I went to a Secondary Modern School in the industrial West Midlands during the late sixties. There were two schools on our site one a Grammar School and the other was mine! As school kids we all walked up the same school drive together but at the top we split and went either left or right!
The `grammar grubs` as we affectionately called them went to the right and I went to the left! I used to `bunk off` from my classes as often as possible by sneaking off across the sports fields and making my way to the old airport to watch the footballers of Walsall football club training on open fields. These were the stars of my youth – these were the men I looked forward to seeing out on the football pitch every week at Fellows Park home to the Saddlers.
Like many other council estate kids I had failed my eleven plus miserably. Not many kids from my estate passed at that time because we were never given too much encouragement by our teachers to achieve and our parents were too busy working.
So I went through my teenage years playing and watching football whenever I could only ever switching into top gear when I had a ball at my feet.
I played football as a forward in the local Junior Youth league scoring on a regular basis and was invited along for trials at a couple of professional clubs including Walsall and as school didn’t interest me I was hoping a life playing football might be my escape.
Unfortunately the trials came and went but my love for the Saddlers never diminished. I eventually left school with just one CSE and that was a grade one in History so off I went to work as a foundry clerk for five years!
During the training sessions at the old airport, I used to hang around the fringes never interfering or getting in the way of the players. After all, I didn’t want to give them a reason for sending me back to school!
My close friend Keith was always there too as he was as barmy about the `Saddlers` as I was. When we weren’t bunking off school we could be found playing Subbuteo for hours and fighting over who was going to be Walsall!
All of my heroes were down at the old airport, Frank Gregg, Stan Bennett, Nick Athey and my favourite player Colin `Cannonball` Taylor.
It was a fantastic time kicking the balls back to the players when they came our way and occasionally getting autographs in our school exercise books. I knew they would come in useful for something!
I remember there was a lot of running about with the balls and small – sided games but there was very little of the sports equipment you would find in most secondary schools today. Small plastic cones and fluorescent vests had yet to make their appearance in the West Midlands! We didn’t talk to the players much either because after all we were only twelve years old and these men were our heroes! We would always wish them luck for the next game before they set off at the end of the sessions and they would always wave and shout back from the old bus they had arrived in.
Having slipped out of school for a few hours we would then make our way back ready to suffer the consequences. I would usually say I got up late or that I was not feeling very well. The teachers never bothered to check whether I was telling the truth because I would always write short sick notes from my parents to back up my story!
It always worked, so I continued with the lies for the rest of the season.
For me life was football, not education. Sometimes during the summer term I would disappear to play football in some quiet part of the school grounds, which was hidden from view of the main school. In the long hot days of summer holidays, which seemed to go on for ever, I would play football all day long on the open `croft`, only stopping to run home and grab a bite to eat before returning to the game!
Sometimes fifteen or more a side would play on until the sun went down and we were back the next day to do it all over again!
March 1967 v Bristol Rovers – I won two stand tickets for writing this letter!
Perhaps surprisingly, I never did make my living as a clerk or a footballer, I became a secondary school teacher!
I always taught my students about the importance of getting a good education and to value their lessons in school!
If any of my students had ever told me they had `bunked off` school to go and watch a football match, I hope I would have fully understood!