Football first entered my radar during Euro ’96.
There was something so special about that tournament. Three Lions on a shirt! For the first time I could see what every other boy loved about football. Shearer and Sheringham destroying the Dutch, Seaman’s heroics from the penalty spot, Gazza missing the ball by a gnat’s eyelash against the Germans.
Despite the tournament ending in heartbreak for England, I made a conscious decision to become a football fanatic. The main problem was that I didn’t have a club to support. With my parents not really following any particular team I turned to my Bolton born-and-bred Godfather Chris for advice.
“There’s only one team to follow young Tom,” Chris wisely said to the young me in his softly reassuring Lancashire accent, “and that’s Bolton Wanderers.”
I nodded in enthusiastic agreement. Wow! Bolton Wanderers. They sounded so exotic. I made an oath that day to follow Bolton through thick and thin, but in retrospect perhaps I should have made a couple of checks first. Like the fact that Bolton is over 200 miles away from my home in Hertfordshire. Or that the team had just finished bottom of the Premiership with a record low points total.
Chris took me to see Bolton away at Oxford for my first ever match. This was the day I inexplicably fell truly and utterly head over heels in love with football.
Oxford United 0-0 Bolton Wanderers. It was a school night in November. The Manor Ground. A creaky, dilapidated old terraced barnyard. Doesn’t exist anymore, it got demolished. There’s a hospital there now I think.
I was only 10. What can I remember? Think. Think. Nothing. Think harder! I can’t remember what happened last week, let alone what happened 15 years ago.
I remember… the cold. It was cold. On my feet especially. Why the feet? I was wearing two pairs of socks as well.
I remember it wasn’t what I had expected a football match to be like. The ground was smaller, much smaller. It was less glamorous. It was gloomy. It was grey and ugly.
I remember… Scott Sellars running up to take a corner, catching my eye, and winking at me. It was cool at the time. Seems a bit creepy now thinking back about it.
I remember… the swearing. Lots of swearing. Mainly at the ref, poor bloke. He wasn’t that bad.
I remember the chants. “We’re the one and only Wanderers!” We weren’t of course. There was Wolves. And one more, Wycombe was it? I even knew that and I was only 10. “Super, Super John! Super, Super John! Super, Super John! Super John McGinlay!” That was a good one. He was pretty super.
I remember the frustration towards the manager Colin Todd. Why was he taking Johansen off? He’s been our best player! I could be a better manager than him. And I was only 10.
I remember longing for a goal. Please. Just one! 0-0 was the scoreline I dreaded. It’s worse than a defeat in some ways. My prayers weren’t answered. I didn’t get a goal.
I remember having a pie. It was nicely steaming in my hands, heating my frosty fingers and promising to warm my stomach. But it was cold on the inside. Not cooked enough. That pissed me off. I remember that clearly. Poor me. I was only 10.
No goals. Freezing cold night. Crap pie. Crap ground. Crap match.
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