Football: The journalist's fear of the penalty

The Independent's Glenn Moore is used to reporting on penalty shoot-outs. On Saturday the boot was on the other foot
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The Independent Online
I BLAME Glenn Hoddle. Not because it is fashionable to do so but it was he who told me, the morning after England's World Cup defeat to Argentina, that there was no point in practicing penalties, it was how you felt on that long walk from the half-way line.

So I did not practice. And I missed. Thanks, Glenn.

A word of explanation. For the last year Dr Martens has been running a national competition to find the schoolboy and schoolgirl penalty kings.

After 12 months and thousands of penalties this culminated in a shoot- out on the pitch during half-time in Saturday's West Ham-Aston Villa match. To maximise publicity, Dr Martens rang a few newspapers and asked if they would like to add their football correspondent to the young tiros seeking glory at Upton Park.

Unfortunately, my guv'nor was first to offer a sacrificial hack. However, by the time I found out there was not much time for practice. And, despite the England coach's advice, I did intend to practice. Having not kicked a ball for a week or taken a penalty for years, there was every chance of missing if I did not.

But it rained, heavily, and, despite offering to unpack the dishwasher for a month and finish painting the spare room, I could not persuade my wife to come down the park and go in goal. Not very supportive.

Even worse the late notice meant I was unable to fix up a boot deal. Cameras, I was told, would be present, and it would have been the ideal opportunity to try to pick up a nice new pair of Predators, Sidewinders or Exocets. Instead, the old Mitres were given a rare clean.

The rest of the kit was provided, so it was a West Ham shirt I pulled on in a small dressing-room shortly before half-time. Alongside me was Bruce Grobbelaar, celebrity goalkeeper and a man who had saved a few penalties, notably for Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final shoot-out in Rome.

Would he give me the wobbly knees treatment? I decided the best course was a bit of friendly banter. So I casually reminded him of an interview we had done about four years ago, his last before being falsely accusing of throwing matches, and that I had received a lot of mickey-taking for not asking if he was in the habit of chucking games.

Bruce's cheerful demeanour briefly dimmed - and I decided to forget about offering a side-bet on my penalty.

Courtney Rayfield was in even bigger trouble. On the day of the Merseyside derby, Rayfield, the winner of the boys' under-16 competition, admitted to Bruce that, though hailing from Gravesend, he was an Everton fan. Encouragingly, for those who fear every schoolboy and girl follows Manchester United, the boys' under-13 winner, Hampshire's James Wood, was a Newcastle supporter while the girls' champions, Caroline Jones and Nikki Corbett, followed their local teams Bristol Rovers and Walsall.

Then the half-time whistle blew and we all fell quiet. A silent fear gripped us. Nerves gnawed at our insides and our faces went pale. This was the moment I had dreaded. We were trapped in the tunnel with John Hartson and Eyal Berkovic, Ian Wright, Julian Dicks, Neil Ruddock and Stan Collymore. At any moment a fight could break out and a rogue elbow could come my way. But not this time. No bruises but no "tunnel-dust-up" exclusives either. Nor had I taken the chance to ask Gareth Southgate for a few tips.

On to the pitch, and another worry. The man from Dr Martens warned me that time was tight and there was every chance that, when the official penalties had been taken, West Ham would pull the plug. Never mind missing, this was a new worst-case scenario. At least David Batty did not have to worry about some fluorescent jacket interrupting his run-up with the words: "Sorry mate, more than my job's worth to let you take this kick".

The kids, who would all receive a golden Dr Martens boot if they scored, all hit the target but Bruce saved one. The Evertonian's was the best: Bruce had watched him beforehand and expected him to stick to his routine of putting it to the keeper's right. He rolled it low to his left.

Now it was my big moment. I was going to put it just inside the post to the keeper's left. The crowd bayed.

Well, most of them read their programmes, but quite a few were watching - Grobbelaar's presence had seen to that.

Representing the media meant a few cat-calls, but it is surprising how easily you can shut out extraneous noise. But Bruce took ages to get ready, and a fluorescent jobsworth started moving in.

From being desperate to score I was now just desperate to shoot, so I did. And the goalpost suddenly appeared to bend inwards as my shot sailed past it into the seats. Now I could hear the comments. But I can't repeat them, not in a family newspaper.

Back to the press box to be greeted with a chant of: "You're not very good". So I blame Hoddle, or Eileen Drewery, who must have erected one of those force-fields around the goal. Or the windy conditions, the balls, the dodgy boots, the juxtaposition of Venus.

But then a voice said: "Have you ever thought it might be you?"