Luckily the trial was also late and I sort of floated into the school where we were to get changed. Plymouth Argyle had sent a letter explaining the format of the trial and what kit we were to bring. So out of my kit bag, which was actually a plastic carrier bag, I pulled out my shorts, socks and boots all still slightly damp and smeared with the mud from the previous game a couple of days ago. Even in my slightly befuddled state I recognised that every kid there was decked out in bright shiny boots and the latest in designer tracksuits and wet weather gear. I stood out like a sore thumb. Still I had my cardigan that Nan had knitted for me to wear as a tracksuit. Starsky and Hutch were the boys in 1973 and when Nan offered to knit me a jumper I managed to persuade her to watch the programme so she could copy the cool wrap around cardigan that Starsky wore. Unfortunately, while Nan showed great enthusiasm initially and even watched the series a couple of times, although I think she got somewhat confused with Huggy Bears role, the cardigan gradually evolved into the same brown, don’t worry you’ll grow into it, button up style that seemed modelled more on that other great T.V star of the period, Val Doonican.
My boots were another problem though. Over a period of time, through lack of care and attention, the studs had worn down and the second stud down on the inside of both boots was missing. As they had been like this for a while, mud had seeped inside the screw in insert, hardened and as a result I was unable to replace the aforementioned missing studs. As a result I walked in a curious, knock kneed, pigeon toed gait on the half mile journey down the road to the pitch where the trial was to take place. This, along with my now soaking wet cardigan assured me of a lonely and isolated hike, as none of the other trialists wanted to be seen talking or associating themselves with me. One of the coaches at the trial, Micky Hill a lovely Plymothian who I got to know very well in later years, took pity on me and asked me my name and if I was ok.
I explained about the boots and told him my name. This presented somewhat of a problem, as my name was not on his list. I realised that I should have given him a letter from Joe Short, the guy who had arranged the trial for me, explaining that I was a replacement for another lad who couldn’t make the trial due to injury. Micky said that as we were about to start I should give him the letter afterwards and he wished me good luck – I think he also whispered something else under his breath, but the wind and rain whisked it away from me.
Once at the pitch, the format of the trial was explained. Every player was to be given at least 20 minutes in the match. Based upon how we did, there would then be a second trial where the best players would play a further 45 minutes and they would then let us know the outcome. Professional clubs sometimes hold these trials for kids who have written in asking for a chance to be a professional footballer and for players who are recommended from supporters, schoolteachers or in my case a Youth Club Leader.
After about 30 minutes of standing on the side, getting thoroughly wet and with the cardigan carrying about 2 stone of water and stretching down to my knees, I eventually got onto the pitch.
Despite the fact the ground underfoot was by now very muddy and slippery and my boots provided very little grip and also my team played in Green and Black and the other played in red and I am seriously colour blind – red on green, I obviously must have done quite well as I was asked to play in the 45 minute match. When we got back to the changing room I was in the middle of wiping myself dry with the wet football shirt. I had forgotten my towel and there was no way I was going in the shower – not until I had grown substantially more pubic hair, when Micky Hill and another coach – who turned out to be the assistant Manager of the Club, Keith Blunt, asked me if they could have a word with my parents and me. I thought it was about the letter from Joe Short and I frantically pulled the letter from my plastic bag. Unfortunately, because of the damp the ink had run and it was totally illegible.
Mick and Keith explained that they had been impressed by my performance in the trial and would like to invite me to a week’s schoolboy training at the club during the next school holidays. There was a lot of other stuff about this being the beginning of a long hard road and that I was only one of 30 schoolboys they were inviting down and I vaguely recall something about boots and kit. But none of that mattered. I was on my way. I was going to be a professional footballer