There is a moment in most aspiring soccer players lives when it finally dawns on them that they will never be good enough to play at the professional level.
For me that moment arrived one wintry Sunday morning on a mud covered pitch somewhere along the border between the counties of Derbyshire and Staffordshire in the middle of England.
For the previous year I had played left-wing (imagine a very poor man’s Stewart Downing) for a pretty good youth team that regularly collected trophies and, on the opposite wing was a particularly good player by the name of Mark Chamberlain.
Mark was a phenomenally quick player, both with and without the ball, and had the skill to destroy a defence all on his own if he was in the mood.
Like many of us he didn’t always turn up for games on time (and sometimes we would be hammering on his front door to wake him up) but when he did play he turned a good team into our equivalent of “great”.
So how did his brilliance make me realise that I was never going to be good enough?
Because, being slightly older, he moved to the “senior” side before me and, in a pre-season game our coach decided to play me at left-back; directly against Mark Chamberlain (the kind of decision that would get many of today’s EPL coaches fired).
Perhaps I could offer the defence that I was being played out of position, but that would be the only defence that I did offer on that day, as the ball seemed to be a blur passing alternately between my legs and over my head while my opponent ran at a speed that seemed more akin to a jungle cat than a human being.
I can’t remember the final score (probably due to PTSD) but safe to say that we lost by a considerable margin.
Mark went on to play for a number of clubs, including at least one genuinely great season at Stoke City, won 8 England caps under Bobby Robson, and even played in the memorable “John Barnes goal” game at the Maracana. I went on to do none of those things.
In truth, given his talent he probably could have achieved more than he did, but he is currently on the coaching staff at Portsmouth and, of course, his son Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has just broken into the Arsenal side and couldn’t have a better mentor than a father who played at the highest level; a father who was given a huge boost of confidence by playing against a lumbering left-back a very long time ago!
(Sadly there seems to be little footage of Mark available but this clip (especially from 4.15 onwards) gives an idea of the speed and trickery that I was up against, and he even grabs a late equalizer at the end).
You can also find other Soccer Report Extra.com contributors on Twitter by following this link.
Please refrain from posting comments that;
The House reserves the right to delete any such comments and to block further participation on the site.