Football - Leg Breaking, Rib Cracking, Gum Splitting Fun

Today was one of them defining moments in a football players career. This morning, looking forward to my lunchtime game, I had to search to the back of the medicine cabinet to find ibuprofen, the magic painkiller tablet. Actually anything would have sufficed but ibuprofen was the painkiller of choice at all my old football clubs, so habits die-hard.

I needed it because my back/ribs and my body were generally hurting from a little game I had during the week. But a Sunday game was too much too resist, so out came the painkillers. 2 x 200mg did the trick.

Oh for the days when my enthusiasm and a bit of arm twisting by the coach meant I would play with a broken foot, cracked ribs, and half my lip hanging off!

West Bromwich Albion was the scene of my three heroic injury ravaged games. The first was when Paul Mardon tackled me in a training session on a Monday. All week I received treatment for the excruciating pain in my foot. No chance of playing on Saturday, I thought to myself. Friday, the boss asked me to do a fitness test. Our physiotherapist watched me hobble around the field 3 times.

“How is it”? He asked me.

“Very painful”, I told him.

“You will be ok though for tomorrow”

I looked at him in disbelief. “You’re kidding”, I said

But he wasn’t. The next day I sat in the spacious home dressing room at West Bromwich Albion, wondering how on earth I could play a professional game of Football with a limp. The physio called me into his treatment room and out came the doctor and a needle. They pumped something into the side of my bony foot and a few minutes later I could have run the marathon. The injection got me through 25 minutes of the first half before the pain started to creep back into my foot. By the end of the first half I could hardly walk straight. Half time arrived and I thought I would finally get my relief. Not so, as I was given a second injection. This was getting a bit crazy, as there was definitely something wrong with my foot. I played for a short time in the second half before having to come off. The club sent me to the Hospital for x-rays, which revealed a broken metatarsal.

What is a Broken Metatarsal?

The next injury was playing with a cracked rib. Ugo Ehiogu had elbowed me in a pre-season game against Aston Villa, and cracked my rib. Apart from being extremely painful it is possible to play with this injury. The consensus of opinion at the time was that as long as you can handle the pain, then you could play. A few hefty doses (2 x 600mg) of ibuprofen and I was able to continue playing.

The last of my injury woes was splitting my bottom lip open v Halifax, away at their stadium, live on T/V, with West Bromwich Albion succumbing to the unfortunate 1st round cup exit syndrome that afflicts all Professional Teams.

I met a cross at the near post and scored. In doing so, the defender had headed my bottom jaw and knocked my top teeth into the flesh of the inside of my mouth and bottom lip. There was blood everywhere, and no chance to be substituted as we had used all of our players. We were losing so the only choice was to carry on. I held some gauze over the chunk of flesh that was hanging out of my lip and played on. The final whistle confirmed our cup exit and I was sent to the physiotherapist room to have my mouth stitched up. I always felt bad when I lost a game, but this was a shock cup exit (us being the Golliath) and a smashed up mouth. The weekend was not a good one....

Which brings me to this very funny video I found on You Tube.

Football Injury Training

Football Injury Treatment

Football Penalty Masterclass

I took quite a few penalties during my career and only missed a couple. I spent countless hours on the training ground practicing the execution of the penalty kick. A lot of this time was without the goalkeeper in the net. My theory was that if the ball was accurate enough the keeper would be unable to get the ball regardless of whether he dived the correct way. Therefore I struck 1,000s of Footballs into both corners of the net until I felt so comfortable doing this that the day of reckoning (a penalty on match day) would be relatively easy (that's the theory).

What I was not able to do, which Cantona does so well in this video is predict which way the keeper was going to dive and then decide a split second later to strike the ball into the opposite corner of the goal.

I would pick my corner before taking the kick and focus all my thoughts and energy into placing the ball in that place. Most athletes use this kind of technique (visualization) to enable themselves to focus and not to be distracted.

Visualization :

Visualization is the process of creating a mental image or intention, of what you want to happen or to feel. An athlete can use this technique to 'intend' an outcome of a race, training session or simply rest in a feeling of calm and well-being. Or in this instance a Penalty Kick in a game of Football. By imagining a scene, complete with images or movies, of a previous best performance or a new desired outcome, the athlete will simply 'step into' that feeling. It is a common technique and proven to be very successful for many top athletes.

Cantonas high level of prediction and split second timing is phenomenal. He is not even visualizing where he is going to strike the ball, although I am sure he is visualizing a positive outcome. I believe what he is doing is waiting for the keeper to move or show him a sign in which direction he is going to dive. Up until that point Cantona has no pre-conceived idea of where he will place the ball. Cantonas approach is very straight to the ball, allowing himself to open up his body and right foot at the last minute and place the ball to the right of the keeper, or continue the more natural strike of the ball to the left of the keeper.

It's a fantastic skill and if you don't believe me try it in the park. Get a friend to go in goal and wait for him/her to move and see if you are able to place the ball with ease in the other corner.....

Footballs Very Funny Greatest Misses

You are going to laugh at some of these. Even Cantona, Giggs and Henry are not spared.

Football Review - Premier League

Just got back from a relaxing Sunday league game of Football In Belize. Still able to play 90 minutes, although in 85F heat it's a bit of a stroll for me these days. I know we all complain about referees and linesman, but today I was strangled around the neck (no penalty - in fact the foul was given against me), had a header cleared off the line with a hand (no penalty - and it wasn't the goalkeepers hand) and was given offside almost every time the ball was cleared up-field to me.

I really enjoyed the game though and don't get too stressed about these issues anymore..I even had a laugh and a joke with the Referee about the awful decisions, although for some reason he told me he is a coffin maker (during the half time break), which kind of threw me a bit. Not sure if he was suggesting I shut up and leave him alone.

Best to leave the stresses and pressures to the Premier league managers and players. Fox Sports TV our American Channel that shows the Premier League has just had the EPL premier league review, which I tuned into at the Belize Jungle Dome.

Thierry Henrys 1st goal today against Reading looked so simple but I just want to comment on the quality of Henry. His composure was so perfect before he slotted the ball home, it bordered on arrogance. Many players would have snatched at the shot and pulled it wide of the goal or more commonly lashed it high over the bar. Not Henry. He just calmly placed it first time into the bottom corner and the Reading Goalkeeper did not even move. Sheer Class.

After a shaky start it looks like Arsenal are firing on all cylinders now. With their game in hand over Manchester United and Chelsea and 5 straight wins, I think this year is going to be a cracking Premier League Football season. Hopefully right to the wire.

As for my old Football Clubs, Charlton and Newcastle United do not seem to be in for a good season. Charlton especially must be getting a bit nervous now, after missing out on 3 points against Watford. Amazing to think that with such a poor start to the season, Darren Bent is the joint second top scorer in the Premier League. He is undoubtedly a great talent and it won't be long before Charlton start fending off phone calls enquiring about him. If they can't start picking some wins up then keeping Bent could be tricky, especially now he has England credentials.

The Geordies will also be getting nervous and extremely disappointed as another year of failure looms. With the size of their stadium and transfer budget, anything less than top 6 is unacceptable.

Congratulations to West Bromwich Albion Football Club, who won the Black Country Derby. I played in many of these games and know that tomorrow morning the Baggies faithful will be happy to tease their Wolverhampton counterparts at work. Looks like the Baggies are marching back to the Premier League.

A Football Players Typical Training Day

A typical day at the training ground.


Arrive at Training Ground. Get your kit from the Laundry Room, which includes underwear, socks, shorts, t-shirt, sweat top. If it's cold, add rain jacket and long pants to the list. If it's really cold, woolly hat. Also grab Cleaned boots from the Kit man.


Into your assigned changing room to put your kit on. Into the Players lounge area at the training ground for a cup of coffee/tea. Hang out and shoot the breeze with the players. Read the newspapers, watch T/V and talk to the players and training ground staff about what the newspapers and media have been saying about any of the players, team or coaching staff.


Into the treatment room to chat with the physiotherapist, or Doctor if needed, about any medical problems. Many players would have a massage every day, although I never felt it necessary. Any little injuries would be wrapped up and dealt with before the training session.


Occasionally a little tap on the shoulder from the coach or assistant manager to visit the Boss (Manager) upstairs. Always an unpleasant experience as it normally meant things were to be discussed like being dropped for the next game or concerns over your performance!!


Sign the never-ending stream of balls, shirts, pictures, magazines, and books etc that are left at the training ground for football fans.


"Lets go". Coach calls the players out to the training field. All still very light-hearted and relaxed, with lots of joking around and chatting amongst the players. 30 - 45 minutes of warming up. Jogging, stretching, fun games and gradually increasing the intensity of the exercises in preparation for the training session. Still very light-hearted, with loads of chatting and laughter.


Ready for intense running, sprinting, jumping and action on the football field. Small games in teams, keeping the ball, lots of passing exercises. Starting to sweat a bit and definitely no more joking around as the training session becomes serious.


Manager arrives on the training field about this time. Players get split into first team squad and second team squad. The real training starts now with shooting practice, shadow play, team games and tactics discussed for the next 1 1/2 hours.


Manager departs and the players all re-group with the Fitness Coach to do a 15 - 30 minute warm down. Similar to the warm up, where the session is more relaxed and the players all start joking and having a laugh again. Lots of Stretches and jogging. Probably some stomach/back strengthening exercises to finish off.


Get Lunch in the Lounge area. Cup of Coffee/tea or juice.


Changed and depart. Reporters wait outside the training ground or in the press room and normally on a Friday a mass of interviews are conducted by the press. The better players, goal scorers, and any players in controversy will be asked to do interviews. Players playing against old teams quite often asked to do interviews also. Media includes local press, national press and T/V Cameras.


Finished. Not a bad life really….


Sometimes stay back for 30 minutes to lift weights. Would only do this 2 or 3 times a week, depending on the frequency of games. My personal routine included a general legs (quads, calves and hamstring exercises). It’s important to keep good balance in the workout and make sure that all muscle groups get worked. I would also do some upper body for my back, arms (biceps and triceps) and shoulders. I only did 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each muscle group, although because I was very lean I used to lift heavy weights.

Memorable Off Field Moments in a Professional Football players career

Memorable off field moments in Football

  1. Watching several of my team-mates chat up Transvestites in a Night Club in Florence, Italy after we had played against Fiorentina in the Anglo Italian Cup. They didn't know until we pointed out the bulges in their dresses. Cue scene from "Crying Game"

  2. Arriving on the team bus we were given the “v” sign and wa**er sign by a dad and his 2 sons (probably 6 & 8 years old) on arrival at Oxford United. Makes you wonder what the Dad is telling his kids at home

  3. Guerilla warfare at a Sunderland vs Newcastle United game. In a pub at 7am on derby day between Sunderland and Newcastle United. A fleet of cars full of well oiled fans, me, Steve Watson, Robbie Elliott and Alan Thompson (none of us in the team and none of us drinking I hasten to add) departs Newcastle for the derby day game against Sunderland. After parking the cars, a barrage of stones, bricks and any other debris come flying over walls as Sunderland fans locate us. Rapid organisation by our crew keeps us out of trouble and we negotiate our way to the stadium to watch the match. Very scary and not something I would like to repeat

  4. As a kid, being stuck behind a fence with my brother Ian and my Dad, exiting the Norwich City stadium after playing Stoke. Bricks, insults and anything else being hurled at each other. Being stuck in the middle of a North East fans battle was scary but this was worse

  5. Repetitive Mobile phone abuse by a Wolves fan, who somehow found out my Telephone number when I was a West Bromwich Albion player. Had to change my number

  6. Being spotted for the first time abroad on holiday in Ibiza, and signing an autograph for a West Bromwich Albion Fan. Good for the ego

  7. Another Ego boost, seeing my name on teletext for the first time

  8. Meeting a drunk Jim Davidson with my Dad (Jim is his hero) in the Charlton players lounge. Having to ask for Jims autograph for my Dad because he was too shy

  9. Standing in the tunnel at Charlton Athletic Football Club with my Grandad as Alan Shearer, Bobby Robson and the rest of the team came trotting out. Have you ever seen an 80 year old man become a little boy again. My Grandad was in awe. I wasn’t playing as I retired the previous year but it made me realize what a great job I used to have

Newcastle United Football Club - A Professional Footballers tale

It's been a long time since I was up in the North East. I was signed to Newcastle United for 2 1/2 seasons, although my contribution to the first team squad was limited to the first 18 months (Moving to Newcastle United Football Club and Life with Kevin Keegan). When I was resident in Newcastle the stadium held 28,000 ish and although it had 2 impressive stands, the Gallowgate and Leazes ends of the stadium were in a state of disrepair. I had the great pleasure of returning to the Geordie stronghold for Charlton Athletic in the 2000/2001 season. What an experience that was. The stadium had been completely redesigned with the wrap around of the 2 stands behind the goals completed. It was an amazing experience with over 50,000 spectators seated in luxury.

The main entrance of the Milburn stand was still the same, as was the changing rooms and the players lounge area. The only difference was entering the away Dressing Rooms, which in my 2 1/2 years at NUFC, I don't think I had ever seen. Walking out onto the pitch though, felt a bit like being at Wembley, Beranbeu or the Nou Camp. Peering around the stadium and looking up and up and up at the gigantic new stands brought goosebumps to my skin. I have been to the Nou Camp and visited the Museum, and then walked out into the stands. NUFC felt a bit like this.

We beat the geordies that day, so I am sure the atmosphere was a bit subdued. I can only imagine that once the Geordie faithful have something to be proud of that this will be a very intimidating atmosphere for away teams and many special nights will be held here.


The old stadiums with the spectator standing areas close to the pitch used to create a hostile atmosphere for away teams and their players. I remember playing at the Old Den (Millwall) many years ago, and warming up, literally within touching distance of the hostile fans. I was playing for Newcastle United and received some charming comments as I jogged up and down the side of the pitch. F**k Off, you Geordie Wan**r was one of the verbal blasts from the stands as tat toed, crop haired mean looking diehards, worked their menacing intimidation tactics on our substitutes. Funny thing I thought to myself is that I was born only 20 miles away from Millwalls stadium. I got the call to play from the manager and took my waterproof coat off to find a stream of spit oozing down the back of the jacket!! I am not picking on Millwall because this used to happen at many of the old style stadiums where the fans were right on top of the players. Although Millwall Fans did produce a higher than average volume of spit.

The new stadiums, with the All seater arrangement tend to be further back from the playing area, creating less intimidation for the players. I believe that Newcastles stadium, although a grand structure in every way, has certainly lost some of the fear factor for opposition players. I didn't feel at all intimidated when I played at St James Park in 2000 and in fact revelled in the opulent surroundings.

I'm sure old time football players and fans will look back with fond memories of these pre-taylor report stadiums, but I certainly feel the game has improved with the new mega stadiums. Many of the modern games young premier league players will rarely be exposed to this kind of intimidation, only when they play in FA Cup matches against lower league opposition and pre-season friendlies. I for one am glad I never have to be spat at again.

Charlton Life without Alan Curbishley – Is Relegation that Bad for a Football Club?

Charlton Life without Alan Curbishley – Is Relegation that Bad?

3 months into the 2006/2007 season and life without Alan Curbishley is proving to be a bit tricky for Charlton Athletic. I recently did an interview with and they asked me about my thoughts for Charlton’s prospects this year.

In this interview I said that I would not be surprised to see the settled South London club get relegated this year. Of course I hope that they do not get relegated but I am writing this article without any bias and based on my many years of playing as a professional footballer. The one thing that disturbs a club the most is instability and change. I experienced this on a yearly frequency at West Bromwich Albion, where the club hired and fired new managers with random glee, which creates confusion and lack of loyalty within the club. Existing players have to adapt to every managers new philosophy on Football, new tactics, new systems, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 5-3-2 etc. New players have to integrate into the club and so it goes on.

I do not know why Charlton and “Curbs” (as he liked to be called) parted company but I suspect that the 2 had reached a point where they both needed change and felt they could no longer progress. I think that Curbs has been a revelation for Charlton Athletic and should be given the freedom of South East London for what he and his staff achieved. To bring the club from the brink of bankruptcy to a constant fixture in the premier league was a monumental achievement. This rise was steady and constant, taking many years to build up the momentum to finally being able to proudly boast of being an accomplished premier league side. They have proved to be a fine example of how to rise through the ranks of football. Whether they can be the club that breaks through the invisible barrier of the top 6 and maybe even break the stronghold of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United is another chapter in this clubs history.

my article on Bridging the Premier League Gap in Football

But Curbs just seemed unable to push the club into the higher levels of the premier league. It must be the ambition of every team to want more, otherwise what is the point of competing. Charlton had reached a plateau under Curbs reign and were/are seeking to move onwards and upwards. This is no easy achievement in the world of Premier league football. To sustain yourself as a top 6 club with your peers such as Newcastle United struggling to do this will take a shift in thinking, such as bringing in a new manager.

It may take several years for this to happen, as new managers historically take time to “bed” into their new clubs, with many not surviving their first year. I hope this doesn’t happen to Iain Dowie as he has proved himself to be an intelligent, dedicated manager. However, getting back to my original point, it may not be a bad thing for Charlton to be relegated this year. If they did, they would be able to re-group in the Championship, with a very strong squad and have a season to re-establish themselves back in footballs elite by gaining promotion.

If this happened Dowie and his staff would have the full support of the fans, who would be excited to have another Championship season of success, winning games, scoring lots of goals and renewing the excitement of strolling up to the Valley. The players would be playing with a renewed confidence and I am sure would revel at another bite of premier league action. With this momentum behind him, Dowie may just be able to take the Club on to its next level of achievement by pushing themselves into the top 6 of the premier league. Maybe relegation doesn’t come and Charlton and Dowie can continue this success story from within the Premier League, which would be much less scary for the fans and the board.

After all, if you do get relegated, and can’t climb back into the premier league (see Ipswich, Leeds, Sunderland etc) life can get fiendishly difficult.

Bridging the Gap in the Premier League

Top Ten Football Blogs by Google

It seems that Google has given 6 of the top ten Search Results for a Football Blog to Football (American) and 4 of the top ten Search Results to Football (Soccer). Aston Villa made it and Sunderland reached a credible 12!!!! but no sign of Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal. I guess they can't win everything.

  1. - the football blog
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  6. The Dallas Morning News Hot Reads Fantasy Football Blog
    Hot Reads Blog: Oct 2006. Su, Mo, Tu, We, Th, Fr, Sa. 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5, 6, 7. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 - 17k - Cached - Similar pages

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  10. Aston Villa Football Blog
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Neo Earth - Blog Mapping and Statistics Tool

Great Blogging Tool for anyone interested. On the Top right hand corner of this blog is a Map and you should be able to see your home town currently flashing in the map. Click on the map and you can see where all your visitors have come from.

Grab it here

Football Wives, Agents, Corruption and Bungs

Agents roles in the game of football are coming under more scrutiny and quite rightly so. How would you possibly regulate this industry when it is part and parcel of the “fabric” of football, whereby fans, media and teams constantly speculate about who should and shouldn’t be playing for the team. Agents fill a niche in this market by connecting the dots between rumour, media, fans, managers, chairman and players.

The problem is that many agents are un-skilled, “del-boy” characters, who provide very little in the way of advice to players, feeding players, managers and clubs the information they want to hear, manipulating the system so that they receive their silver for their services.

Footballers egos are notoriously fragile, and for many young players it is easy to be overawed by the flash characters that continually prowl the halls of football clubs and the surrounding scene around a club. Although I would be hesitant to put the game of football in the same bracket as Footballers Wives it does not fall far short. There really are characters of this sort lurking around every corner and it is in the interests of everyone concerned to protect young players from these people.

Agents receive large sums of money for their services, although as mentioned in my previous post about old and new media in football and sport, their services are questionable in what is actually provided for players. A successful, wealthy young player needs a lot of solid advice from his advisors including

· Contract Advice
· Financial advice. Where to invest his money.
· Personal Guidance.
· Honest Advice on his career. Not lip service.
· Media Advice.
· Advice for when the final whistle blows on their Football Career.

Unfortunately in my opinion, most Agents simply are not equipped to provide this service. They have no training in what is a lucrative and extremely specialised form of work.

The Players Football Association offers a service to players, whereby they receive representation in contract negotiations, financial advice and post career advice. They do this for a modest fee and quite often in a more professional manner. However when I was a player it took me until the later stages of my career to understand the role the PFA plays in football and I am quite sure, most players these days are unaware of how much assistance they can receive from the PFA.

I am not against Agents, just the clueless ones. Clubs are always looking for players, players are looking for clubs and Agents do provide a handy link between the two.

For various reasons a player may want to leave a club and he needs someone to assist in finding a new team for him. This is no easy task for most footballers as they are focused on playing and usually unaware of any interest. Football Clubs are typically selfish in that they will not tell a player of another clubs interest, unless it is in the interest of the selling club. This is where an agent can come in handy.

Bungs and Corruption

It surprises me that Mike Newell’s allegations have caused such a stir in football as anyone in the game will freely acknowledge (off the record of course) that “bungs”, “back-handers” and “tapping players” up are not uncommon.

Put it this way : If you were Jose Mourinho and you wanted to sign Ashley Cole how would you do it? You have to talk to the player somehow to find out if he wanted to play for Chelsea, otherwise what’s the point of starting contract negotiations with Arsenal? So you use your network of resources to contact Ashley Cole and find out if he is interested. Is it ethical – Probably not. But it works and Mourinho got his man, got fined, but do you think he cares? £200,000 might be a lot of money for most people, but not for Abramovich and his billions. And this goes on, all the way down to the grassroots level in football in lesser and lesser degrees of un-ethical behaviour. But of course who cares what happens at crapbag united in the bargain basement leagues.

I hope that after all the turmoil and attention of the current Agents scandal that the regulations will get ever tighter, pushing the quick buck agent out of Football and forcing players advisors to improve the services they offer to their players.

Football Blogs and Sports Websites

Football Blogs and Sports Websites

I have been trying to track down some of the top names in football and sports to see what websites/blogs they have. I'm quite surprised that the media marketing machines that back up these superstars have been so slow to secure their website domains or to develop their online presence. These players all have backlogs of great football action, goals, interviews and media attention.

With all the attention that Football is getting at the moment due to the corruption and scandals with Agents it might be interesting to analyze what Agents roles are. Old school media such as the printed newspaper and T/V are being transformed and converging with the new media such as Blogging, Podcasting and the Internet. With the ever increasing amount of Bandwith available for downloading on whatever device you like, it would make sense for any forward thinking Sports Agents and Marketing Companies to provide new media advice for their clients (footballers for example) rather than resting easily on their current lucrative fat pay cheques for brokering deals.

A glimpse at Rupert Murdochs, News Corporation (A giant of the Old School Media who own "The Sun", "The Times", "New York Post", "News of the World" and many other printed papers) recent acquisition of, the Social Networking phenomenon shows how old school media is waking up to the future.

Websites/Blogs from these players would make interesting reading for fans. Even the managers should be looking into this. They have a lot of relevant and interesting information that they could be putting out to the Sports World, especially after their retirement. While their careers are still in progress it can be a bit tricky to comment on other players, the team etc but certainly once a player or managers career has ended, it's a great opportunity to pass on their knowledge and stories to the fans. As many players/managers end up writing books, the web could be the perfect window to showcase or drip feed their stories into the media. - under development - domain is parked. No Site - It exists - Hats off to his advisors
Michael Owens Blog - World Cup Blog

Ronaldo - under development - Stolen!!

Ronaldinho - Great site
Ronaldinho Blog - World Cup Blog

Thierry Henry - Blog. Not sure whats going on here

Paul Gascoigne - Exists - Exists

Michaelschumacher - Exists - Exists - Great site. Well worth looking at!!

If you know of any other websites or blogs from Football players, Sports superstars or Athletes, click on the comments tab below and I will add it to the list.

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How to Become a Professional Footballer

Football. The magical game, the escape from the ghetto, or the streets, to seek fame and fortune. Many youngsters idolize their footballing heroes, longing to become the next David Beckham or Michael Owen. But exactly how do you become a professional footballer?

“I could have been a professional footballer, if it wasn’t for my dodgy knee, or my flat feet”. If I had a penny for every bloke up the pub that told me this line, I’d have my own private jet to fly back and forth from Belize in.

I believe that the way to become a professional footballer, in fact the way to reach the elite in any chosen career is to be passionate about what you do. You do not need to have your arm twisted to go to the training field and play in the freezing winter. You do not need to be scolded and cajoled into running the extra mile. But you do need to run the extra mile.

I started playing football when I was a toddler. As I grew up I had a natural love of the game. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would play 2, sometimes 3 games on the weekend. Saturday mornings, if the Wayland High School (Watton) had a match would be my first game. Then it was off to the local park in Ashill, in awe of the men playing in the first team, standing behind the goal kicking a ball up against the net, annoying the first team goalkeeper for Ashill. “If only I could get a game,” I would think to myself as the older guys strutted their stuff on the pitch. Then on a Sunday it was off to the next village to play in the youth football, from under 11s, all the way up to under 17s.

Of course it wasn’t long before I got to stand in front of the goal and start playing for the mens team in Ashill. I remember starting as a Sweeper, a position I absolutely loved. I had a big 6 foot, hard as nails centre half playing with me, who used to smash the opposition centre forward and I would drop off and pick up all the loose balls. Brilliant.

At this age, 14 or 15 years old I wasn’t really strong enough to compete physically with the men, although I did my best, and started to play in positions further up the field until ultimately becoming a striker.

But I always had a great “passion” for football. 3 games on the weekend was my ideal Saturday and Sunday. While friends went out to parties, I was totally dedicated to playing football. I would go out running in the evenings to get fitter, and never did I need someone to push me into doing this. I think most athletes and professional sportsman will tell the same story, that they just loved doing the thing they do.

Football has to be your hobby. You have to love doing it. Practice at every spare moment. Anyone can buy a ball and go into the yard and practice skills and flicks. Keeping the ball off the ground, kicking it against a wall, running with the ball until it feels as normal as running without it.

Practice, practice, practice. That is what you do when you are a professional, training 5 sometimes 6 days a week. So that is what you need to do before becoming a professional. If you want to be a dancer you stand in front of the mirror and practice your moves. If you want to become a singer you grab the shampoo bottle and sing your heart out at every possible opportunity. The same applies to football. In an ever more competitive sport, the pool of players to choose from is bigger, the quality of the players to choose from is better. You have to be the most dedicated athlete in the world to achieve this dream.

Of course you do need natural talent as well. I would never admit to being the most gifted player in the world but I was very dedicated. No matter how hard you try you cannot make a racehorse out of a donkey. It will soon become evident if you have what it takes to reach the top of your sport. You will coast through games, score bags of goals, be the outstanding player week after week. Then you will need belief in what you are doing. You will have to really believe that you can make it to the top.

Something that I never believed until it happened. I had a lot of determination and perseverance, but it never really crossed my mind that I could become a player until I walked through the front gate of St James Park with my kit bag. Even then I felt like an impostor in a world I should not have been in. Perhaps this was my downfall. Never really having enough belief. Never really feeling like I was a professional footballer.

But I was good enough to play over 300 professional matches and score over 130 goals. Practice was the foundation for everything I did. It almost felt that every cell in my body had to move into line and be synchronised to the exact movements required to perform the different skills in football. That training exercises were put in place to allow my mind to sub-consciously be aware of everything that needed to be done during a game, so that my conscious mind was free to deal with all the more complicated requirements of competing at an elite level.

When I watch amateur football I cannot help but wonder how much of an average players brain activity is used just focusing on controlling the ball. They have doubts in their minds because they are not sure that they will be able to deal with a ball coming at them at 30mph. Whereas a professional is hardly even thinking about this.

Ronaldinho (check his website out) is not worried in the least that he will be unable to control the ball, no matter how hard it comes to him, or under whatever difficult circumstances he receives the ball. His brain is working on much more complicated problems, such as evading his marker, finding space, being alert to the whereabouts of his teammates. He is like a Chess Grandmaster, constantly planning ahead. If the ball comes here, he immediately knows his future options before it has happened.

Practice, practice, practice. It fine-tunes the body into performing routine tasks on the football field such as

· ball control
· striking the ball
· athletic prowess
· and teamwork

and it frees up the brain to deal with the more intricate parts of the game such as

· movement off the ball
· creating space
· weighing up all the future options on the pitch

For all young aspiring Footballers and Athletes and Singers and Dancers out there in the world,

· believe 100% in what you want to be
· have a passion for what you do (otherwise find another sport, hobby, job)
· and practice, practice, practice.

Good luck.

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