Leeds City Musings by author Andrew Carter

A Tribute to Sunday League Football in Leeds – Part One

After cutting my footballing teeth on my school’s modest tarmac playground at lunchtimes, I joined Kirkstall Crusaders when I was in Year Five. Sadly my introduction to competitive action was not a smooth one. On the back of Euro 96 and scoring a good goal one evening in my back garden, I had already decided that I was going to be a professional footballer and would therefore glide effortlessly into the first team and become a prolific striker. I was unperturbed by the fact that I had an ungainly running style and was pretty rubbish.

Preparation before my debut training session was flawed as I’d been to a sleepover (the pinnacle of a ten year old’s social life) at my friend’s house the night before. With peer pressure beginning to rear its ugly head, it was highly frowned upon if you didn’t stay awake until sunrise and I was exhausted. On top of this, a friend had drawn a penis on my forehead in marker pen which I hadn’t managed to fully scrub off. This was unlikely to endear me to my new teammates and coaches although I doubt first impressions of my friend were great either; he smelt awful having had to spend time locked in a cupboard with a full bin on his head during a punishing game of truth or dare.

My foul-smelling friend redeemed himself by being a good player and immediately caught the manager’s eye. I, on the other hand, did not and quickly found myself with the ‘have nots’, a mismatch of ages, sexes and generally not very good players, who were cast to playing at the top of a hill on some uncut grass under the guidance of someone’s older brother who had an ear stud. I remained there for months.

The manager came up the hill to watch us for a few minutes every training session, making notes and occasionally calling players up to the first team. I resented these players. You had to be exceptionally lucky to time your moment of magic accordingly, a task made more difficult by the older brother / coach playing at full tilt and never passing the ball, often for the entirety of the manager’s scouting mission. It was difficult and I always found myself feeling nervous and making bad decisions, things which I would become increasingly familiar with in later life.

Eventually I got the nod and by the following season, I was called into the squad as second choice right back, a role I would hold down for the next five seasons. As with any kind of football, there were plenty of ups and downs over this period. Scoring my first goal was pure unadulterated joy but within literally seconds, our centre back and I sandwiched and clumsily bundled over their striker for a penalty and we went on to lose.

Life as a squad player could be tough with a particularly low ebb coming when the manager chose to toss a coin to decide who should start a key game between me and my friend who, incidentally, was the other part of the sandwich. He chose tails and won, so I had to be the linesman.

As a substitute, you often had to face the indignity of running the line, a task I exclusively seemed to get given when we were playing the toughest teams in Leeds. Getting abuse hurled at you for wrong offside calls was never a fun way to spend your Sunday mornings. Even less-so against teams whose alleged twelve year olds had beards and tattoos suggesting a particularly lax / fraudulent ID card policy.

On one occasion, it almost got too much and our recently-dropped striker and I came up with a bizarre ultimatum; if both of us didn’t get back into the starting line-up, we were going to join the Leeds Lizards, a weekend climbing group at Leeds Wall. Quite why we had chosen this I don’t know. What would it have proved? I haven’t been to Leeds Wall since, so I guess we must have forced our way back into the manager’s plans.

Find out what happens next week…