Jeremy Goss: The day I knew it was time to hang up my boots for good
City legend Jeremy Goss has put his career into words in Gossy The Autobiography. In the first of a two-part serialisation, we look at the ups – and downs.
The referee finally, and oh-so-thankfully, raised the whistle to his frigid lips to bring an end to the game.
And with that signal I finally stopped running, put my hands upon my knees and stared down at the cut up, muddy and sodden pitch, steam cascading from my tired and soaking body, physical proof of the effort and commitment I'd put into my game. Again.
Yet, as it dissipated into the crisp air, a little of my spirit, previously so indomitable, seemed to drift away with it. I stayed in that position for a few more moments than maybe I would have done normally, lost in my thoughts or, rather, one single, overriding thought. That, with that final whistle, I realised that I no longer cared. In fact, I was long beyond caring and probably had been for some time. It was only now, standing there, sweat soaked shirt steaming, staring at that mud, that I began to realise it.
Mind and body were numb, fingers brittle with the cold, lungs aching with the effort of the last 90 minutes. Momentarily, I put my feelings to one side and focused on recovery, breathing heavily and deeply into my worn out lungs, watching that sweat cascade from my head and drip down onto the tips of my boots, the boots which claimed they would make you play like Bryan Robson but which had, in harsh reality, cut like razors into my blistered feet for most of the second half.
As life steadily, painfully, began to creep back into me, I stood up straight and, legs aching, began to walk off the pitch, oblivious to the few players that were still around me, chatting, griping, groaning and bitching. The things all footballers do. Especially the bitching. And, as I trudged towards the tunnel, I vowed to never again be part of yet another totally meaningless football match.
Never again would I have to bust my gut trying to impress anyone who might, by some miracle, have actually cared by covering every blade of grass on every inch of a nothing pitch in a nothing game played out in front of a nothing crowd. This grim realisation was almost a triumph, a release.
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My pace quickened with the thought I could walk away from all this, that it was a pivotal moment in my life and that it was absolutely the last time I'd walk back, defeated, into a manky, stinking changing room to the accompaniment of a bored coach going through the motions, queuing for a cold shower whilst he banged on about our performance, on auto-pilot as usual. 'You were rubbish today lads'. It meant nothing, I'd heard it all before. But I was never going to hear it again. Because, with the end of that game, had also come the end of my career as a professional footballer.
I was done in. Knackered. Finished.
This was what the constant grind of reserve team football did for you, or it had done, finally, for me. The Ressies. It's the graveyard of professional football, a vast and endless plain where thousands of dreams have been laid to rest. Now it was my turn. Except I was already there as I'd played in so many reserve team fixtures it felt as if I was six feet under anyway. Dead, buried and gone.
My mind was made up. Come the dawn, a bright new one for me, I was going to see Ken Brown and ask for my contract to be ripped up so I could walk away a free man. And to hell with the 'beautiful game'.
• 'ER, WHERE IS NORWICH, MR BROOKS?'
As a football scout you either like the look of someone, the way he runs or moves, tackles and passes, or you don't. There was no in-between and there certainly wasn't with Ronnie Brooks. And today he's taken a liking to me, the curly haired captain of the side who was running his heart out in midfield.
That was enough for him to want to give me a chance, for which I will always be grateful.
Not that I knew who he was when he came walking up to me after the game. I just saw him as a friendly looking bloke out for a quick word. I can remember the conversation that followed as clear as day.
'My name is Ronnie Brooks, I'm from Norwich City Football Club. I want you to come up to see us and play in some games, train with us and let us take a closer look at you.'
What could I say? What do you think? 'Thank you very much, Mr Brooks, I'd love to have the chance to do that, Mr Brooks.'
He smiled. I don't think any young lad had called him Mr Brooks before. Then he let me know where and when, the usual form – time, date, what to expect. It's the third time I've been given all that information, yet this is different, this isn't a response to a speculative letter, this is from someone who has already seen me play. It feels good. After all, he isn't responding to yet another query from another kid with stars in his eyes; he's seen the person in question play-and for his national team.
A big difference.
'Thanks again, Mr Brooks. I'll see you then.' I ran off back to the dressing rooms with a massive smile on my face. Then it hits me. I stop dead in my tracks, look around. Where is he, has he gone already? No, there he is, making his way to the exit. I run back after him, only just catching up in time.
'Um, excuse me Mr Brooks. Where, erm, exactly is Norwich?'
• Jeremy Goss works as fundraising manager for the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind. To find out more, visit www.nnab.org or ring 01603 629558.