chocolate croissants.
I turned up at Wembley about 90 minutes before kick-off and went out to inspect the playing surface. To be fair, it had seen better days and looked as though a slightly dodgy gardener had tried to turf Bournemouth beach. But that didn't matter, it was Wembley. And I was going to play on it.
I went back inside to meet some of my team-mates. I was playing in a side made up largely of Reverend and The Makers. Hairy frontman Jon "The Reverend" McClure had driven a mini-bus down from Sheffield with five other band members in it. Simon Webbe, of Blue fame, and Danny from McFly were playing up front while two lads from Umbro made up the 11.
The other lot had Max Rushden from Sky, various other musical types and a bloke who looked remarkable like DI Burnside from The Bill but said he worked for a publishing company. I still think it was a cover story.
The dressing rooms were immaculate, the kit supreme and the boots pristine. For a moment, I felt like a professional. Then I went out for the warm-up and shinned my first touch into a fire extinguisher.
Jon from Reverend and The Makers was complaining about the size of his shorts. He looked like he had been shoe-horned into them from a great height and his comment of "you can see me full duds" in perfect Yorkshire will live with me for a long time.
As soon as the game kicked off, I totally forgot about the empty 80,000 seats around us and got on with the business in hand. I won't bore you with all the details, but I will summarise the 90 minutes, from a very selfish perspective, in five points.
1. We won 5-3.
2. I was playing in midfield and set up two of our five goals (one was a miss-hit pass but don't tell anyone).
3. My only chance came in the first half and, rather than square the ball to Simon Webbe, I chose to shoot. Guess what? The ball whistled the wrong side of the post!
4. When Danny from McFly rattled in our fourth goal, I went to celebrate with him but got slightly distracted and missed with the right hand of an attempted double high-five. Instead of the intended palm-on-palm action, I inserted by thumb in his right eye, forcing him to leave the pitch. Not quite Steve Morrow but still pretty nasty.
5. Jon's shorts somehow managed to get tighter as the match progressed! By the end, they looked like spray-ons.
When the final whistle went, hugs and handshakes were exchanged, photographs were taken and two-yard tap-ins almost immediately became 20-yard screamers.
After a fish-and-chip supper and a passionate victory speech from our skipper, I thanked Umbro and disappeared into the night. If I ever get invited back I will jump at the chance, but, until such time, I shall bask in the glory of a perfect record at Wembley.
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