Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 19: Football Is A Game You Play With The Brain

Albert Camus, Frenchman, philosopher and existential author was, apparently, a bit of a handy goalkeeper. Whether he’d have given Fabien Barthez (one-time ‘keeper of the French national team and ex-beau of Linda Evangelista) a run for his money, is open to speculation. Maybe he was content to knock the ball about, down the park with Sartre?

I have a story that my mind tells me came from watching Parkinson one Saturday night back in the UK; I can’t remember whether it was an anecdote of Parky’s or if it was relayed to him by one of his guests:

Old Trafford Football Ground, Manchester, the late 1960’s. Matt Busby (later royally dubbed “Sir” Matt) was holding a training session with his Manchester United players on the pitch at the “Theatre of Dreams” (I don’t think Old Trafford had actually been called that yet) when he called the players - Bobby Charlton (also later to become a knight of the realm), Nobby Stiles, Dennis Law and the other greats) down to the dressing room. However, he told the young Northern Irish wunderkind, George Best (pictured), to stay up on the turf and kick a ball about for a bit.

Already an enormously prodigious talent, but a youth still unsure of his footing in the world, George guessed that the rest of the team were to have a sophisticated tactical talk with the boss, the level of which would be above and beyond him, that’s why he was excluded and left to carry on with his footwork and ball skills on the pitch.

This is what, apparently, took place in the dressing room. Matt Busby seated the players and did indeed talk about the tactics for the upcoming game against whoever the opposition was on the weekend; this is what he said. “Here’s what I want you to do on Saturday lads: when you get the ball, give it to George.”

When I was but a nipper, My father had a friend and colleague - “Uncle Jeff” - who was down from Manchester (Salford in fact) who lodged with us for a little while, whilst he found his footing in the alien (to him) South of England. Uncle Jeff was a season ticket holder and rabid supporter of Man Utd and set about grooming me to join the cause and follow the Red Devils. I couldn’t have been more that eight or nine at the time, but, football club allegiances aside, what I do remember about Uncle Jeff, was that he predicted I would be Prime Minister one day.

That prediction has yet to come to pass, and maybe it’s stretching a long bow to think that it ever might, but that’s not the point of this tale. Whether I move my CD collection into 10 Downing Street or not, what I will never forget, is the belief that Uncle Jeff had in me. Sad to say, that I don;t know his whereabouts today, but I imagine that he’s maybe moved on from this earth of ours, for sure he’d be in his late 90’s by now. By the way, his surname was Buckley. How many kids can say that a personal mentor of theirs was Jeff Buckley?!

George Best has sadly left us. There are many legacies and other tales that remain of George Best, most importantly though, his footballing gift to this world will endure.

Day #19 Tip: Get Yourself A Fan Base
It is suggested that the apprenticeship of the screenwriter is ten years long, and even then, at the end of that ten years, there is no guarantee that you will be gainfully employed, let alone a success. It’s a chipper thought isn’t it?

I’ve just tipped over that ten year mark so I’ll keep you apace with what it looks like from the other side as I find out for myself.

My own experience of that apprenticeship (and beyond) tells me this: you will need tenacity, talent is a good thing too, but you cannot go far without a support system of friends and family; it’s an essential.

I’m very lucky and very grateful. I have friends and family who offer nutritional, emotional and financial support and have done all through the days and the long nights so far. Yet, as Dante says, in the opening stanza of Canto 1, Volume 1 (Inferno) of The Divine Comedies: “Midway along the journey of our life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.”

That was actually quoted to me when I was making my life-changing career choice, to abandon almost certain riches and security in business (in the 90’s) to pursue this life where the only guaranteed reward is that of constancy to what I believe in, what I would have, as a fulfilling life, for me.

It’s in that “dark wood” (which you WILL find yourself in at some point) that you are going to need the words of an Uncle Jeff to be your beacon, luring you away from the siren song that would have you crash on the rocks of whatever forces oppose your dreams.

It’s also crucial, nay vital, that you have something, a kind of lodestar, to place your trust in whilst navigating these tricky and inky waters of doubt. Football helps me, centers me, lightens my load and brightens my world. Maybe George Best, Camus and Dante are knocking a ball about “up” on the pitch whilst I’m down here thinking about the tactics for Saturday?

In the words of another venerable "Sir", Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: creator of Sherlock Holmes, a founder-member of Portsmouth Football club and, himself, a goalkeeper:

"To give and to take, to accept success modestly and defeat bravely, to fight against odds, to stick to one's point, to give credit to your enemy and value your friend - these are some of the lessons which football should impart."

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