I’ll Go Schillaci

Growing up in a village did have certain advantages as a child. One of those was definitely the abundance of grass near your house.

We moved around a bit when I was younger, but by the time we finally settled down I was one of those kids who wanted to be out playing at every opportunity. I didn’t have many friends, but those I did were usually of the same like-minded thinking as myself. So that meant that if we were out, we usually had a ball to kick around. The choice would normally come down to which patch of grass you could get away with playing on this time.

You see, for all there was an abundance of grass around, there was also an abundance of “NO BALL GAMES” signs up on those patches of grass. It seems that one of the earliest lessons you learn as a kid is that there’s always someone willing to piss on your chips. Of course, these signs were treated with the disdain they deserved.

Actually, in one of the greatest ironies of my childhood, while most of these signs tended to be up on walls and fences there was one particular sign that was put up on it’s own post. This post was positioned in the middle of the grass, but conveniently far enough down that it stood next to the last of several similar height trees – and just the right distance from that last tree so as to make for an excellent set of goalposts. Also, since the sign was in the middle of the grass, it was far enough away from the gardens of residents who might burst your ball if it landed in their garden.

However, we didn’t always make use of these posts. For one thing, you would spend a lot of time chasing after the ball after shooting. Sometimes you’d want to spend more time practicing your latest bit of skill so you would turn 90 degrees and make use of the fenced off electricity substation instead. A couple of jumpers for goalposts and the fence would stop any on target shots. Mind you, shoot too high and you were risking life and limb climbing that fence.

To this day I don’t know how dangerous those substations actually are, but since they were usually fenced off with a large margin the ball never seemed to stop anywhere near the actual substation. The fence wasn’t even that difficult to climb.

No, the far greater danger in that scenario was the aforementioned ball bursting residents’ garden. Then you would have to sneak into the garden and sneak back out again as quickly as possible, hoping that no one noticed. Too many wayward shots and your were risking having to do a runner if the aforementioned resident fancied coming out to deal with you and not just the ball.

Oddly, the third option we had on another patch of grass had pretty much the best of both worlds. In this case it was two well positioned, larger trees that made for goals, as well as the fence of another angry resident. Unfortunately this resident never, ever seemed to be out of the house. That and the fact that grass actually went down into a dip before it got to the fence meant there was a much higher risk of the ball ending up in the garden and being caught before you could sneak in and retrieve it.

This is why, as a kid, I learned to keep shots down by keeping your body over the ball.

Yeah, you’re all laughing now thinking of that video of me at Celtic Park again. Somewhere along the line I clearly forgot! A shot like that would never have seen the ball retrieved back then.

Of course, when there’s not many of you then you’re limited as to what you can do. Often there was only two of us, so we generally took it in turns to go in goals while the other would beat imaginary defenders before trying to put the ball past the real life goal keeper. As sad as that might portray my childhood I had a lot of fun on these days. Besides, this is where your imagination would fill in.

On other days, there was a group of us and we’d head for the actual football pitch. Well, I say actual football pitch… in truth it was an ash pitch – otherwise known as red blaze. Yes, in Scotland where the weather often sucks, our all weather alternative before astroturf was an awful substance that could rip the skin off you if you tried a slide tackle AND leave dirty residue just to make that gash even worse.

But this was actually one of our favoured choices. The fact it was a full size pitch meant more than one game could be going on. If you got a good spot, you got a nice big fence to play again. No chance of shooting over this thing! Indeed, the fence stretched around the whole goal line at one end and then round the corners. This was actually a really handy set up because the bits around the corners had goals painted on them. Sometimes we’d have enough people to get a proper game going and those were the best days.

Especially when you were in goal at one end and punted the ball at just the right time to catch out your opponent in the other goal. That goal was one of the highlights of my childhood!

However, that needed a lot of people and usually involve getting together the slightly younger – but better – kids that lived nearby. We were pretty poor, but these boys were playing for boys clubs, so the age difference and ability difference tended to cancel each other out and make for a decent game. The far more frequent games though were improvised and only needed one goal.

On a good day we’d get a game of “doubles” where one person would be the goalkeeper while teams of two would try and score a couple of goals to progress to the next round until there were only two teams left. On a lesser day you’d be playing “singles” where you would show off your individual skills with much the same goal as “doubles”. A lot of people I know call these style of games “world cuppie”, in which case you would pick which international team you wanted to be – normally tied to whoever your favourite player was at the time.

During games like these, whether it was just the two of you or several more, you wouldn’t be playing in the park. You’d be playing in front of a packed stadium, beating one defender after another. You wouldn’t even be yourself, you’d be one of the greats of the day. In my day I loved to “go” Marco Van Basten, or for one delightful World Cup in 1990, I’d “go” Toto Schillaci.

For that was a key point. You couldn’t all be the same person. Once someone had shouted those infamous words – “I’ll go Schillaci” then he was out and you had to pick someone else to “go”. If you weren’t fast then you’d soon find yourself shouting “I’ll go McCoist”. Do that and you knew you were going out in the first round of “singles”.

It wasn’t just internationals though. Sometimes you brought it back home. I distinctly remember “going” Charlie Nicholas at one point. Not even in his good first spell at Celtic, I mean his “playing with a stookie” period in the 1990s! Of course, during those days when it was just the two of you then the outfielder would have to play out an imaginary game all on his own. So while you were “going” Nicholas you’d be determined to score, but then you’d switch to “going” McCoist and suddenly your shot would look like a back pass. Celtic always won these games – far more often than the real team tended to win those games in the early 1990s.

Now that I’m grown up – or supposedly grown up at least – you tend not to “go” players any more. Whereas in the early 1990s I’d be out all day playing game after game, “going” player after player, and then doing it all again the following day, nowadays I play for an hour and I’m knackered for days afterwards. I’m always myself as well, you won’t catch me or anyone I play with shouting “I’ll go Messi” or even “I’ll go Griffiths”.

Admittedly, there’s enough people with kids these days that I play football with that we could all be Griffiths. We’ve probably all sung songs we shouldn’t have too, but that’s another blog.

I must admit, I miss those days. There’s a lot about my childhood that I’m glad I’ve long since left behind, but those days were brilliant. Hopefully some day I’m watching my own son do exactly the same, although given where I live now I’ve yet to see a single kid out playing with a ball I do have to wonder about the state of our kids. Either that or I live in the wrong area for that these days.

Mind you, it might not be just that. I was back through where I grew up at the weekend and none of the places I played football on are available any more! The no ball games post has gone, flattened to be used as a car park for new housing contractors who were building nearby. The angry resident who never seemed to be out has somehow extended his garden into the area where we used to play! I’m assuming he did that for a reason and not just to stop kids playing there once and for all. Even the red blaze pitch has been re-purposed to include a small playground right in the middle of the bit with the fence. Simply put, everywhere I used to play football is gone.

Sadly, more often than not now, the cries of “I’ll go Messi” come in bedrooms in front of Playstations and X-Boxes. But I’m doing my part. My son is already the kind of kid who wants to be outside, and I couldn’t be more happy about that. In fact, my in-laws who help us out with child care a lot are probably to thank for that as well. They’re probably even more keen that he’s the outdoor sort than I am!

I’m not going to say that I hope my son is the next Lionel Messi – indeed if he’s inherited his father’s football skills he’s more likely to Messy than Messi – but if he’s spending his entire summer holidays from school outside playing football like I did as a kid then I’ll be delighted.

And I can’t wait to find out which players he’s decided to “go”.

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About Krys

I rant. On twitter, at work, on message boards... well, now I rant here too.

Posted on 21 April 2015, in Football, Memories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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