In case you hadn't noticed I'm a football fan. This post was inevitable then - it is my tribute to the beautiful game. And right off the bat let me acknowledge two things - 1) that not many of you share my passion, even less are the Arsenal fans amongst you (just Keegan, Adam, Jade, Samantha and me I believe), at least one of you is a Spurs fan (well he's my dad so I have to still talk to him), Tina Ballerina is (it pains me to say it) a MUFC supporter, two of you are Liverpool fans (Tom and Lewis), and five of us are Rochdale devotees (Fran, Tom, Lewis, Christine and me). I think that's about it - if you want your affiliation listed on my blog you'll need to get in touch. The rest of you are either rugby minded (you can't escape it living in NZ) or don't care. And 2) I can't write about football like Nick Hornby (who can?). His blog is full of incredibly insightful things about football in general and Arsenal in particular and I want to be like that when I grow up.
My love affair with football began when I was four. I have no idea why. Maybe dad could fill in the details. Whatever the prompting - I stuffed a couple of pairs of socks into my boots and wandered off to Seymour Park in Royal Oak, Auckland. Eden FC was the club and I was a good player - I went through all the Auckland rep grades until it was time for Mt Albert Grammar to enjoy my cultured left and right foot. I was captain of the first eleven and played at that level for three years, ending up as a school-boy Under 19 Auckland rep. That sounds pretty impressive huh. I loved football and was a dedicated player but in truth if, by quirk of fate, I'd been playing in England I wouldn't have emerged on any scout's radar. After the University years I coached and played at New Plymouth Boys' High before going back to Eden FC where I played socially with some old friends (Grant and Graham King) for a few years. Since then it's been a steady decline as the knees took umbrage and the social football ended when I left England in 2007. I must say I really miss football injuries. That feeling late on Saturday and all day Sunday when shins or thighs or whatever ached is a delicious one.
Why Arsenal? In 1971 my grandfather (Harry Purdy) did a return to England tour with my grandmother (Christina). They stayed with relations - even met Christine and David and Irene I think - and in BnBs. One such in London was with an elderly Arsenal fan. 1970/1971 was, of course, the great Charlie George goal-against-Liverpool-lying-on-his-back-to-celebrate season. Harry brought me back oodles of football stuff but the one mystical artifact was a Daily Mail celebration magazine that contained that photo and...that was all it took. Actually that's not strictly true - the Arsenal name, the uniform, the Arsenal badge, the place - Highbury - sounded otherworldly, the pictures of George Graham and George Kennedy et al all combined to hook me and make me a gooner forever.
Why Brazil? Pretty much similar reasons really - the 1970 world cup put the seal on it. Football from another planet - Pele and his mates running rings around the world. They seemed to be, and were, so exotic. I remember watching a news report of Pele practising volleying the ball into the net. My memory is a tad shonky but I seem to recall that he never missed. The ball was being played through to him at about chest height - he'd volley it in the air while falling to the ground, get up, do it again and again. It was the most extraordinary thing! This clip is the closest I could find - the one I remember must be out there somewhere though.
Why Rochdale? I was always aware of our Rochdale roots. Harry, his brother, Eddie (Suzanne's g/dad), and father (William Nugent Purdy) emigrated to New Zealand when the two boys were young. They settled eventually in the house I knew in Mt Eden, Auckland - in Reimers Ave by Eden Park. At the front gate was a pergola type structure that had roses on it (and Ross and I when we visited). Etched into the plaster was the word 'Rochdene'. When I asked I found out the connection. Again when Harry/Christina returned from that UK tour in 1971 they brought back a name and address - Christine Purdy in Lancashire. I started writing to Christine - I think when she was still actually living in Rochdale (you can correct me Christine). And...she started writing back. The fact that Rochdale was always in the old 4th division and Arsenal always in the old 1st division helped and seemed right. I'd get my football magazines each week from grandma and follow their belated progress. NZ is always months behind the UK in things that matter - Mojo and football magazines (unless you buy the really expensive airfreighted versions) and Coronation St (we're over a year behind the UK) - so the news was always out of date but the pictures were great.
Why Zico and Paul Merson(both on the top left Inspirations column) and Denis Bergkamp? Pele was awe inspiring but I was too young in 1970 (age 12) to really appreciate his genius. Plus the TV didn't carry the games - this was still in the black and white early NZBC days of one channel that started at 5 pm and closed down in early evening. No way were they covering football from Brazil! So it wasn't until colour, two channels, more viewing time arrived and the 1982 world cup finals rolled around that I witnessed Falcao, Socrates (pictured) , Eder and Zico in action. Wow and double wow! Not just the names, not just the uniform, but the way they played with no concern for gravity, convention, respect was breathtaking. They even played New Zealand at those finals - we were in a group with Scotland and Brazil. I was living in Hastings during the winter term of '82, staying with a mad Scottish family while doing a teaching practice at Havelock North High School. It was the first world cup that I remember getting a huge amount of coverage. Paul Merson was the same kind of inspirational player to me - he'd hare off with the ball at his feet in very characteristic strides and there would usually be a flourish and total commitment to him that I loved. Thierry Henry was like that, Theo Walcott may be like that in years to come (please please please let him stay at Arsenal for a bit longer!). at the moment he's a genius in the cocoon stage.And finally Denis Bergkamp. Denis was just a joy - wouldn't it have been great to witness Cezanne and Monet doing their bit? Well Arsenal fans had Denis. Let me repeat - he was a joy!
Currently grooving to Evermore (a great song - The Light Surrounding You - is on high rotate). Okay - must dash - about 30 pages left of 'London' to read - bye fer now.
Love and peace - W