The conclusion of the 2021 Champions League between Man City and Chelsea has brought back some memories in my own young football career. As a 14 year old, playing for the Republic of Ireland Youth team, I was scouted and asked to go to Chelsea on trial. It was 1983. I travelled from Dublin to London, in a haze of excitement. Following a week of training with star players that I used to see on TV, or in football magazines (imagine there was no internet then 😊); the following occurred. This is an excerpt from my autobiography 'What it Takes'.
Man City V Chelsea
A treat was in store for me on the Friday evening of my visit, similar to the one I had experienced with Luton at QPR. Chelsea had a top of the table clash away at Manchester City. The game was a big one, as the season was drawing to a close and the winners were likely to go on, and gain promotion to the top division in England. The game was being shown live on television, which added a certain edge to the atmosphere. The beauty of all of this, was that I was invited to travel up to Manchester on the directors coach and watch the game. The luxurious coach with televisions and the like, seemed a long way from the days that my Dad would take me on the back of his Honda 50 to Stella Maris matches and Dublin trials.
We arrived at the ground and I found my way to my seat, excited by the fact that I was back at Manchester City's ground. The last time I had been here was as an adoring football fan who took blades of grass as a memento. Today I was a guest of the club who I had been training all week with; These players were out on the pitch. This was fantastic stuff! I can recall the atmosphere at the game being terrific and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, particularly when Chelsea's Paul Canonville scored two goals to win the game 2-0.
After the game Gwyn (Youth Development Officer) told me that I would be travelling back with the team rather than the directors and gave me directions for the team bus. Excitedly I clambered my way up the steps of the bus and sat down near the front, watching the highlights of the game that were showing on the television, situated high in the centre front of the aisle. The first player to get on the bus was Chelsea defender Colin Lee but after such a great win I was surprised to see that he looked a bit peeved off. As he sat down I said, "great win, well done" to which he replied, "yeah thanks but I've just called the wife and apparently the commentators were giving me some stick". Unhappily he sat down and no more was said.
The fact that I was sitting having a conversation, albeit a short one: with Colin Lee, may not appear all that special a moment? unless, you were of the knowledge that as a 6 or 7 year old, me and my pal David Primrose were walking back from a Banbury United game; when we were brought to a halt outside an electrical retail stores' shop window. The reason being that the results of the day’s fixtures were being shown by BBC on one of the televisions displayed in the window. David was as I mentioned earlier a fanatical Tottenham supporter and so we waited for their result to show on the TV. After a while a picture of their Centre Forward 'Colin Lee' was shown and the result 9-0 (or something similar) appeared. David jumped up and down with the good news and happily we made our way on home. Later we found out that Colin Lee had scored 4 of the goals and was a real hero. Now you may understand why having that short conversation with the very same Colin Lee on the Chelsea team bus was a special moment for me!
The players rolled on to the bus and in a jubilant atmosphere we headed south. John Hollins the Chelsea coach made sure I was well watered passing on the lemonade bottle after he and a few others had had a slurp. This was great stuff, I mean John Hollins used to be on my picture cards! Now we were sharing a lemonade bottle!
Oh how times have changed. Man City and Chelsea are now in the elite echelons of football clubs in the world and challenging; not for promotion to the Premier League of England, but consistently for the highest prizes.
For all young players out there: mirror the skills of the stars, work hard, practice, practice, practice and just maybe you'll find yourself telling your own similar story in years to come.