If you‘re team's got more than eleven players then somebody's just going to have to be substitute. Now a lot of people will try and tell you that if you’re stuck on the bench then you’re wasting your time. Well, I’m here to tell you that's all a load of old rot. Now take it from me, you won’t get the full benefits of being a substitute if you’re just some Johnny-come-lately, sitting on the bench once or twice a month. You have to be dedicated. Then slowly, game after game, month after month you can learn some valuable lessons. And I should know, because when I was fourteen I was a substitute, for an entire season.
I remember that cold January wind like it was yesterday. And why wouldn't I? It was a memorable day. The gaffer took me to one side in the changing rooms, asking if I'd brought my football boots. I was glad that not having played for the last eight straight games hadn't destroyed the motor neurones required to put the only piece of equipment required to play football in my kit bag. Had I got my boots? Do bears shit it in the woods?
The gaffer told me to give them to Michael Edwards. The little scamp had only gone and forgotten to bring his. No sooner had those words left his lips my heart sank and for a terrible moment my confidence was crushed. Embarrassment and shame engulfed my very being. I can’t convey how delighted I was when I realised that yes, I’d given my size six Pumas a damn good polishing during the week. I couldn’t imagine how humiliating it would be to hand over my filthy boots to a fellow player. Michael Edwards had forgotten his boots and as far as I was concerned he didn’t deserve to wear them, not if they were muddy.
I may not have played that day, but nobody could deny that I’d made a valuable contribution. And it wasn’t as if I never featured in games. I remember badgering my parents to come and watch. My persistence culminated in them witnessing a cameo appearance away to Stubbington. Our seven goal lead may have led many to conclude that the game as a contest was over by the time I was introduced to the field of play, but I still like to think that I contributed to the victory. More than that, I was just glad I didn’t let my parents down in the three seconds I played that day.
I mean, anyone can become a first team regular, expressing themselves in a game that allows the individual to totally forget the inhibitions that haunt their everyday life, but being substitute, week after week, game after game, offers so much more. What with your self esteem being shattered, you barely notice the assistant manager stamping all over your brand new Adidas torsions. But he doesn't do it because he hates you. Hell, no. It's just that he's a hopeless alcoholic who loathes not only himself but also his very own miserable life, held together by an endless stream of desperately poor decisions that he’ll no doubt continue to make until his dying day.
And what better way to help him cope with the realisation that he will see out the Autumn of his days accompanied only by acute liver disease, than letting him intentionally tread mud into the finely threaded white canvass of your trainers. Once the season drew to a close we had our annual end of season do. And I'll tell you for nothing that nobody else walked away with a five inch plastic footballer stood on a wooden plinth. No they didn’t. Don’t tell me being a substitute is a waste of time. Hello, managers player of the year anyone? Yeah, of course you’re always going to get the cynics. People saying that the manager felt guilty about leaving me to rot on the sideline for an entire season, even though many of the games where won by half time. Well, whenever I’m faced with these slurs, I only have to gaze into the empty stare of the plastic statue still stood on that wooden plinth. I rest my case.