It was a day that I had been long waiting. Part excitement, part anxiety. Men Tell were taking part in our first (and hopefully not last) 5-a-side football tournament. It was an event organisation by the incredible people at the MFC Foundation to help promote social inclusion and we're were taking part in it!
The road to what turned out to be a great day was preceded by a few days of chaos. I have recently been to Ibiza for a couple of weeks of well-deserved R&R (well I don't know if it was well-deserved or not, but I went anyway). I left confident that the strips I ordered and paid for from KitKing would be waiting for me on my return. I was sadly mistaken.
Apparently they had 'took their eye off the ball' and by the Saturday before the tournament, they hadn't even been printed, let all been dispatched. KitKing, you are well and truly in the book marked 'Useless'. That meant that the weekend we had planned to be a gentle reintroduction to life back in the UK became a weekend frantically looking to find replacement strips and to get them printed ready for the following Tuesday! As you can probably see from the photo, I managed to get some great looking strips from Sports Direct and printed by the good people at Jack Hatfield Sports.
So despite all the last-minute problems, Tuesday 28th July 2016 soon arrived and team Men Tell Health was finally assembled in all their glory. To be honest, I hadn't entered a team to actually win the tournament, although that would have obviously been great. The main reason to enter was really to help spread the word of the work we're doing in the local area, build a team from the incredible community we're creating and more importantly have some fun with new friends! I can tell you now, we achieved all of those things and more.
The team was soon beginning to arrive, all looking fabulous in the Men Tell Health strips. The weather was good, the spirits were high and Steve was pinging shots perfectly through the holes in the footballing shooting gallery...apparently. I mean no-one saw it, but we believe him ;-)
As the rest of teams started to arrive, the atmosphere of the day was building very nicely. The essence of the day was social inclusion. There were a few teams representing projects and teams from the community arms of their respective professional clubs including Middlesbrough, York, Rotherham, Wrexham, Derby, Carlisle and Everton (the holders), not to mention 2 teams of refugees, a team from Waddington Street in Durham, Mind in Middlesbrough and the drug and alcohol support organisation Lifeline and many others. There were over 160 players in total, all contributing to an incredibly exciting and inspiring day.
The banter (and banner) was flying and the levels of skill on display were soon making it apparent that teams were taking this even very seriously. Winning this thing was going to be a big ask.
Clearly our team of admirable misfits, many of whom were meeting for the first time and had an average age of about 72, were going to have to play out of their skin to get our collective hands on one of the trophies. To be honest, none of that mattered, we all got along brilliantly, which was a credit to each of them. 6 relative strangers started the day, but 6 friends finished it.
Thankfully (or rather unfortunately) they had me as their player / manager. What could possibly go wrong?
To start with, nothing! Our first round group matches meant we were drawn against Sunderland, Rotherham, one of the teams of refugees and the Lanchester Dynamos. Call it luck or judgement, but we were playing some great stuff with Richard fast becoming our goal machine.
Now I'm not saying I 'should' be the next England manager, but we finished our group in second place, undefeated. Two wins and two draws saw us safely through behind the lads from Rotherham.
Before we knew (but after I became rather confused about how the next stage was going to work), the afternoon games were beginning. This time we had Rotherham (again), the refugees (again) but also the lads from Carlisle and the hosts, the Middlesbrough FC Foundation's Think With Your Feet project. All of them looked a challenge and so it proved to be.
Now I'm not saying I'm as good as the last England manager, but we managed to lose every game in the afternoon. That doesn't make us sound too good I know, but you have to remember almost all of the other teams were filled with young whipper-snappers, running around like people half our age...and most of them were...at least! The excitement, enthusiasm, adrenaline and sheer force of will that had carried us through the morning, was being replaced with pulled muscles, aching joints and a general lack of youth!
That shouldn't take away from what we were achieving though. I couldn't be more proud of the lads for every tackle, every save (although clearly not enough of those!) and for every inch of the artificial grass we were covering as the day went on. The spirit of the day was infectious all played in the right way and generating a sense of positivity that encapsulated why we were all there. Of course, it wasn't all good.
After a very gentle trip to the local hospital, despite every traffic light being against us, I managed to get Peter to A&E before he needed an amputation. Go me!
It was obviously not the way anyone wanted the day to end, but it means that Peter 'The Rock' Burgess will go down in Men Tell Health history as a defensive giant. Terry 'Captain Marvel' Butcher, eat your heart out!
You can decide yourselves whether his smile above was a result of his mighty footballing skills or the amount of Entonox he'd been inhaling!
During our last match, Peter was throwing himself into tackles and defensive blocks like he had been doing all day. He was the rock of our defence, but that was going to come to end sooner than any of us would like.
After going in for perhaps one too many blocks, he landed awkwardly on his arm, dislocating his elbow in the process. There were no high-pitched screams (unless you count mine once I saw his arm) just a man holding his elbow which was in a shape that it should never be.
I'd seen dislocated bones be popped back in place in the movies, but I don't think I was ready to attempt it in real life, so it was off to the local A&E department we went. We never got to see the end of our last game, but I'm pretty sure we won about 17-0.
With me and Pete on our way, very carefully, to the local hospital, we didn't get a chance to see the end of our final game, let alone the closing matches of the tournament itself. A huge congratulations to the Active Choices team from the Derby County Community Trust on winning the trophy.
Anyone who knows me will know I'm a huge Nottingham Forest fan, so saying that is incredibly difficult. Well done to Adam and the rest of the team. Nigel Pearson can do worse than include them in his squad for next season.
Finally, I just wanted to say a few 'thank you's. Firstly, a huge thank you to Claire Streeter and the rest of the team at the MFC Foundation (including the referees) for all their efforts in creating such a great day which was played in a fantastic spirit. Thank you also to all the other teams who made it such an inspiring day.
Of course I couldn't write a blog without saying a massive thank you to all the inaugural members of Men Tell Health's football team who gave their own time, not to mention their blood, sweat and tears, to allow us to be part of an incredible day. With what happened to Peter, I didn't get a chance to say it in person, but I want to personally thank Richard and Callum Bendelow, Peter Burgess, Steven Heslewood, Andrew Clark and our last-minute, non-Twitter saviour Tony for being part of it. I am so grateful and proud of you all. Thank you. Same again next year?
You can read the MFC Founation's own blog about the event right here.