Above Head Height: A Five-A-Side Life
Orrible Ives is gutted we didn’t get his story about his mate Masy, having a heart attack during a Sunday league match, into my book Above Head Height – A Five-A-Side Life. Ives’ name is taken from the great prison sitcom Porridge - and that’s about all I know about him - but he is one of the many amateur footballers who answered my social media call for stories about lives spent living out our footballing dreams on astro-turf and mud.
I asked for such contributions because I wanted the book to reflect the communal world we play in, much as my own life is spent booting balls at brick walls, into tattered nets, and above crossbars into parks beyond. I seem to have been the first to ask, because the stories came flooding in.
There was the team that played a tournament on Viagra, the mid-game scuffle that ended when an Alsatian dog was introduced, the guy who flooded the pitch to postpone a cup game, the goalie who played in his wife’s yoga kit and tiny pink trainers, the fella who showed up to a game with a suitcase so he could head straight off on holiday immediately afterwards.
The stories covered a variety of subjects ranging from bad kit and funny team names to celebrities we have played against. There were so many anecdotes that some - like Masy lying on the sideline having a fag 5 minutes after feeling a bit rough, then going to the pub, before a cautionary pop into the hospital the next day revealed the heart attack - just didn’t make the cut. At the very last minute, as I was compiling the Acknowledgements, I remembered the remarkable sight of a 17 year old school friend who had just arrived in West Yorkshire from a childhood in South Africa, shrieking in surprise as he saw a frozen puddle and “Ice! Hey you guys, Ice!” for the first time ever, on our tarmac, five a side pitch.
The submitted stories are weaved around my own lifelong love of playing football to a very average standard (although like all of us, I assume I’m better than I am). From my very early years where my hero, Leeds United and England striker Allan Clarke, was my neighbour, and into the redbrick streets of Headingley where I grew up, to tales of school, Sunday league, work teams from my time at Loaded and GQ magazines, and then finally settling for five-a-side, as my drinking, work commitments and stomach expanded, and my fitness declined.
When James Kyllo - a friend I had played football twice a week with for 17 years - died in late 2015, I paid tribute to him in an article about our connection in The Telegraph’s Men section. It prompted thousands of responses, likes, shares, retweets and admissions: it had bought people to tears. I was surprised, but something about the article struck a chord and I decided to expand it into a book, starting with the article about James’s sad death. Above Head Height is a tribute to and appreciation of the people who show up week after week with their trainers in plastic bags, vintage shirts wearing thin, and heart set of scoring as many goals as possible, or as Shortlist magazine called it, 'a 300 page love letter to the world of five-a-side.'