The Hoofer: Ten years left to score from halfway

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The Independent Online

On an ordinary football pitch in east Lancashire, some time in the 1960s, a talented local striker called Ralph Singleton did something that marked him apart from any other player in the local leagues that Saturday afternoon. He scored a goal from the halfway line.

This unusual occurrence predated a similar achievement by one of the county's more famous club players, David Beckham, who scored from within his own half for Manchester United against Wimbledon several decades later. However, what elevated Singleton's remarkable goal still further was that he scored from the halfway line with a header. A header. With the aid of a gusting wind and an opposing keeper who slipped in a puddle on the edge of the 18-yard box – but with a header nevertheless.

The local paper summed up the achievement succinctly. "Singleton scores with header from halfway line" ran the back-page headline.

Singleton retired from amateur league football in his forties after competing in cup finals at Deepdale, the home ground of his boyhood heroes Preston North End. He played for Accrington Stanley reserves and might have turned professional had he not been a working man with a family to support.

These were among the thoughts that skimmed across my mind last Saturday as I sought to resume my own football career at the age of 33 (in human years, the age of Christ, in football terms the age of Stuart Ripley). Standing on a pitch for the first time in four years after three knee operations, I had a lot of catching up to do before I could craft my own footballing epitaph. For Ralph Singleton is my father-in-law.

In my heyday, such as it was, I did a passable impression of Lee Chapman. Strong enough, quick enough, brave enough and stupid enough. And reasonably good in the air. These attributes and a decent level of fitness once gave me an edge over better players. Not any more. In London's Battersea Park last Saturday for a friendly, I became aware that my best days were behind me. I was outpaced, outpassed and outmanoeuvred in the first game for my new team, poor buggers – the splendidly-named Oxygen FC.

So, what keeps us amateur footballers going, us otherwise well-adjusted men in their thirties with more dignified ways to spend their Saturday mornings? Speaking personally, it's a combination of three factors: blind denial of my own physical deterioration, a baseless faith in my limited ability and the fact that the idea of playing football still sets my heart racing in much the same way that Ralph Singleton's daughter first did one March evening in the early 1990s. And, of course, there's the thought that I've only got another 10 seasons or so in which to score from the halfway line. Even if it's not with a header.