Whilst growing up in rural Somerset with its rivers, seaside and countryside wasn’t without its attractions, there were limited opportunities to play football. At the age of 12 I went to Wadham comprehensive school in Crewkerne, a market town about 10 miles away. The school split the terms between Football – summer to Christmas, Rugby – Christmas to Easter and Cricket – Easter to Summer. I played all three sports and was probably a better Rugby player than Footballer. In fact I was selected by Somerset to attend trials for the Somerset U15 Rugby Team at Keele University. This was a big honour for the school as Somerset, like most West Country Counties, was a big Rugby playing county and most players were selected from the public and grammar schools of the bigger towns. In truth I was a good rugby player predominately because of my ability to kick the Rugby ball and because I didn’t mind a tackle.
To play football regularly I started playing on a Saturday afternoon for my village team. Ilton played in the 3rd division of the men’s Perry Street League. Our ground was a farmer’s field that was shared with a herd of fresian cows. Slide tackles tended to be interesting. I was 12 when I made my debut. The standard of football was poor, but I didn’t care, all I wanted to do was play and it certainly toughened me up. The goalkeeper for our team was a slight epileptic. The condition would only become apparent when he rushed to the edge of the area to kick the ball out of his hands. After clearing the ball, he would freeze and lock up for about five seconds before beginning a series of violent twitches as he made his way back to the goal. I soon learned not to call for an early ball from the goalkeeper.
Saturday’s consisted of getting up at 4.30am to work with my brother John at the cheese farm. Milk would be poured into large aluminium vats, about 6’ wide by 20’ long. The milk would be agitated by twirling blades and heated. This resulted in the milk thickening and turning into curds and whey – solids and fluids. When the acidity of the milk reached a specific point, the whey would be drained off, to make powdered milk and the curds would begin to solidify. My job, along with the other workers, was to stand by the side of the vats, plunge my hands into the solidifying curds and to keep turning them over to promote the right kind of acidity. Gradually the curds began to solidify, making the work very hard and backbreaking. Again, when the acidity was right the now solid curds would be cut into large slabs and continually turned. Eventually the slabs would be fed onto a conveyer belt, which fed a hopper that cut and salted the slabs before feeding the metal moulds that were stacked into a pressure rack. After several days the cheese was released from its moulds, cut and packaged for the shops. After work I would play either Rugby or football for the school in the morning and football for Ilton in the afternoon. By the time I was 14, my brother John, who was a well-known local footballer made an illegal approach for my football services. After a game, he took me down the pub, bought me several brown splits – pints of half brown ale and half light ale, no doubt in an attempt to weaken my defences and began to talk me into playing with him at Shepton Beauchamp, a top local village team in the Perry street League. Unfortunately for him, my Dad and sister’s boyfriend, Keith Nutter, a mad, marauding, midfield, Mancunian with blond hair half way down his back came into the pub. Keith played and was captain of Shepton’s local rivals South Petherton who played in a slightly better league, the Yeovil League. Keith immediately made me a counter offer to come and play for him. This was backed up by another brown split and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Luckily, Dad took the role of my agent, soliciting his commission immediately in the form of a double whisky from Nutter. After due consideration and several whiskies later, my Dad advised me that it would be better to play for Nutters South Petherton. The reasoning was that it was a better standard of football, Yeovil was closer to Crewkerne and easier to get to after school matches and that Nutter would pick me up and bring me home. John was understandably disappointed to miss out on such a major signing, but took it all in good grace, promising to kick the shit out of Nutter and myself in the upcoming pre season cup match between the two clubs.