In this post, I've spooned together a themed life-narrative of a Social Research Methods and Statistics graduate who still wants to be a footballer.
Like most boys in the country, my relationship with football started early. There was enough space in our garden for my brother and I to stage premier league games, and our neighbours were patient enough to throw our wayward shots back over the fence. At school, inaccurate shots were usually just underneath an imaginary crossbar and every lunchtime my school-shoe skills would earn me serious social currency.
I'd play for a team at weekends, although I didn't look forward to it as much as playground football. Real football could be cold, muddy and the midlife-crisis dads cared too much if we lost. Football training was fitness training, where we'd mostly warm up or put down cones. Sundays consisted of car shares to villages and attempts to win headers against post-puberty teens twice my tiny size. Regardless, I'd still proudly tell people who I played for and regularly daydreamed about the goals I'd scored.
I could do things with a football. I could bring the ball from in tow to on toe before weaving at speed to leave a defender rooted to the spot. Football could make me move without thinking, and it made other people like me. I'd win high-fives or get vocal confirmation I'd done something good. On the pitch I was worth something. My love for football didn't come from team spirit or winning matches. It came from being creatively absorbed in the ball at my feet but also the egoistic affirmation that it could earn.
At 16, I started meeting people who didn't know I was good at football. This shouldn't have been a problem, but my on-pitch persona had become an important part of who I was off it. Football had made me notoriously cheeky and dangerously cocky, which are not qualities that go well with someone who's also painfully shy. I didn't feel comfortable absorbing the bravado of sport into my identity, which seemingly becomes a necessity in post-childhood football.
I took a disinterest in following football. As a child I'd been a keen supporter heavily invested in the results. In adulthood, the emotional investment needed to support a team seemed absurd, and amateur punditry became boring. I still liked watching good football, but couldn't care which team won. I felt distanced from those who cared about the beautiful game, despite the fact that football was what made me happy.
I spent thousands of hours playing in the garden; at school; at weekends and round the house I still move from room to room with a ball at my feet. As a child, football was how I socialised, made friends and gained self-esteem. It was my social crutch that was taken away in adulthood. Every time I meet someone new, they don't know I'm good at football and it makes me feel inadequate.