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The rise of the Big Shorts

For most of us, a decent standard of Saturday or Sunday parks football is about the best we can hope for during our playing 'careers'.

Occasionally in Sunday football your side will come up against someone who played a couple of games for the local non-league side’s reserve team, or claims to have once had a trial with Preston, Charlton Athletic or Rochdale.

Aside from those kind of talking points, winning Division 7 of the Thames Valley Sunday League and such like is about the best it gets for most of us.

I will admit it, I have always been more adept at writing about football than playing it, although there have been some interesting times in my family footballing history. My great grandfather played for Fulham and Reading and as far as I can tell he still holds the record for most number of goals for Southall during the days when they were one of the best amateur sides in the country. He bagged something like 65 goals during one season so I am told.

My grandfather was a pretty good keeper, he got offered a pro contract in Ireland but turned it down as he wanted to stay in England and a knee injury put paid to his playing career. He went on to become assistant manager at Maidenhead United.

Footballing talent

That was about as good as it got for playing talent in our family's footballing heritage. My dad played for Henley Town and was known as ‘Chopper’ for his tactics as a right back of refusing to let any opposition wingers go around him. He was better known as a director at Reading FC and leading the campaign to stop the proposed merger with Oxford United back in the 1980s. He was also Kerry Dixon, Lee Dixon, Brian Marwood and David Speedie’s agent.

For my brother and I, Sunday football was the best we could manage as players. Having said that, football talent could be on the up again in our family. My nephew Sam is with Reading FC’s elite goalkeeper academy.

I was never any good as a player during my school days. I made the sum total of one substitute appearance for the school team as a result of almost the entire first team being away on a skiing trip. I did at least come away with a positive memory of the game, I was on the pitch when we scored our goal in an 8-1 defeat.

I fancied playing though and it was during my days at Reading College that I stumbled into management, guiding the team to victory in the Under 19s Berkshire Schools and Colleges Trophy for the first time in the college’s history. We represented Berkshire in the English Schools FA Under 19s tournament and reached the last 32.

Management bug

I had got the management bug so I got together with some mates and we started Maidenhead Big Shorts in January 1991. I was player-manager. It doesn’t get better than that in terms of power. I could guarantee myself a place in the side.

Our first game was at Maidenhead Ticket, a friendly against the Windsor Castle pub. Not quite jumpers for goalposts but goalposts without nets anyway. Playing in a three-pronged attack, I scored a hat-trick in the first 12 minutes, left foot, right foot, header. Perhaps something there from my great grandfather’s goalscoring genes. Windsor Castle substituted their goalkeeper. We ended up winning the game 4-2.

After 10 games (all friendlies) I was leading goalscorer with 10 goals, including a five-goal haul in an 8-2 victory during which I also missed a penalty. That game was the highlight of my playing career. I was deadly for one Sunday.

We secured our place in Division 7 of the Thames Valley Sunday League and after making a couple of shrewd signings, we quickly became the team to beat in the division, going on a long unbeaten run before clinching the title with an 8-2 win against Boxcat.

Personalities

Our two strikers bagged 70 goals between them that season, but it was the personalities that really made the season so memorable.

We had one player, Neil Warren, a Spurs fan, who was in love with Paul Gascoigne and had skills to match (all in context of course). I am sure he used to glue the ball to his foot at times, he was a master dribbler and mesmerised many an opposition defence.

We had a stylish and tough-tackling midfielder, Andy Wilkinson, who hailed from Leeds and combined his Yorkshire grit with subtle passing and goalscoring skills that were frankly a bit too much for opposition sides to handle sometimes.

There was winger Chris Potter, the only other person I know who runs like Michael Jordan, and on the other wing was Speedy Gonzales, aka Jose Griffith, whose main skill was legging it down the right flank at full speed. We never knew whether he was going to do something brilliant at the end of his runs, or give the ball away.

Lightning quick

Possibly our most interesting player was left back Richard Baldwin. Had never played football before but was lightning quick and usually what happened was that he would be beaten for skill and, just as his smug opponent was about to send over a telling cross, he would race back with a cloud of dust trailing in his wake and put in a telling tackle.

Our keeper, Joe Quelch, was another interesting character. Decent keeper at that level and had played for Maidenhead United’s reserve side. Once threatened to go home at half-time after one of his team-mates had a go at him.

One of our best players was Jon Kerrigan, who had moved to the area from Liverpool for work. He could play at centre back or in central midfield and was a great tackler, header and distributor of the ball, with a very good ‘engine’ to boot. Then we had Jon’s philosophical centre back partner Rowan Ellis, a laid-back guy - with a nice-looking girlfriend - who liked my tactics of using a ‘midfield hunter’ to protect him.

We once lined up for kick-off and spotted that we only had 10 players. Our right back, Tom Bowtell, had been locked in the toilet and we only realised when someone saw his head poking out of the window shouting for help.

Arrogant

In terms of our ‘star’ players, that honour would have to go to our strike partners, Richard Lawrance and Nick Malaperiman. Richard was regarded as a bit arrogant by most of the other players but you could usually rely on him to bag a goal or two. He also managed to beat my Big Shorts record by scoring six goals in one game.

I think I speak for anyone who has ever played with him when I say that Nick was our most charismatic player. Great player, very skilful, quick, scored plenty of goals and would always go for a wonder strike when the opportunity presented itself, but it was his constant chattering during games that really made him stand out. He was frequently heard to come out with phrases like “that was as useful as tits on fish” when he missed a chance.

Mark Knight, a good defender at Thames Valley Sunday League level, and Tony Thompson, a speedy striker who went on to play for Beaconsfield SYCOB's first team in the Spartan League, were two of our other key men that season. And a token mention for regular substitute Martin Maddox. Like me, he turned up every week and rarely got a game, but he kept coming back for more.

We went on to secure a league and cup double that season and the league bumped us up two levels to Division 5. While we were happy about that, the league in their wisdom also elevated about four other Division 7 teams to Division 5.

Audacity

After making enquiries as to whether the Thames Valley League might consider putting us up one more division, we were hoisted up to Division 2. I found out afterwards that the league wanted to teach us a lesson for having the audacity to question their decision to place us in Division 5.

We went on to finish as runners-up in Division 2 and got bumped up to the Premier Division. We drew our first game that season but it was a world away from Division 7 and our glorious run of success was finally clipped.

By that time, I couldn’t justify my place in the side, so as my original aim had been to play I made the interesting decision to retire from management and join a team in the local friendly league. But I’d had my success as a player and manager and was pretty happy with it.

Above all, and I probably speak for most Sunday footballers here, it wasn’t really all about winning, it was the camaraderie that made it such a special time in my life. Happy days and fond memories.

Oh, and the lads keep banging on at me about organising a reunion. Might be a bit tricky to pull it all together now, particularly as one of the ex players now lives in Canada.

I remember the days when I was manager, substitute, secretary, treasurer, linesman, fixture secretary, results secretary, social secretary, kit manager and media officer all at the same time. But I wouldn’t rule out doing it all over again just one last time.

By Mark Roach


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