Three Lions on My Chest
Andy Munro, of Birmingham and England, tells us about his international début.
Like 99.99% of football-loving Englishmen, while I dreamt of playing for my country, I thought that dreams was all it would remain. However, thanks to a chance meeting with the official Umbro England over-50s team in a seven–a–side ‘World Cup 2011’ in Turkey, I got the call, albeit for their inaugural over 60s. In truth my team from Aston University had got hammered by them 5-2 but I managed to put in a cameo performance that was an eye-catching (?) mix of Joey Barton and Victor Meldew. Allied to my advancing age, this must have meant I was kept on the selectors’ radar and to be honest, although they offered me a bus pass in lieu of appearance money I refused it, so great was the honour. For me, there would be also no conflict between club and country as the Darby & Joan, the Allotments and Fishing Clubs (Seniors Section) would all have to take second place on my calendar of commitments.
We were due to play Wales, who, many might be surprised to know, have one of the world’s most advanced infrastructure for veterans football. In Birmingham, for example, we just have an over-35s league but in Welsh Vets football there are several age bands .I had been selected along with another life long mate, Jim Finucane, from the Aston University side. On hearing of our call up, we had marvelled at whether when playing an 18-a-side ‘jumpers for goalposts’ game down our local park in the swinging sixties we would have believed that almost 50 years later we would be still playing competitively together.
Anyway the next thing, to paraphrase my missus, was what was I going to wear? The kit was obviously to be supplied as England shirts but could I justify spending my pension on new boots? Both Jim and I had paid a visit to JJB Sports and were shown boots in all colours of the rainbow but eventually I decided on the cheaper option of borrowing my son’s slightly more understated black Adidas moulded. As we prepared to drive down to the Welsh League Ground near Tonypandy, north of Cardiff, I did the usual tick list…shin pads, thermal long johns, knee bandages, Vik,Fiery Jack, horse liniment and jock strap (okay I made the last two up).
On arrival, we inspected a fairly sticky surface and then when everybody had turned up, we went out to warm up. In my case this was a load of running to get a sweat on with the occasional obligatory and confidence boosting blasting of the ball, at point blank range, past the keeper. We were then called back into the dressing room for a team tactical talk from the over-55’s manager Mike Burles (make sure you keep breathing and keep moving in case arthritis sets in, etc) followed by a rallying call from ex-Palace player Dave Parsons.I had glanced at the programme and noted many of the Welsh team seemed to be ex-Welsh league players with a few former Cardiff boys so they were obviously no mugs with the added benefit of having played together as a lower age group for the Welsh set up.
Next, we went out for a team photo and the traditional singing of the National Anthems. With Aled and Tom Jones committed elsewhere, we had to make to with a recording and I was so busy trying to flex my hamstrings that, to my horror, I suddenly realised God save Our Queen had already started. I say ‘to my horror’ because I’ve always been disparaging of England players who either don’t bother to sing or don’t seem to know any words. However, while I managed to sing the first verse neither myself or most of the others seemed to know the words to the second. Even worse, as the cold Welsh mountain air started to contract our muscles, we had to listen to at least fourteen verses of the Welsh National anthem – obviously a thinly disguised ploy to unsettle us. Thankfully the running order didn’t include a drugs test for traces of Santogen, Wincarnis or cod liver oil.
It was a relief to line up for the kick off with top and now retired (Welsh!) referee Keith Burge officiating, his last professional game having been Man United v Villa. By the way, as this inaugural over-60s game got underway there wasn’t a paramedic in sight - how’s that for confidence? The match was played at a more than decent pace and playing on the left of midfield I was having to cover a lot of ground. Mind you it was helped by having ex-Yeovil Town midfield maestro McQueen (Ricky not Gordon unfortunately) pulling the strings and always making himself available. Rick may not have been the legendary Gordon but he proved a vital playmaker as we pressed forward. No prisoners were taken in the tackles and no allowance made for brittle bones and, in fact, we earned a penalty. However, their keeper made a brilliant save and then, as often happens in football, they took the lead.
Soon after the restart we pushed forward and our pacey 61 year old (apparently the first time that phrase has ever been used in such a context) Rob Beel hammered the ball home from an acute angle. At 1-1 things looked set fair but a squad of 18 meant influential players like Rick McQueen and Dave Parsons were sidelined to give everybody a chance to show their paces. Personally I came off with just over half an hour to go slightly knackered and gradually the Welsh team seized control back, perhaps helped by their own rapidly rotating squad. In fact you could even say that one of their players was prepared to ‘dye’ for Wales, at least as far as his shock head of reddish hair was concerned. Good job he wasn’t drug tested for Grecian 2000.
They eventually ran out 4-2 winners but maybe a draw might have been a fairer result. However, credit to the Welsh lads who were a strong and well organised side and capped their win with a great headed goal to seal the match. At the end we were all presented with commemorative medals by the wife of Frank Terell, the founding father of the Welsh veterans who had recently and tragically passed away. Time for a shower, we then made our way to the clubhouse and the renowned Welsh hospitality.
After a meal and some speeches, as we headed back to England, I couldn’t help reflecting that not many footballers peak at 60 plus and, even better, with my ambition to play until at least 70, maybe I have a good nine or so years left playing at the pinnacle of the English game.