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Backwords: Close Soccer Encounters

…Football took up most of every Saturday, with two matches in the day and only an hour or so in between to swallow dinner… Mike Shaw recalls the sporting times when his Saturdays were filled with football, and more football.

The cricket flannels, boots and sweaters were all washed, ironed and carefully folded away.

The tennis racket, tightened firmly in its press, was ditched at the back of the wardrobe.

And the knee-length shorts were tucked in a bottom drawer, destined not to be disturbed again for at least six months.

Summer was over and, as the autumn leaves began to fall, a change in lifestyle was signalled for us teenagers.

Out came the soccer kit, with liberally dubinned boots still wrapped in last April’s newspaper.

The table tennis equipment was dusted down, ready for use in the already darkened evenings.

And the playing cards were counted out to check there were still 52 in each pack before the games of All-Fours, Newmarket and Pontoon began in earnest.

The card schools were usually confined to Sunday evenings, with halfpennies and pennies on the table. Unless father was in one of his puritanical moods, when buttons had to be grudgingly used instead of money.

Football took up most of every Saturday, with two matches in the day and only an hour or so in between to swallow dinner.

Morning matches were for the school, which meant an early start even for home games on the Royds Hall pitch.

For some of the away fixtures we had to be up at what seemed like the crack of dawn to play Penistone or Wheelwright Grammar Schools.

Afternoon soccer was the Red Triangle League for Paddock Civic Youth Club, whose astute and vastly experienced trainer recruited a handful of Royds Hall lads.

His team-building was not strictly according to the book. So to avoid accusations that the team included non-members of the club we were persuaded to show our faces now and again at midweek sessions.

The field we played on - next to some allotments off Heaton Road - was hardly ideal for football, with a huge dip in one corner.

So deep was the sloping chasm that when I did manage a run down the right wing all I could see of our forwards was the top of their heads.

Still, as the old saying goes, I was the same for both sides. And we had some cracking matches, including one memorable 4-4 draw with table-topping opponents Holmfirth.

Holmfirth had in goal, I remember, a lad called Bob Platt who went on to play cricket for Yorkshire. And I was booked for the only time in my life when I was provoked into using a word not considered suitable for the under-16s.

A few years later, freshly demobbed from the Air Force, I resumed my local soccer career with Slaithwaite United in the District League.

But it was a short-lived comeback as I became increasingly aware of the physical dangers facing diminutive wingers.

Full-backs were mostly men mountains who regarded the ball as secondary to stopping the opposing wingmen by all-possible means, including putting them in hospital if necessary.

The oft-used sporting phrase “a bruising battle’’ was totally inadequate to describe the more primitive on-field clashes.

A positively frightening encounter with a giant full-back at Hade Edge, whose scything tackles went unpunished by the referee, was the last straw.

I hung up my boots in the firm belief that discretion was the better part of valour.


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