Aahh – the beautiful game – known to most of us Brits as “football” and to most Americans as “soccer”. To me, it is most certainly “the beautiful game”! As early as I can remember, I have had a passion for the sport. At the age of 16, I represented my home city and county (Southampton and Hampshire) back in England, at schoolboy level – having become the captain of both sides. I was also selected to play for the South of England schoolboy team, and it seemed that my dream of becoming a professional player was about to come true when Southampton Football Club signed me as a youth player and apprentice. I was being groomed to become a full professional, and during this time with “The Saints” (Southampton F.C.’s nickname), I found myself training with such international legends as Terry Paine, Ron Davies and Mike Channon. These were my boyhood heroes whom I had watched from the terraces of Southampton’s famous stadium, “The Dell”. The manager of The Saints during my time there was Lawrie McMenemy, renowned for leading the team to F.A. Cup glory in 1976. It was he and ex-Saints “Hardman” defender, John McGrath, who signed me; I have fond memories of McMenemy calling me “Big Man” during training sessions.
Southampton’s unique stadium, The Dell, was a wonderfully compact ground. The spectators were located very near the field of play, which made for a very intense atmosphere. During my days playing for the youth team, I was fortunate enough to score 2 goals at each end of that famous stadium, one with my head, and the other with my feet. These are memories that I cherish. This period in my early life was an exciting and magical time.
Alas, it was not to be that I would go all the way and make it as a professional player. After about 4 years of playing for The Saints Youth Team, I found that my heart’s desire and passion were being diverted towards music. Of course, there was no guarantee back then that I would have made the grade, and my performances on the field were beginning to suffer due to my increasing interest in pursuing a career as a musician. I have never regretted letting go of my boyhood aspirations – it was the right decision to move on, as music spoke to me in my late teens in a much deeper and more significant way.
This brings me up to the present day and the improbable, unlikely fact that I am still getting my kicks (no pun intended) playing football today – and enjoying it immensely – in and around the Los Angeles area, where I now live. I have been able to hook up with a vibrant community of other “footie” fanatics who play semi-competitive games at least twice a week. I regularly turn out for two teams – the first going under the appropriately given name of “The Geezas” – largely comprised of a motley crew of expatriate Brits. The Geezas contain three of my dearest friends who, like me, make their living in the entertainment industry. These mates are Bobby Summerfield (music composer, producer and sound designer), Eddie Sanderson (professional fine photographer) and Jim Piddock (actor, writer and producer). The other team that generously allows me to kick a ball around with them is BAFTA LA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). I was invited to play for the team by Julian Stone (theatre and film actor, writer, producer), who runs and organizes the BAFTA LA squad. The BAFTA side are truly a great bunch of lads who play the beautiful game with just the right blend of spirit and enthusiasm. Often, celebrity guests join The Geezas and BAFTA for the odd game or two: Robbie Williams, Gordon Ramsay and Rod Stewart, to name but a few. Needless to say, I have made some exceptional friends within these two teams.
In finishing, my mind jumps back to 1966 when, as a boy, I was glued to the TV set watching England win the World Cup. Now I look forward with great hope and expectation that England achieves the same success in 2010 in South Africa. Aahh – the beautiful game – long may it entertain, excite and inspire us!
“… man is made God’s play thing, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live life accordingly, and play the noblest games … What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play …”
– Plato, Laws.