I was totally transfixed to a recent documentary which depicted a terrible evening at White Hart Lane when a young, fit, talented man very nearly lost his life on the field of play. I found it quite emotional watching it and had a tear close to my eye pretty much throughout. It’s a weird thing, but I’m sure a lot of footballers (current and ex) feel collective pain when another “compatriot” suffers on the pitch. Almost a case of “there but for the grace of God, go I……….”

That young man, Patrice Muamba, could not have been in a better location to suffer such a serious “injury”. How stupid does that sound!!! Why is a football pitch the best place for a human beings heart to stop? On that evening, not only did Patrice have a fantastic medical team that were part of the Bolton & Tottenham staff but also, by several fortunate twists of fate, there were some pretty heavy hitters in the crowd when it came to matters of the heart!! Their expertise, perseverance and commitment to do everything to make sure that this life would not be lost, not on their watch, was miraculous. Having a promising football career cut short at such a tender age must be devastating, but the fact that he will live some semblance of a normal life after effectively being dead for 78 minutes is an amazing testament to the fight and skills of those medical professionals.

It’s not to say that every football ground in the country will see you looked after by such an impressive army of medical experts though. In no way shape or form is this a criticism of the people who fill these roles at non-league clubs, but the standard of “medical” treatment leaves a lot to be desired on many a treatment table. That said, the contribution of these people, many of whom volunteer their time for no reward, is crucial to the survival of many clubs and is not to be underestimated. In my experience, many have been truly devoted club men who will do anything for the greater good of the place from washing kit to marking pitches and everything in between.

I signed for one club who had your archetypical clubman on the medical – top man, always life and soul of the dressing room. I picked up a knee injury 15 minutes into my debut in pre season. So I spent the next 4 weeks trooping off to see the phys. One of the other lads getting treatment had been on the table for a lot longer, another knee injury but more severe than my own. Now, this was no ordinary sponge man we’re talking about here – the boy has got gadgets at his disposal as well!! The ultra sound machine was his baby and by god did he like to use it, 1/2 a tub of gel on your knee and away he went. Using the ultra sound head like an angle grinder, his logic being that the harder he pushed – the further the ultra sound would get into the injury!!! He had to have a step next to the physio table so that he could climb on and still apply pressure whilst we were hanging from the lightshade in agony!!!

Anyway, Hally had been on the treatment table for about 12 weeks and there was no sign of any improvement, couldn’t walk without pain, running was out of the question and a small flight stairs were a major obstacle. At this stage the club were starting to move on a bit so the gaffer looked to appoint a proper physio who knew an “athlete’s” arse from their elbow. He came in to assess the current crop of crocks and take over their treatment, a good handover from the outgoing “phys” ensued. As things moved on to Hally, out came the pride and joy ultra sound machine – just the sight of it put a smile on his face! He proudly went on to show the incoming phys how he was using his pride & joy to mend the players………….”Gel on the knee, flick on the switch, set the power, check the light is on and st…”

He was stopped in his tracks. This better be worth it – the man was enthusing about his super toy! Cut him off at your peril!!!!

“You do know that the light means that there is a fault with the machine and it needs to be repaired right?” Oops!!! Bonfire well and truly pissed on!!!

Would you enjoy wearing shorts made of coarse sand paper? Probably as much as I looked forward to a warm up massage from a part time physio and full time bricklayer! You’re not meant to apply deep heat to open skin wounds although the instructions probably aren’t written to account for cuts picked up during the application! The man had hands that could shave the edges off a diamond, with a grip that would have crushed 007’s neck – move over Jaws ya big fanny!

How about a young female physio? Sounds like the dream yeah? Well……..fingerless lace gloves are only so good when treating an overweight centre back in the middle of a ploughed field masquerading as a football pitch! I hope she was a good physio in reality after one of the lads dropped her off his shoulders at the end of a boozy presentation evening!!! Timber!!!!

If the sponge man doesn’t give you much confidence, you can always rely on St Johns Ambulance men can’t you?  “Luckily” they were in attendance when I dislocated and broke my elbow.

Going up for a header whilst the other guy crouched down making a back for me – over the top of him I went and outstretched my arm to break my fall. The hard ground and my fat arse applying the downward pressure meant my elbow was the one to give way. I watched it pop out which was alarming enough, but was then totally helpless as the other guy fell on it too, just to make sure the job was done properly. I squealed like a little girl, no mistake – I won’t tough it out, it stung….a lot!!!

Enter the St Johns Ambulance crew!!!

An 80 year bloke who’s uniform’s last outing was during the war (Crimean) and his two side kicks, a teenage lad who was last seen playing Roland in Grange Hill and his younger sister who must weigh no more than 5 stone dripping wet.  To be fair, there were a few people there to get me onto the wheely bed so I could go to their ambulance to be carted off to A&E. Trouble was, Roland’s sister felt left out so the urge to get involved overcame her. H&S must be big in the Keystone cops, textbook lifting style – bent knees, straight back grab the arm……….No not that arm!!!! Aghhhhhh, she must be able to see it’s pointing the wrong way surely?

Fortunately the gas & air is on tap once loaded into the meat wagon. Not exactly state of the art this ambulance, in fact the last time it was used the guy with a red flag was walking just in front. So the bad doesn’t clip into the side properly, every corner, every acceleration, every brake and bump had me and the bed crashing around in the back  – even the gas and air wasn’t sorting me out here! Then, just to cap things off, once they had wheeled me into the A&E bed space, Captain Mainwaring had got himself trapped behind my bed. His survival instincts must have kicked in as, instead of waiting for me to get onto the proper hospital bed, he chose to squeeze past me lost his footing and fell on top of me, or more to the point, my misshapen elbow!!!

Having said all that, you just have to love and admire these guys. As players, we just turn up and expect all these things to be taken care of and thus they are taken for granted. It’s only when you take a step away that you appreciate just what they put back in to the clubs they love.

Untrained, barbaric physios……….I salute you!!!

See you at the far post.

Ronnie Rightback

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the title for this entry isn’t a question just a statement. I only see two groups that see any real purpose in this annual 31 day circus. Sky Sports News and agents.

Jim White seems to have carved himself a lovely little niche by presenting a full on blow by blow account of the transfer deadline day. Who can get enough of seeing various sky reporters stood outside training grounds up & down the land, with a handful of juvenile supporters bouncing around behind them like Duracell bunnies at an hour which must be well past their bed time, just so they can cheer when a Senegalese left back that no-one has ever heard of signs a 3year deal for an undisclosed fee.

On that subject, just why are some fees undisclosed!!?? The deal is done, the player has moved and everyone should be happy right? Or is it a sham way of covering up incompetence or bad judgement by one party or the other. Has he been sold too cheap or has he been bought for an over inflated price and so to avoid fans backlash it’s nicely swept under the undisclosed carpet? Who knows, but for both players’ sake, I bet they wished that the numbers from the Fernando Torres/ Andy Carroll moves were swept into the dark under a length of Axminster!!

Agents are great, how clever is it to have invented the need for their services to facilitate a transfer? Genius!! Agents who act on behalf of clubs & managers as well as the players themselves, I wonder if any of the agents have an agent and anyone wishing to engage their services must negotiate with that intermediary agent first!! The PFA must be seething that they aren’t used more often to negotiate transfers and contracts on behalf of their members – for all the great support the PFA give their members, they’ve definitely missed a trick here.

A bit further away from the fantasy world of The Barclays Premiership, things work a little differently. Such a window doesn’t exist so players will be darting around between clubs whenever they get the chance and an extra tenner. The official channels for approach are religiously observed and the notion of “tapping up” is completely absurd at this level where the love of the game holds far greater importance than a couple of quid. Yeah, right……………..

Tapping up is part and parcel, everyone does it and everyone has benefitted from it and been booted in the nuts by it in equal measure. Why waste time and energy in putting the official approach in before gauging the player’s interest in joining your unheralded blueprint for greatness? Get the boy tapped first!!! Non-league football is such a small pond in reality, everyone knows everyone or at the very least knows the person that knows them! So here’s how it goes……………

“Ronnie”

“Yes Gaffer”

“You know Lennie Leftback don’t you?”

“Yes Gaffer”

“Good player that boy, always liked him. I think he’d do a great job here….. (Now here comes the fluffer!)…..You two would work well together, the best full backs in this league!!…….You seeing him this weekend?”

“Yes Gaffer”

“Have a little chat with him, sound out whether he wants a move.”

The job is done, seed sown, hint dropped, line ‘em up ready to be knocked over. Get the 7 days of approach put in to the other club, they invariably waive the need to wait and bang, in you go, seal the deal and by Monday night you have your world beating full back partnership. That little scenario is bagging someone a few hundred grand minimum as an agent, a hefty stack of money for such old rope.

Loyalty [and, more to the point, the lack of it] is a buzz word around transfer window time but, trust me, if you find me someone who is truly loyal to their football club and I bet you’ll be showing me a supporter. That’s not to mean that loyalty doesn’t exist, but, in my experience, that loyalty is to a person or a group of people. Managers tend to move with a team – that team generally means an assistant and one or two players that they know and trust to hit the ground running, knowing exactly what they are going to get. Being able to trust a group is vital for doing well given that any opportunity to work on anything remotely tactical is confined to a couple of midweek evening hours in less than ideal conditions for training. A rugby pitch, school hall, a car park, tennis court, church hall and shale hockey pitch have been just a selection of places where the bibs, balls & cones have been put to [less than] good use during my career. So you can see why having a loyal, trusted core is essential to ensure you get a maximum return on a minimum investment. That loyalty works both ways, the player then becomes more resistant to the tap up as his loyalty to the gaffer will resist the lure of a few quid extra a mile down the road.

But you have to chance your arm sometimes and with a mixture of bluff, bullshit and luck you may just sign that gem that lights up the ground every time they play. But to find that diamond you can waste time trying to polish many turds. To quote one of my ex gaffers when quizzed on why we didn’t have anyone to put the ball in the net: “We’ll have to make do, it’s not through lack of effort – I’ve put in more 7 days than Craig f***ing David!!”

So what went on last night? Apart from some nugget from West Brom camping outside Loftus Road!!! Rumour has it that Gazza was contemplating bringing down a can of lager and a KFC for him, poor bloke!

Mario Ballotelli – AC Milan for £18m

Mark Smith – Hilton Town for an extra £5 a game and a guaranteed lift to training every week

Chris Samba – QPR for £12m

David Jones – Benton FC for £10 extra and a load of decking wood courtesy of the chairman’s timber merchant business

Danny Graham – £5m to Sunderland

Chris Davis – Green Park Rgrs same money but some part time bar work at the club 3 evenings per week

David Beckham – PSG for Free. Donating his 7 figure salary to charity!!!

Alan Spencer – Middleton Town for Free. Donating his £25 per week back to the club by purchasing Strongbow and pork scratchings after every game.

There is only one of these that will make any real impact in the grand scheme of things – Jonesy’s garden is going to look great and the summer BBQs will be perfect.

Catch you at the back post

Ronnie

Kicking a ball around from the moment boys can walk is a pretty standard image that you’d encounter in millions of homes across the country. The lucky and ability blessed ones develop those dribbling skills (football variety) and make a profession out of what is essentially a game of running about a bit. That career path dream is held by many but only realised by the few and absolutely fair play to them – jealous as I was of those that “made it”, I always admired the fact that they had got to where I had always aspired to be.

But, what becomes of all the dreamers that don’t have professional footballer as their occupation on their passport?

You just have to gaze across any playing field or Rec on a Sunday morning in any town to see just how many dreamers are peddling their “magic” for Dog & Duck Rovers in front of one man and his dog. These guys have my admiration as much as the Bentley driving superstars of the Premiership, there is something very special about donating £5 “subs” for the privilege of chasing a bag of wind round a muddy field for an hour and a half. This is where real passion for the game is found in my humble opinion, these guys really do live and breathe the game. When away from playing they are fans of clubs, many will live their social lives around Sky TVs live match schedule and be found next to the bar dissecting every game from the bottom of another pint of Stella.

So, what of the guys who fall between the two stools? Not making it at one of the 92 league clubs, but maybe a cut above having to put nets up before an early morning kick off in the park. Almost to a man, they would have “had a trial with…….”, most have been “on the books of…….” and had they had a little luck or been in the right place/ right time would be on the telly too!!!

I’m sure that if you are reading this blog, you too will have an interest in football and be fully aware that there are players that get remunerated for playing the game part time. In a pyramid system that covers the length and breadth of the country, there are guys that will be counting some cash stuffed inside a little brown envelope as they kick their boots off after a match. Playing in front of crowds that vary from 30 or 40 die hards, upto to a few thousand, all paying hard earned wages for the “privilege” of watching these postmen, bricklayers, plumbers and chefs put on a “show” for them.

I had the pleasure of being paid to play part time for 23 years. Up & down the country every Saturday from starting as a 15yr old on £10 a game through, what I think, was a half decent career and on to hanging up my boots as a 38yr old back on £10 a game.

This blog is me trying to relay some of the things that non league players and clubs encounter, some tales from around different dressing rooms and some general ramblings on football and the way that the image of our idols filter down to grass roots level.

If you like what you read, please spread the word.

Cheers
Ronnie Rightback

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