Readers Stateside need to be aware that I'm talking soccer here, not the American brand of football. And the era will be ancient history to many readers - an era when our boots had hard leather toecaps, the ball never swerved unless there was a high wind, and overlapping full-backs hadn't been invented.
Two and a Half Moments of Glory
I was always a left back at football, even in my schooldays – and I don’t mean the old joke, “left back in the dressing-room”.
I never scored, of course; full backs then didn’t aspire to scoring goals. We were defenders, pure and simple. Our job was to clatter the opposing winger, over the touch-line if possible. Getting the ball as well was a bonus.
If we chanced to stray anywhere near the opponents’ territory, our legs started to shake; crossing the halfway line meant a full-on nose-bleed.
I said “always a left back”. That was true, until my last year at secondary school, when a newcomer usurped the position I’d held for four years. Four years of faithful service, chasing speedy wingers, tripping up inside-forwards and stopping free kicks with my face – all counted for nothing when that new boy arrived. He was tall and sort of good-looking, I suppose, in a Teutonic kind of way. Certainly the girls from the nearby convent school seemed to think so.
He was Peter von Manteuffel – a German, for Pete’s sake!
We’d just spent six years beating the schnitzel out of them all over Europe, and they had the gall to send one of their blond-haired blue-eyed Aryan supermen to steal the affections of the flower of our girlhood and my place in the school team.
He did that in the usual sneaky German way, by being faster, fitter and great at taking penalties. His name meant “Man-Devil”. What can you expect?
Later, in the Army, I played for the Intelligence Corps Depot, then for our unit team in Cyprus, on sun-baked pitches that had never seen a blade of grass – murder on your knees if you went to ground – and still never scored a goal.
Then I came to Aberdeen, 32 years old, married with two sons but still a goal-scoring virgin. I played for YMCA Rovers. One Saturday I turned up at Hazlehead but found we already had a full team. I looked around the other pitches and saw that Castle Rovers were one short.
‘Do you need one more, boys?’ I asked.
‘Aye, fit’s yer name?’
‘OK, Tom,. You’re centre-forward.’
Centre-forward! Ah, well, a game’s a game. I can go and hide afterwards.
We got a corner on the left in our first attack. I was as short then as I am now, so I didn’t stay in the middle to try to outjump their six-foot defenders. I ran towards the corner to lure one of them away from the goalmouth. Our corner-taker, instead of lofting the ball towards the goal as I expected, saw me, mistook me for a proper centre-forward and passed it straight to my feet.
Not me, you idiot! I’m a full-back. What do I do now? The defender was right behind me. I jinked to the left to go infield, then cut back towards the goal-line. Not exactly your Johan Cruyff but it worked - fooled him completely. I still savour that moment.
I chipped the ball high into the goalmouth; one of our boys rose above the defenders and headed it into the net. One-nil to Castle Rovers; slaps on the back for Tom (aka Don). We didn’t do hugging and I would have been appalled to be underneath a writhing mass of celebrating sweaty bodies.
Early in the second half it got even better. I cut in from the right with the ball at my feet and banged over a hopeful left foot cross towards the far post. Next thing I knew, my team were celebrating their second goal. The ball had sneaked in at the top corner.
Our third goal was a carbon copy of the second. I found myself in the same position and thought,’Why not?’ Into the net it went. The crowd of seven men, one mum and a dog went crazy.
Pinpoint accuracy. As if I’d been working on it for years. David Beckham, eat your heart out! “Bend it like Don (or Tom).”
But even the short report in the Evening Express got my name wrong: “Castle Rovers beat Northfield 3-0. Scorers were Buchan and Will (2).”
I wonder if old Rovers players sit around now with their arthritic hips and replacement knees, nursing their pints and telling tales of the legend who was Tom Will, the mystery man who appeared out of nowhere, gave a false name, won the game for them, then disappeared, never to be seen again.