my own goal

THE former Great Britain half-back, who captains Widnes in their Silk Cut Challenge Cup quarter-final against Wigan on Saturday, recalls his most embarrassing moment in rugby league 15 years ago when he was an aspiring young amateur
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The Independent Online
IT WAS before I signed for Widnes. I was 16 and one of the centres - that long ago. I was playing for a Widnes team called Farnworth in some local cup final.

We were doing quite well at the time, still in with a chance, and when I took a pass and beat a couple of tackles, I thought: "This is it." I was pretty quick in those days.

I broke clear, went round the full-back and dived over the line in triumph. The trouble was that playing fields were in short supply in Widnes at the time and the rugby pitch was combined with a running track, something I hadn't noticed before the match.

The line I thought I had scored over was the marking of the athletics track. I was never as short- sighted as my brother, Paul, so I didn't really have much of an excuse.

I think the problem was that someone was chasing me - probably some kid with a bit of pace - and I was concentrating on staying ahead of him rather than where I was on the field.

By the time I realised my mistake - when I picked myself up expecting to be the hero and found that there was nobody congratulating me - the other team were there to bury me and the chance was gone.

I can still remember the embarrassment of that moment as if it were yesterday. It's probably just as well that I can't remember too many of the comments from my team-mates that day, but "silly bastard" was definitely one of the milder remarks. There can't be many things in the game as annoying as seeing a team-mate doing that, so it was no wonder my popularity went downhill rapidly.

What made it worse was that we finished up getting murdered in the final and, at that age, you're convinced it's all your fault.

Even worse than that was the fact that I already had my heart set on signing as a professional. I'd decided that I was going to play for Widnes. They hadn't decided at that time, but I certainly had.

It definitely did cross my mind that in a small town like Widnes the professional club might have seen or heard about what I'd done and they might not be all that keen on a player who didn't recognise a try-line when he saw one.

I shouldn't have been too worried. They did sign me, when I was playing for another local side, Halton Hornets, later that year. I've been with Widnes ever since, so it didn't exactly ruin my career in the long-run.

But there's one playing field in Widnes that I can never go past without remembering what an idiot you can make yourself look in this game if your concentration slips for a moment.

You could say that it was a good lesson early in my life in rugby league. I might not have scored as many tries as some of the players I've played alongside for Widnes, the likes of Martin Offiah and Andy Currier, but at least I've managed to get most of them down over the right line.

If you do that, at least you've got a chance and I'm relieved to say that it is not a mistake that I have repeated since. Mind you, if I ever found myself playing on a pitch with confusing markings near the try-line, I think I would have a bit of a sinking feeling.

After all these years in the game, it's still the blunder that I remember most vividly. The one thing I reassure myself with is that I know the pitch markings at Naughton Park pretty well by now, and I'm not likely to repeat the mistake against Wigan in the Cup on Saturday.