End Of An Era – 1994 to 2017


Above left - an early photo. Above right - my last photo.

I retired from football at the weekend.

I had expected my first blog post here to be maybe some incisive run down of the best kits of the 1970s or a look back at cult footballing heroes or even an analysis of the amazing 1988-89 First Division Season.

But no it will simply be a reflection on what turned out to be a surprisingly emotional day for me after I played my last game of football after 23 years for the same team (30 if you count the time I played for the Junior Team).

I think the reason I feel so reflective and emotive about it is the sheer amount of change that has happened in this period and the fact that it has made me further aware that I am now fast approaching (or maybe I have reached) middle age.

Above left – an early photo. Above right – my last photo.

ALL CHANGE

I made my debut for the men’s team in 1994 a month after I turned 15 and right in the middle of Wet Wet Wet’s almost record breaking run at Number 1 in the UK with Love Is All Around and as I was still doing my GCSEs.

Since then I’ve completed my GCSEs, done my A Levels, gone to University (coming back every now and then to play for the team) and come home, seen my mum die, started jobs and left jobs, gone travelling for the best part of two years, had two cruciate knee injuries and developed from a 15 year old boy into a 37 year old man.

When I started playing in 1994 the Manager would ring us at home to tell us if we were in that weekend’s squad or not – this was before mobile phones, or email or Facebook. If it was an away game we would all meet at our home ground where we would pick up photocopied sheets from a roadmap showing where the pitch was (no Sat Nav’s or smartphones) and then all attempt to keep in convoy to get to the ground (again no mobile phones if someone got lost or would be late).

When the game had been played we would have to wait until the local paper came out the following Friday to find out the other results in our division, no checking results on the internet.

In 1994 the average UK house price was £68,000 now it is £216,750 and the average pint of beer cost £1.58 and now is £3.47. 1994 was the year Friends started, the year Forrest Gump came out, the year Oasis released Definitely Maybe. That same year the Channel Tunnel opened, OJ Simpson fled Police and the subsequent slow car chase was watched by millions – one of the first live news stories, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Lidl opened their first UK stores, the first National Lottery draw took place and of course I made my competitive debut in men’s football!

A DECLINE IN STANDARDS?

Over the years I have had opportunities to move on to local clubs who would pay me to play, but it never appealed as it would mean a lot more travelling and leaving the happy friendly atmosphere of the club I was at. Also the money involved was hardly enough to make it much of an incentive!

In that time I’ve seen the local leagues go from flourishing to struggling. When I started playing there were five divisions in the District League, that number had gradually decreased and this season it was down to one division. That one division will become none very soon as the League is folding completely. I played on a Sunday when there were seven leagues, that has now gone down to four.

Maybe there are too many other distractions now for young people who would otherwise play football. However I think facilities and access to quality coaching has improved, so I don’t think the situation is as bad as it initially seems.

Swanmead photo
Above: The Field of Dreams

MY LAST GOODBYE

I hadn’t really give much thought to my last game until the day arrived itself. As I got myself ready for the game last Saturday morning I kept thinking that after all these years this was going to be the last time I would go through all these little rituals – having my porridge for breakfast, packing my kitbag, having some toast for lunch.

I got to the ground and another wave of realisation washed over me as players shook my hand and talked about how this would be my last game. Suddenly I felt quite detached from reality as I got myself changed and went to warm up.

We came back into the changing room. I was made captain on my last appearance and the manager talked about my commitment and dedication to the club which ended with the squad applauding me.

As I led the players onto the pitch I thought of my first training session, which took place in the same location all those years ago, how my dad dropped me off (I was too young to drive obviously) and I nervously trooped over to join all the ‘men’ training. Now I was about ten years older than anyone else in my team and had been playing for the team longer than a lot of the current squad had been alive!

The referee shook my hand and said ‘I understand this is your last game?’, we lined up for the pre-game hand shake with the opposition and then we were off.

THE END

The game flew by. I’d started men’s football as a centre-forward, moved back to centre-midfield where I’d played most of my career, but for the last two seasons I’d been playing centre-back. I was up against an 18 year old but thankfully matched him stride for stride and he didn’t get past me once.

My enduring memory of my last game will be as I’d taken the ball off of my young opponent again and I heard one of the supporters on the sideline say to the young lad, ‘Get away from the centre-back you are not going to get anything against him’.

With a little over ten minutes to go and with us winning 2-0, the ball went out of play and I heard our manager ask to make a sub, “Stevie” he said, touchingly every player (on my team at least!) erupted into applause and shook my hand as I walked off the pitch for the last time. I heard the manager shouting “23 years of class” which was both affectionate and embarrassing at the same time. And then it was done, 23 years of a career finished.

Players shook my hand in the dressing room, I was named as Man of the Match and I actually felt a little overwhelmed. After mingling in the club house for a while I headed home where I sat and reflected on the day and the previous 23 years, how much had changed but also how much had stayed the same.

The past 23 years have flown by, but the scary thing is, in 23 years time I will be 60… Yikes!

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10 Comments

  1. Randy407
    April 21, 2017
    Reply

    Very interesting BIO and your site is full of information and products, just wanted to say thanks and I think I should go jersey hunting. Content was good with graphics the colors worked well as it was easy to read, and the paragraph spacing was good. I like the real pics it adds that personal touch which you don’t see a lot anymore. Thanks Steve

    Randy

    • April 21, 2017
      Reply

      Appreciate that, thanks Randy. Plenty of jerseys out there so I am sure you will have no problem finding something you really like!

      All the best,

      Steve

  2. Craig
    April 29, 2017
    Reply

    This is a really good story of your life in football and one that many people can relate to. The world has changed so much in the years since your career started and it was really touching to share some of your memories, both good and bad.

    I am sure you will be disappointed that your playing career has ended but I really hope you stay involved in football. One of the reasons junior football has declined is the rise of football on the tv and less people care about local teams due to the fact they can watch el classico and the manchester derby at home.

    People like you need to be involved to inspire the next generation to get involved in the beautiful game.

    • April 29, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you for your nice comments Craig – I agree regarding the decline in junior football, I will definitely be staying involved in some way!

  3. John
    May 14, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Steve,

    I can relate to everything in your post, I played for my primary school then secondary school team, junior team and mens league. Having three sons the cycle started again.
    Your story is very interesting and to play for one club all your playing career, I congratulate your loyalty. I think I retired around 1990, so quite a bit older than you. You had cruciate injuries, nasty.
    I was lucky enough to be injury free apart from the usual sprained ankles etc..
    Great post, a really enjoyable read.

    John

    • May 15, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks John – your kind comments are much appreciated. Is amazing how quickly times passes isn’t it? Must be quite nostalgic for you reliving those times with your sons playing as well.

      All the best,

      Steve

  4. Norman
    May 16, 2017
    Reply

    Hello and thanks for sharing, this is a famous sport that is enjoyed by so many people worldwide. But to have a football collection is just so cool
    Because not only will you have a cool collection but the memories that it brings back of the good old days is just so amazing.
    I am sure that those who visits your website will like what you are offering

    • May 16, 2017
      Reply

      Thank you Norman, appreciate the kind words!

  5. Lynne
    November 7, 2017
    Reply

    It’s nice to get some insight into your life and your passion for football Steve.

    I’m sorry to hear about your mom!

    I’m sure that it must have been quite sad to leave playing after all those years, there’s the fun and excitement of the game, but also the companionship too.

    1994 was also the start of many things for me, all of them bad news. It would have been nice if it was sport that I got involved with!

    • November 7, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks Lynne 🙂

      You are so right that it is not just the playing but also the companionship that I will miss.

      Sometimes the bad stuff just opens your eyes to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to – we have all changed a lot since 1994 I think 🙂

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