WRITTEN BY JEFF MARTIN, EDITED BY PETE MARTIN
As I had got married and was planning a family, at the ripe old age of 25, I decided to sign on for my school Old Boys team to just play for a few years, running down my playing career. Little did I know that I would play for them for another twenty-three years, and then go on to manage them. My old school played rugby only, however the Old Boys ran five football teams as well as four rugby teams. The Old Boys also had a fantastic club house where we all met up for a drink after the game. We had two teams in the Liverpool Zingari League and three in the Liverpool Old Boys’ League.
I played my first game in the 2nd Xl but for the next game I was chosen for the 1st Xl. I stayed in the 1st Xl for a number of years but I started to drop into the lower teams as I got older. When I was 40, I had been a head teacher for seven years and I decided to retire from playing football. I was presented with a carriage clock to commemorate fifteen years’ service.
I took up jogging and by the time the next season came around I felt so fit I signed on again. By the time I finally hung up my boots at the age of 48, I had accumulated three carriage clocks, an award for Player of the Year and a Clubman of the Year Award.
The club was full of characters. The club secretary was a wonderful man named Don Astill. Every year he sent a complete list of all the players, giving names, addresses, dates of birth and telephone numbers. The very last season I played he put my birth date down in Roman Numerals!
Old Cathinians, the full title of the Old Boys team, had been formed in 1908 when St. Edwards College was called the Catholic Institute - hence Cath-in-ians. Another great character at the club was Eddie O’Leary, who played well into his fifties. Eddie was a lifelong servant of the club, from player, captain, manager, treasurer, club secretary and chairman.
One Saturday we were playing St Mary’s O.B. at their ground at Hightown. Eddie played centre half and I played right back in this particular game. Hightown is situated between Crosby and Formby in north Liverpool and its location on the coast meant it was bleak in winter. The wind was howling in from Liverpool Bay. At a set-piece, Eddie went up to head a clearance but just as the ball came towards him it caught in the wind. The ball was now too low to head and too high to kick and subsequently, in Eddie’s misjudged attempt to connect, the ball got trapped between Eddie’s nose and his knee and he managed to break his own nose. Blood was splattered everywhere and the referee, who was quite elderly, saw the mess of Eddie’s face and nearly fainted. He instructed Eddie, “I think you’d better go off, son”. Eddie managed to reply, “It’s my nose and I am not going off – and don’t call me son!”. The referee tried again to assert himself and told Eddie in no uncertain terms to bring on a substitute. After coming slightly back to his senses and realising he was captain, Eddie responded, “Oh, alright, Billy, you come on, Joe, you go off”. Eddie played the rest of the game.
Eddie features again in another great memory regarding a game at Mossley Hill. Eddie was still captain and he insisted on taking any penalty kicks that we were awarded. However, he had missed his last two attempts. After his last miss I told him that I would take the penalties until I missed one, and then it would be his turn again. Reluctantly, he agreed.
After five minutes at Mossley Hill, we were awarded a penalty and Eddie picked up the ball and placed it on the spot. I reminded him of our agreement and so I lined up to take the kick. The goalkeeper tried to put me off by shouting, “I know where you’re going to put it”. I replied, “I know too,” and pointed to his left. The referee blew his whistle and I put the ball exactly where I said it would go as the keeper dived to his right.
Ten minutes later, we were be awarded another penalty and Eddie said I should not take this one as the goalkeeper would know where I would put it. I did not argue, just picked up the ball and put it on the spot. As I was lining up, the keeper shouted again, “I know where you put them, I bet you wouldn’t put it there again”. I smiled and again pointed to his left. The whistle blew and again I put it exactly where I said I would, watching the keeper dive to his right again. He was livid and he called me all the names under the sun for which he received a yellow card.
Near the end of the game, we were awarded a third penalty. Again Eddie tried to persuade me not to take it. However, I was not going to turn down the chance of a hat-trick of penalties so I picked up the ball and put it on the spot. The keeper by now was quite annoyed, shouting and yelling that I wouldn’t score again. I put the ball once again to his left and again he dived to his right. He must have been convinced that I wouldn’t shoot the same penalty three times. Psychology won and I had my hat-trick. The keeper refused to shake my hand at the end of the game. No loss to me.
Another larger-than-life character was Jim Jolley - who was just as his name suggested him to be. Late in our careers, Jim was captain of the 3rd Xl. For an away match at Hillfoot Hey, when we arrived we only had ten men so Jim found a phone box and rang the club. The club secretary assured Jim that someone would be despatched right away to make up the numbers.
We kicked off with ten men and after fifteen minutes or so a car screeched into the car park. The driver waved over and began to change rapidly at the side of the pitch. Jim came over to me at a stoppage in the game and pointed to the player they had sent. It was probably the worst player the club had. Jim thus commented, “We thought it was the cavalry coming over the hill to help us, but it isn’t, it’s more bloody Indians”.
The guy on the touchline, having changed, shouted, “Jim, I’m ready, where do you want me?”
Jim immediately shouted back, “Go sub”.
Confused, our new player began to count the number of players on the pitch. He called out again, “Jim, you’ve only got ten men, where do you want me to play?”
Again, Jim replied, “Yes, I know – go sub”.
We played the whole game with ten men and we drew 0 – 0. Jim reckoned that if we had brought him on we would have lost!
The demands of my job as a headteacher grew more and more and I was beginning to feel too much pain in my right hip. I was told that I would potentially need a hip replacement so I reluctantly gave up playing football after a thirty-three year amateur football career. It was full of fun, pleasure and excitement and I played with and against so many great players and characters and I have so many happy memories.
At the age of 48, instead of playing, I was persuaded to manage the 1st Xl and I did this for 3 years, gaining two promotions.
One memorable afternoon we were chasing promotion and I received a phone call from one of my best players to say that he was stuck in traffic but he expected to be at the ground at half time.
I was still registered as a player for the club so I decided I would play myself at centre forward until he arrived, solely with the intention of just holding the ball up and laying it off quickly. After about five minutes, our right winger flew down the wing cut in and shot at goal. The keeper dived, got a hand to the ball but pushed it out towards me. The keeper was in a heap on the ground and with no defenders anywhere near I rolled it into the back of the net from a few feet away. By the time we got back to the club after the game my goal had magically become a left foot screamer from the edge of the penalty area!
We gained promotion that year. At the end of season presentation evening, we all received trophies, me included as manager. As I collected my medal, my captain asked me to stay where I was. Out of a plastic carrier bag, he brought out an old, battered football boot screwed onto a wooden plinth. The boot was sprayed with gold paint. It was inscribed with the words: ‘The Most Outrageous Goal Award’. I still have it and treasure it, it means so much to me because it was from my team. I still chuckle when I think of it. As far as I know only ex-Evertonian Gary Lineker, Harry Kane and myself are the only Englishmen to have been awarded the Golden Boot!