The following article (now with a couple of minor updates) never saw the light of day as it was scheduled to appear in the doomed ”Look For Floodlights” Number 53 and was meant to be a follow up piece to ”Back To Basics” which can be found elsewhere on this site.
As kids we were mad about football and the game was not confined to just playing it at school so having got home and had tea it was out into the street to play again. Street football was basically the same rules as the playground version (see ”Back To Basics”) although there were some subtle differences beginning with the area of play. We used to live at the top end of a road junction so, unlike the playground area, the dimensions of this particular ”pitch” resembled what can best be described as a ” T ” shape with one goal being situated on the grass of the kerb at the foot of the ” T” (thus utilising a lamp post as one of the goalposts) and the other goal located in the middle of the green at the top of the ” T ”. If play branched out in either direction off down the road of the junction then it would not be uncommon for players and the ball to disappear from sight for the best part of 20 minutes. This particular passage of play gave rise to a brand new position in each team known as the ”lookout” whose job it was to stand on the corner of the street and signal when the ball was on its way back or sometimes run and alert the defence and goalkeeper who had become bored and wandered off indoors to watch Blue Peter on the t.v !. Sometimes you would rush out of the house to find it was a false alarm as you arrived just in time to see the ball being ”hoofed” back out of sight down the junction (to this day I have never forgiven our ”lookout” Paul for one false alarm that caused me to miss the final part of how to make a Dalek out of toilet rolls !!. These pitch dimensions meant that the players in the game had to be adept at negotiating the grass/kerb/concrete/kerb/grass underfoot conditions. Needless to say many kids failed dismally to master this and it was quite a common sight for the road kerb to send a player sprawling to the floor in mid dribble without an opponent being within ten yards (judging from some of the penalties and fouls I have witnessed given against the Dragons by some dubious Eastern Counties refereeing there must be loads of concrete kerbs located around the Broad Lane pitch).
Despite the size of the playing area we did incorporate throw-ins as the ball would end up going into front gardens. The kid who had kicked it over the hedge/wall was told in no uncertain terms to ”Go and get it then” (I still believe there should be a rule that opposition players who aimlessly boot the ball out of Broad Lane ought to go and fetch it while the remainder of his team mates are made to play on with ten men until he returns !) and the rest of us would look on in amusement as he proceeded to crawl commando style under front windows and through flowerbeds to retrieve it. Eventually our ”pitch” dimensions changed when one particular lady got fed up with us and made the council put up a ”No Ball Games” sign on her part of the green. How pleased she must have been when the loud but harmless ball kicking kids were replaced by the gang of solvent abusers who made her wall their home…I know it made me smile.
Although teams were usually selected alternately by the captains like the playground version to ensure fairly even games ( thus preventing Real Madrid / Barcelona type of sides being created), once in a while there would be an older lads v young kids game which was treated almost like a ” Super Cup ” fixture. Amazingly the teenagers didn’t always win as, despite being physically bigger, the young kids had number advantage and, having somehow fluked a goal at the other end, would swarm over the opposition like an army of ants hacking and kicking at the ball while sometimes being trampled under foot, thus making it almost impossible for the bigger lad to pass or shoot.
With the ages of team members ranging from teenagers down to kids of ten it was not uncommon for tactical formations to be thrown into chaos by the left back having been told by his mum that ”he must not cross the road” without her, thus leaving the opposing right winger a free run down the grass verge opposite. With this wide range of ages involved I remember the commitment of our oldest player was regularly called into question as he would participate for 10 minutes or so, score a hat-trick, and then go back to sitting on the wall with the rather well endowed girl from number 131 (you see even street footballers had wags !) and a can of cider like some prototype George Best while the rest of us gallantly tried to keep the opposition at bay until our ”star” decided to join in again. Just as girls were a distraction to the elder players the youngsters’ concentration also wandered as one chime of the Ice Cream van would cause mass defences to immediately vanish and not return until they had finished their ”99 cone” or ”sky rocket” (any one remember them?), by which time an irretrievable eight goals had been conceded by the overworked custodian. Being a goalkeeper in this type of football could often be compared to being the captain of a sinking ship as you were not expected to leave your post while those around you seemed to bugger off when they wanted. Towards the end of the game as team ranks thinned out when kids got called in by parents, I would continue to play on as the gloom and gnats descended knowing that my mum would not be waiting to congratulate me on the last minute penalty save that had won us the match, rather to let rip with an almighty telling off whilst disregarding the fact that her son now resembled the ”Elephant Man” thanks to the aforementioned gnat bites !.
The only piece of ”kit” on show in these games were the two types of goalkeeper gloves available in the shape of your standard issue grey wool school ones or somebody’s mum’s ill-fitting yellow marigold washing up gloves !. Now then, hand protection was absolutely essential as there was no such thing as an environmentally friendly canine owner or ”scoop the poop” law in those days so dog shit was an accepted common hazard for the committed street footballer. Indeed, even the toughest of central defenders could occasionally be seen fleeing home in tears to wash the brown mark from his forehead after heading clear a free kick. These days players miss games through hamstring pulls and calf strains but back then there was the real risk of being sidelined for weeks due to contracting ”Pink Eye” (caused by pooh particles making their way into the ocular cavities) and having to be quarantined !!. The main culprit for producing these random ”bombs” was the German Shepherd who lived two doors along from me although, to be fair, this hound was actually our best defender as, with an attacker bearing down on goal having left the defence trailing in his wake this creature from hell would escape through the front door, hurdle the fence and make a bee-line for the kid with the ball who, in turn, would abandon the game and flee down the street screaming (sometimes having added to the crap hazards himself due to his fear) with the dog in hot pursuit. If you avoided dog bites, other street footballing injuries ranged from the fairly commonplace cut knees and split heads up to the spectacular cracked pelvis and fractured leg (due to being ”tackled” by a Mk4 Cortina) to the downright bizarre….I remember an 18 inch stick jammed up the nostril of one kid going to prove that you should concentrate on just one sport at the time and not try and combine football with ”sword” fighting !. You would have thought that with all this mayhem going on we were a tough old bunch but it was plainly not so as I recall our rugged centre forward bursting into tears when he was hit in the face with the ball (strangely I believe he continued to do this even when he actually made it into Sussex County League football several years later !!).
With plastic footballs becoming widely available at that time, once in a while someone would sometimes still appear with one of the old style leather balls. Bad enough normally but when soaking wet it would take on the dead weight of a wrecking ball, making it almost impossible for the younger kids to even kick more than a couple of yards. Once someone actually connected sweetly with a leather ball while attempting a hoofed clearance, sending the sodden weight soaring up towards the stratosphere. As everyone looked towards the heavens the ball began its decent towards mother earth like a meteor. No idiot was going to try and head it knowing that when it finally landed it would leave an impact creator the like of which was last seen when the dinosaurs were wiped out. Anxious eyes followed the trajectory of the ball as it hurtled out of play, over a privet hedge, and straight through the front window of number 136, taking out Mrs Brown, her cat Sooty, the coffee table and Mr Brown’s dinner !. 48 players scattered and hid behind walls, hedges, cars and road signs leaving one poor kid who was not even involved in the game and was playing marbles at the time to face the wrath of Mr Brown who promptly dragged him off to his house where his mum proceeded to bestow upon him a banning order the likes of which was not issued again until FIFA finally ran out of patience with Luis Suarez !. Only on one occasion, during a rare venture out onto pitch , did I accidently header one of these leather balls. As I aimlessly stood in the middle one of the elder players rifled in a cross which connected squarely with my forehead….sending the ball rocketing past an astounded keeper and sending me cart wheeling backwards into unconsciousness. I recall I found myself floating in a tunnel of light with my nan and grandad at the other end telling me to go back and was only brought around by the congratulations (and laughter) of my team mates. I had to go home to bed and lay in a darkened room with a cold flannel over my eyes to get rid of the headache and nurse the gouge marks left by the ball’s laces resulting in an injury that looked like a ”zip” across my forehead for the best part of a day.
I don’t know but perhaps it was this blow on the head or the fact that despite enjoying playing footy as a kid in truth I never had any chance of ”making it” as, on pitch, I possessed the pace of a five toed sloth after a cup of horlix (still do) and it did not take long to realise that a kid who has been coached properly as a keeper since the age of seven will probably get the gig over one who turns up for a trial wearing his mum’s ill fitting marigolds !!. So I became a spectator rather than a player though, for a few years, I was a ”streetwise” footballer.