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* ORM *

Emma Bunton's No. 1 stalker, Adam Barretts No. 1 f
Nov 7, 2003
Flying the flag for SUFC in Sai Kung, Hong Kong
Saturday 12th May sees me play my last competitive football game. That will have been 42 years of league football since my old teacher at Westleigh Junior School entered us in the Southend Junior league back in 1976.

Since then I make it I have played for 16 different clubs in 15 different leagues. Football has taken me all over Essex, Hertfordshire, Greater London and now Hong Kong. I’ve also played in salubrious places like Hemsby and Skegness as well as Brecon Beacons. I’ve even played for a convicted paedophile!

As well as the usual sprains and dead legs I’ve broken toes, torn both ankle ligaments, dislocated a kneecap, fractured metatarsal, torn a cruciate ligament, torn hamstrings, groin strain, displaced a collar bone but thankfully never broken my leg.

Started off as a right back then had a few seasons as a number 9. I know some that know me will find this hard to believe but my favourite memory of that time is me scoring all 4 goals in a 4-3 cup win. After moving on from that team I pretty much played as a full back until I started playing adult football.

From that day to now I played practically everywhere though in recent years most often centre back, full back or defensive/wide midfielder. At under 11 stone I’m lighter now than I’ve been for over 30 years, without that I think I’d have given up years ago.

Proudest achievement was setting up ShrimperZone FC (a team of Southend United supporters) with the invaluable help and support of many. A club that at one stage had 3 teams and a ladies team with the first team gaining some degree of success. For me it wasn’t just the on the field stuff but the club spirit, social side and the great laughs along the way. At one stage I held the record for the longest player who hadn’t scored a goal. I then got 2 in 2 games and I’m still convinced to this day I scored in the next one and the ball went through a hole in the net. I never scored for them again!

I’ve played football at Roots Hall (the home of football, Southend United!), Luton, QPR and Wembley. Not quite the same as Leigh Marshes, Waterside Farm in the 80s and Hackney Marshes. Definitely not the same as Wanstead Flats with fresh cow **** on the pitch making you think twice about a sliding tackle.

Out here in HK even the facilities at the worst pitch I’ve played on would put England to shame. Most pitches are Astro, most have big changing rooms and hot showers, most are in stadiums.

The last few weeks of this season was the first time I realised it was finally one season too far. I’ve still played a part in a team with a great bunch of lads in HK from Samurai Blue who I joined 5 years back. I also helped some of the old players set up a separate team a couple of years back and they are going strong. This season Samurai have had the best season in our history only a couple of wins short of gaining promotion to the top flight. I also joined a Veterans team earlier this year with one eye on next season.

When I told my wife I was retiring from football she laughed and said I’ve been saying that for years. However this time is different. Though my head is just as enthusiastic as it was in 1976 my brain is telling me it’s finally time to call it a day and my left ankle, one toe and a hamstring are also telling me after each game that enough is enough so no Vets either next season.

I’ve not got a great trophy cabinet to show for 42 years of football but I have a head full of great memories. I can vividly remember my parents coming to watch early games when I’m sure they had better things to do with their Sunday mornings. Much later on I had a patient wife who knew how passionate I am about the game. She even forgave me (I think) when I played under protest on my Sons 1st Birthday and ended up fracturing a bone in my instep.

I’m going to miss the playing side. I had about an hours playing time yesterday and it dawned on me after the game I’m only doing it one more time. All I’ve ever known for as young as I can remember is kicking a ball, getting my kit ready on match days and (rarely) cleaning my boots afterwards.

I’ll still be involved. I often go to watch games out here so next season many of my free Saturdays will see me following the team I play for now. Instead of playing football I’ll step up the hiking to keep me in trim.