Back in training for the thrills and spills of park life

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The Independent Online

I've loved football passionately for as long as I can remember. I had probably a somewhat easier induction than most because, difficult though it may be to believe now, my team Blackpool were the Manchester United of their day.

I've loved football passionately for as long as I can remember. I had probably a somewhat easier induction than most because, difficult though it may be to believe now, my team Blackpool were the Manchester United of their day.

Or rather the Chelsea for, not long before World War II ended, many top stars had been sent by the Forces to the seaside for a spot of R and R and ended up "guesting" for Blackpool. Some, like Stanley Matthews, of course, signed permanently for Pool.

Now that Blackpool has become the gay capital of the north, the term R and R could take on a whole new meaning for some who would perhaps like to see Pool's distinctive tangerine kit supplanted by a rather fetching pink.

To carry on in uncharacteristically tacky vein, I am often reminded of the analogy comparing football with sex: "When it's wonderful, it's mind-blowing; when it's not very good, it's still all right."

Graham Taylor, when England manager, was once chided after David Platt had hurdled the Wembley advertising hoardings on scoring a particularly good goal. There was much shuffling of feet under the committee table when Taylor solemnly informed the venerable FA gentlemen that scoring a goal was akin to having an orgasm.

When I was a teenager, I always scorned the old guys of, shall we say, late middle age who joined in our games. Hair plastered down, shorts flapping in the breeze, they vainly attempted to stamp their mark as the game swirled about them, anxious to convey the impression that they used to be able to play a bit.

Now I've become one of the sad old gits myself, I view such matters rather differently. I firmly believe that we of a certain vintage have much to offer, that the astute brain has it over the keen young legs.

My Sunday league team are still in pre-season training, the early phases of which, if last Sunday's practice was any evidence, were occupied in Spanish discos and wholesale debauchery.

For my part, I was particularly keen to ascertain whether my own brain was as acute as it had been last season before I spent part of the summer in hospital.

I was cleared by the specialist to resume playing. He didn't think my game would be very much affected by my having lost a few little brain cells and, indeed, seemed amused when I asked if there was any chance those missing cells could have been the very ones which caused me to misdirect a pass occasionally. He charitably thought I may have lost a yard of pace initially.

While I wouldn't go as far as Graham Taylor did, there's no doubt that, even at the level we play, the sheer exhilaration of combining in a passing movement that ends with a successful strike on goal is one of the true pleasures of life. Then there's the banter and camaraderie of the game. It never ceases to amaze me how one goal can be seen - and described at inordinate length in the pub - in so many different ways.

The culmination of FC London's "preparations" comes in two imminent pre-season friendlies when the tactics painstakingly planned in the park are first tested under match conditions.

The first is against our new - actually, our first-ever - sponsors, Match of the Day magazine. It didn't take too long to overcome the reservations of the Corinthian element in our team over allowing our previously pristine shirts to be sullied by the MOTD logo. The offer of a free set of shirts soon swung the argument.

I hope our opponents' disposition is not adversely affected by their current dispute with Sir Alex Ferguson, who has broken off relations with the BBC over some criticism his Manchester United side of in the magazine. This could make them as mean as hell. I hope too that Trevor Brooking isn't playing for them. He's nearly my age, but there's one difference. He could play.

Out of deference to the sponsors, our team has already taken on board Alan Hansen's philosophy: "You never win anything with kids". One such inclusion would drop our average age by about 30 years.

The other friendly - I hope it is - is against the FA staff, if there are sufficient left to make up a team after the recent Lancaster Gate cull. Like England with Wembley, the FA its losing its home at Barclays Bank Sports Ground, Hanger Lane.

How many inner city sports fields could have been funded by the money ploughed into the Millennium Dome? Or how many waiting lists cut? Or how many diseases cured? The feel-good factor engendered by the impending season is diluted when I think of such scandalous waste.

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