1974 - I was a great wee footballer who was once described by two men as "the best boy footballer they had ever seen" - although you can't completely trust the views of two men full of rum, sitting in a Belfast pub...
At ten years old, football was my life. Kicking a ball was what I did constantly. On glorious summer days during the school holidays I would joyously play football with my mates in the Ormeau Park. This was Heaven. No school, scoring goals and lying on the soft grass watching ladybirds do their thing. I would capture the odd unlucky ladybird and keep it in an empty matchbox with little holes pierced in the lid for the poor thing to breathe. The poor creature would be very much dead after it had been thrown about the inside of a matchbox which had been in my pocket for the duration of an hour and a half long football match.
During one particular match, I noticed an old man watching us play. I carried on playing and during the match I dazzled and shone as usual. It was a position of immense power being streets ahead of my mates in football skills. I loved torturing and teasing my friends as they attempted to get the ball from me. They employed all sorts of tactics to put me off the game - shirt-pulling, clipping the back of my heels to trip me and throwing the odd punch. As the old boy watched us I scored goal after goal.
After our match which always finished with a ridiculous score, something along the lines of 36-29, the old man approached me. He told me he was "a scout for Bolton Wanderers". No Manchester United or Liverpool, just third division level Bolton Wanderers but hey, it's better than nothing. He was a tiny man of about 5'1" in height and wore traditional Ulster-man dress - brown suit, white shirt, brown tie, brown shoes and a brown tweed cap to hide his baldness. The old boy told me I was a great footballer and that he wanted to sign me up for Bolton Wanderers. “Wait, a ten year old signing for a professional football club? Was I THAT good?” I thought to myself.
The old boy took out a small creased notebook and pen from his pocket and asked for my name, age and address. He also told me that he would need to take a photograph of me. Alarm bells were starting to sound. As he opened his notebook he asked if I would meet him the next night in the Ormeau Park to take my photo. The alarm bells were getting louder. As he was speaking I caught a glance into his crumpled notebook and noticed other kids’ names which I recognised, one of them being a girl. I asked him "why have you got Mavis' name there? She doesn't even play football!". I noticed the old man panic. Why did he have the name, address and photo of an eight year old girl? Was he also going to sign her up for Bolton bloody Wanderers? My mates and I began to catch on to what was happening here. We were talking to a ‘dirty old man’.
My crowd of mates gathered around the old boy. "What's up?" one of them asked.
"He wants to sign me up for Bolton Wanderers" I told them.
"Bolton Wanderers?! But they're shite!" declared one of them.
"Are you REALLY a scout for Bolton Wanderers?" asked another.
"Yes! I really am!" the old man replied.
"He's not, no fawkin' way!" shouted another.
"He wants to meet me tomorrow night to take my picture" I told the gang.
By this stage the old boy was surrounded by about fifteen street-wise Belfast kids who had obviously rumbled him and knew fine well that he was an old pervert. He looked terrified as he was surrounded and bombarded with numerous questions simultaneously;
"Why do you take pictures of kids, mate?" asked the cautious one.
"Are you a pervert?" asked the direct one.
"Show us yer dick!" shouted the comedian.
The old boy was backing away as the pack paced after him and around him, playing with their prey with great amusement.
"I'm gonna get my Da - he's just over there..." said one, knowing this would finish the old boy off. At that point he turned and ran for his life with fifteen kids running after him shouting obscenities and threatening to report him "to the peelers". I remember the old boy tripping and falling on his face to which we all fell about laughing. I never saw him ever again.