The Uselessness of the Long Distance Runner (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

The date is Friday August 13th 2021 and it’s 7.12am. A ridiculous hour of the day, really. Our protagonist (me) is out running and over the course of the next 46 minutes he will run for 5.36 miles before feeling tired, getting confused and heading home. His confusion will haunt him moments after he drinks a chilled bottle of water in his kitchen. Why did he not run the extra 0.85 of a mile which would have led him to a distance of 6.21 miles, otherwise known as 10km? What an absolute knobhead! Never mind, in a few days he’ll go back out and run the full 10km.

Fast forward 22 days. It is Saturday 4th September and our protagonist hasn’t been on a run since the aforementioned Friday 13th August. He’s feeling frustrated. He’s feeling quite angry. He’s not enjoying this period of inactivity. He’s still a knobhead. And he feels useless.

On Friday 13th August, by about 7.15am I was regretting going out on my run. I had a sore shoulder brought on by a ridiculous combination of decorating my kitchen and a brainwave while coaching my Under 13 football team that told me, ‘Yes, Graham, go in goal for the shooting practice! Throw yourself around like a man possessed! Ignore your age and show these young whippersnappers how it’s done!’ Now, with every step taken, pain shudders right up my arm and through my sore shoulder. By the time I’ve registered a couple of miles I have pins and needles in my hand and my index finger has gone very cold. Ignoring the signs that this could be a stroke or the beginnings of a heart attack, I run on. I really am a knobh…well, you know the rest.

For anyone feeling worried, don’t. I didn’t have a stroke or a heart attack. But I did end my run in a lot of pain. But don’t worry, twenty days later I got some help. Between that time and the end of my run I googled the problem and settled on the fact that I’d managed to damage a nerve somewhere between my shoulder and my chest. Despite the intense pain, a bit of self diagnosis told me that it would heal itself and that in the meantime I should just take Ibuprofen. I also decided that continuing to decorate would help.

I realise now that I am still a good 8 years short of qualifying to be a doctor and that as a healer I make a good knobhead.

It has hurt me to have to avoid running and my reluctance to seek medical help – coupled with the amount of time it takes to actually get medical help post Covid and using our surgery’s new phone system – will subsequently cost me more time. I will lose fitness and my burgeoning belly will continue to burge. Or grow.

By the time I got medical help – two days ago at the time of writing – it turned out my diagnosis was right, but that I can’t get a physio appointment for another four days. And that will also be over the phone, so the physio’s healing hands will have to be very special indeed. In the meantime, I feel horrible.

I think I’ve made myself worse with comfort eating too. We went away to Scarborough for a few days and then Newcastle after that meaning five whole days of eating out and I didn’t even attempt to hold back and think healthily. ‘Are you having a pudding?’ quickly became not only a rhetorical question, but a stupid one too.

At home, what with it being the summer holidays, I’ve succumbed to a policy of ‘a beer a night’, which although that’s not heavy drinking, is a lot more than my usual. I’ve also relapsed in my dangerous crisps and chocolate addiction, making any trip to Home Bargains or B&Ms into an actual expedition. While I haven’t exactly piled the weight on – no surprise if you know me – this has still left me out of shape.

Having sought medical help and got my hands on some prescription pain killers and a telephone conversation with a physio, this morning brought another setback. Look away now if you’re young, fit and healthy. The ease with which this type of thing can happen in middle age might be a bit of a shock.

I was out in the supermarket, doing our weekly shop and had crouched down to scrutinise the very bottom row of school shirts. You’d be surprised at the rarity of sized 12-13 short sleeved white shirts in the George at Asda uniform section. Thus, I really had to peer deep and low to find what I wanted. But just before I located it I had an almighty spasm of pain through my lower back. I couldn’t move, was worried I might cry in front of some mums and toddlers – again – and it took my about 10 seconds to realise that I was holding my breath. When I straightened up to a standing position, the pain increased.

This will undoubtedly cost me more time away from running as I’ve struggled with my back for years. It once went completely as I arrived at work and put the handbrake on in the car! However, since getting fitter and stronger with the amount of exercise I got through in lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, it hadn’t been much of a problem at all.

Running has been an excellent help to my somewhat surprisingly fragile mental health over the last year or so. I’ve found this last year tough for a number of reasons, but whenever I’ve been able to go out running I’ve felt focused and free of any number of problems. I’ve also felt fitter and stronger and the distances run and the times achieved have been a real boost, mentally. Like I say, it has hurt not being able to run.

While I’m running I am almost forced to think things through. At my age, this is a good thing as it also allows me to take focus away from how much my body hurts! But it’s also an opportunity that I’m really pleased to be able to take. Other than traffic or people on pavements, I have little else to occupy my mind and I know that I can make decisions during this hour or so; I can solve problems.

Going out for a run means that I can think. I have time to think ‘things’ through, whatever they might be, and often by the time I’m back home I just feel a great deal lighter, so to speak. I head out, fresh faced and often feeling a bit weighed down by what life happens to be throwing at me and by the time I return I’m red-faced and sweaty, but visibly happier, even if I look like I might just be about to collapse.

Three weeks into my enforced rest, and only just back at work for a new academic year, and I’m really feeling tired and more than a little bit troubled by it all. Not being able to run is just horrible. Sometimes, I might allow myself to think that a rest might be nice, but 99% of the time I’ll force myself to get out and go for a run, setting a minimum target and then pushing really hard to eclipse it. I always feel better afterwards. Being injured like this has taken that away and it’s really not pleasant.

I’m hoping that within a fortnight at most I’ll be able to get back out again and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run far enough and for long enough to have a good old think! In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my telephone physio appointment, which promises to be a whole new experience and hopefully the thing that starts putting stuff right!

The uselessness of the long distance runner is not a feeling I’m enjoying.

A New School Year: Five Predictions for September

I’m writing this on the Sunday before the last week of my summer holiday commences. Before I know it it’ll be the Sunday before school starts again. Already, I’ve got the fear. If you’re a fellow teacher, you’ll know the fear.

But rather than write about how terrifying it all is to go back to work and get strapped somewhat unwillingly into the education rollercoaster for another year’s worth of fun and frivolity, I thought I’d just make some predictions about what I can see happening within a few weeks.

It’s safe to say that I’m firmly in the category – one that I’ve literally just made up – of grizzled, cynical, tired old knobhead in terms of the type of teacher I am. It’s a category that think Ofsted are yet to recognise, but it’s definitely a category. Despite the label, this doesn’t stop me from doing my job effectively and I’m still reasonably sure that my students enjoy my teaching and that my colleagues enjoy working alongside me. And when I say ‘alongside’ what I mean is that years ago they stuck me in an outside classroom while they nestled together on a corridor, are safe in the knowledge that there’s not enough room for me in the office, but still enjoy my more absurd emails and the fact that I’m rather good at swearing and character assassination. I mean, everybody has to have their uses, right?

Thinking about September leaves me cold. It’s not because I don’t enjoy my job, because I do. Like any job it has its downsides, but ultimately I do enjoy my job. However, to me – and I can’t be the only one – September represents the end of a lovely spell of time where I get paid for doing nothing. And anything I actually do is my choice and can be done at my own pace. Who wouldn’t enjoy this? So when September comes and my six weeks of paid leisure time come to an end, well I’m bitter to say the least.

So how do I envisage September going? In no particular order, here are my 5 predictions.

  1. Someone will introduce an idea or a process or a system that will utterly baffle me. And the more I give thought to said idea, process, system, the more I’ll be convinced that it’s been introduced before, at least three times. Everything is cyclical in teaching. I will instantly hate this idea, whether there’s a reason to hate it or not. I have no doubt that this idea will be introduced in a staff briefing or at a meeting where I am required to stay quiet and keep a straight face. I will achieve both of these things by covering my face with both hands and pretending that I am doing this because it’s been a long day, regardless of the actual time of day. A good example of this type of thing, and to be fair it’s one straight off the top of my head, was the introduction of ‘Growth Mindset’ which as far as I could see would have been done better if someone had got out a guitar and started performing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. If they’d done ‘Kumbaya’ as an encore, I’d have bought into the whole idea in a heartbeat.
  2. I will forget my log in details for almost everything I need to log in to. I will also forget how to use all of the systems apart from SIMs. I’ll be OK with SIMs, which for some reason has stuck with me, but everything else will leave me feeling like a lost child, despite that fact that we’ll have a cohort of Year 7s whose job it is to feel exactly like this. I will undoubtedly do ‘lost child’ better than they will. By far the favourite here in the race to be forgotten is the system we use for Performance Management. Firstly, I will forget my log in details and when someone that I email for help sends them to me, I will lose what they send. Or I’ll shut down completely and just continue to use what I think are my log in details until I am forced into an act of sheer petulance, such as throwing things from my desk to various parts of my room. Don’t worry, this is usually an after school ritual. Usually. Then, when someone has literally pressed the key for me and spoken about it in their gentle Disney mummy voice to me, I will access said system and find myself unable to work it. I will shout, I will swear, I will stride around my room throwing times that I previously evacuated from my desk, back at the desk. None of this will work. Only by slow process of elimination will I finally arrive at a screen I need and then I will read my targets and not understand what they mean. At this point I will realise that it’s getting dark outside and that I should probably go home, safe in the knowledge that I will have forgotten everything by the next time I come to use said system.
  3. My desk will be consumed by stationary by the Wednesday of the first week. And this, by the way, is a conservative estimate. Monday is entirely possible as the winner that romps home in this race. I will receive so many handouts, folscap folders full of ‘useful’ documents, emails that I siphon down onto post its and instructions from people that I scrawl onto random bits of paper that I will forget what colour my desk is within a matter of hours. Anyone who visits my room will be forced to try and disguise the fact that their eyeballs may well pop from their sockets when they see my desk. They will fail in this mission. I won’t give a shit, but for a select few I will offer the explanation that I know where everything is when in fact I don’t even know what most of it is, let alone where it’s been put. Meanwhile, the cleaner will attempt to force everything into neat piles, nightly, by way of being helpful. She no doubt believes me to be some kind of animal. In turn, I will smear said piles around my desk daily, proving her theory to be right. As the week continues I will add several seating plans to the pile as well. Then I’ll lose them.
  4. I will fill in far too many things on my desktop Weekly Planner. To make matters worse, my friend Charlotte will still be on maternity leave – the selfish cow – and will not be able to add helpful reminders such as ‘Nail appointment’ or ‘Buy sweets’, which always make me smile. I may add bogus jobs of my own, just to confuse anyone else who is timetabled in my room, such as just writing ‘Colonic, Tuesday’ in one of the rows. 75% of the jobs that I put on my weekly list will remain undone for some time and my weekly planner will stay on the same week well into October. It will no doubt have some nice doodles on it though, so you know…every cloud and all that.
  5. I will arrive in my classroom full of good intentions about how it looks. I will vow to change the displays, swear that this year will definitely be the year I put up the roll of blackboard paper I bought and finally recreate the Mr. Crosby’s Wonderwall that I last had in a classroom 7 years ago and I will promise myself that I will start to point out some of the inspirational signs around the room designed to help students and myself out during lessons. I will also look around other classrooms and think to myself, ‘Oooh, that’s a good idea’ with every intention of nicking it and putting my own slant on it for my own classroom. Weeks will pass and I will have scribbled out the names on the pieces of work on display so that no one can tell that this Year 8 display was done by kids now in in Year 11. The blackboard paper will still be in my cupboard and it will occasionally catch my eye making me think, today was gonna be the day…before I find something else, less taxing to do. I will realise that I’ve probably clocked up 100 hours of teaching and instead of pointing out inspirational signs I’ll have just said something like, ‘Right, come on then, let’s get this done’ and I will have forgotten whatever good idea I had admired three weeks ago. In fact, it will have slipped from my mind as I walked down the corridor from the very room I saw it in. I will steadfastly refuse to change the time on my clock to the actual clock.

So there we have it. Five predictions, that I hope are not just restricted to me. Surely I’m not the only teacher who seems to stumble through September? I hope you enjoyed them. As ever, let me know in the comments what you thought and of course feel free to leave your own September predictions. I’d love to read about how you see our favourite month going! Regardless of how it goes though, let’s hope teaching and education is slightly easier this year and that we find things getting back to some kind of normality. Thanks for reading.

The BrainStorms Award

I was chuffed to bits to be nominated for the BrainStorms Award by Rachel from the https://jasperdenhealth.com/ blog and I’d definitely recommend that you check our her blog for health and fitness tips. There’s always something intriguing on there; always something to learn about staying healthy.

Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Tag your post with #BrainStormsAward and follow https://brainsstorms.wordpress.com/ if you’re willing
  3. Display the BrainStorms Award logo
  4. Display the rules on your blog
  5. Talk a bit about your blog, why you started, what you write about and your goal for your blog
  6. Answer the five questions you’ve been asked
  7. Nominate five other amazing bloggers
  8. Ask them five questions

About my blog.

Well, where to start? I don’t have a particular subject matter or agenda that I stick to for my blog. I write about whatever takes my fancy really, although there are regular poetry blogs. Have a look on any given week and you might find posts about sport, parenting, exercise, book reviews or just whatever happens to be making me smile at that moment in time.

I started the blog because I was a frustrated writer. I’ve written a novel – unpublished, so I’m a bit like the LA waiter that tells you he’s an actor – and tried to get into journalism, but never really got anywhere. I set up a blog because I had to have a heart operation and the rest required meant that I had time on my hands for a change. That was three years ago and while growth has been steadier than I’d have liked, people still read the things I write. Some are even complimentary!

With the future in mind, I’d love to see more people read, ideally I’d like to monetise it, but who am I kidding expecting to earn money for the nonsense I write. Further to that though, I’d love to see where my poetry writing could take me.

My answers to Rachel’s questions

  1. What was your favourite experience? As I’m quite old there are genuinely a lot of experiences to choose from. And that’s not me being all rock ‘n roll, it’s just that I’ve been here for a while. If I had to settle for one though I’d go with something travel related. One that really sticks out is visiting the Grand Canyon. It’s a long story, but for the purposes of the post, here’s the shortened version. We flew in, went to a remote ranch, quad-biked deep into the canyon and on the way there had to stop on the trail toto allow a rattlesnake to pass. The cowboys who were accompanying us then proceeded to prod the bush that it had retreated to in order to make it rattle! Terrifying for me, an absolute delight for my thrill seeker wife!
  2. Is there a place you haven’t been to that you would like to visit? So many! Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Scottish islands, the list might be endless. Narrowing it down to one though? I think I’d say the Canadian Rockies where some of the scenery just looks absolutely unbelievable. It’s always seemed like the kind of place I could go to and never tire of.
  3. Has the pandemic changed you? In a way, yes. I’m even more uncomfortable around people for starters! I thought I was awkward before, but stick me in a place with a number of others now and I’m an absolute shambles. It’s changed my thoughts about the future somewhat. It’s made me realise that we should live in the moment a whole lot more than I’d have ever thought. Not that I’m off thrill seeking all of a sudden, but with my very mild approach, it’s made me think about ambitions and plans and just fitting more into life. Isolation has also made me change my approach to health and fitness and having been so limited about being outdoors for so long, I’ve now absolutely contracted the running bug.
  4. If you had lots of money, what would you spend it on? The sensible answer would be property. A great big family home, with lots of land and outbuildings and stuff, mainly so I could hide, but also some boltholes for family escapes in places like Canada and maybe somewhere in Snowdonia. However, when I’m not being sensible I’m being a complete knobhead so of course I’d spend lots of it on the same stuff I spend it on now; trainers, books, crisps, beer and magazines that I never get round to reading. Lots of money would probably open me up to lots of other ways to squander said money, so maybe I’d start buying artwork or rugs. I’d absolutely, definitely buy a stupid amount of animals – we’ve always wanted to get ducks and goats, but I feel sure I’d be the proud owner of at least an emu and probably a shire horse. Maybe a reindeer or two.
  5. Who do you admire and why? Bob Mortimer. An undoubtedly hilarious man, but more to the point someone who’s made his way in life by just being daft. He admits as much himself. And I think if there’s one ambition that I’ve ever had it’s just to try to get away with as much daft stuff as possible. I have far too many serious aspects to my life, so wherever I possibly can I just try to get some silliness in. Bob came into my life as half of Reeves and Mortimer, so if you’re aware of their act and their TV shows, you’ll know just where I’m coming from. Bob is a man who can break an apple in half with his bare hands and has performed actual dentistry on himself as well as being solely responsible for the character Train Guy. What’s not to admire?

My Nominees

https://smellysocksandgardenpeas.com/ @AndSmelly

https://6in10.blogspot.com/ @WestphalErin

https://liveparentteachrepeat.com/. @LiveParent

https://billswritingplace.wordpress.com @a_silly_place

https://peppervalentine.com/ @peppvalentine

Please feel free to check these guys and gals out. Great blogs and lovely people, all of them!

Questions for my nominees

  1. Could you recommend a cheese to me and let me know why, please?
  2. What’s your favourite quote?
  3. If you could have walk on music, you know for every time you enter a room or your workplace, what would it be? You can mix songs together if you want.
  4. Who would you get to play you in the film of your life?
  5. What were your three favourite things about lockdown? (It’s Ok to say that there were good things about lockdown, by the way. We discovered a house with an entire miniature railway in their back garden that we’d have never known about had it not been for lockdown walks)

So there we have it. Post over. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and if I nominated you, I hope it hasn’t caused the kind of panic that these things always cause me. Breathe. It’ll be OK. I’ll look forward to reading your responses. And if you haven’t been nominated, but happen to stumble upon this post, feel free to answer some or all of the questions in a post or just in the comments.

My Hopes for Summer

It’s been a strange old year. The academic one, that is. I’ve found it a bit of a struggle, but always try to keep stuff to myself – he says, writing a blog that thousands hundreds fourteen or fifteen people will read – and so I don’t think many people would realise. Apart from a few people that I’d class as relatively close to me, who either notice that I’m not myself or that I might just confide in.

It’s cliched, pompous and pretty poor form for me to say that I’ve been to Hell and back, mainly because I haven’t. But I think it’s fair to say that I’ve boarded the bus to there a few times in these last twelve months or so. I just got off a few stops early.

I won’t divulge much by way of detail, but a lot of my problems have been either work related or age related and despite the presence of more than enough good people in my life, I’ve felt very alone at times. If you know me, please don’t mistake this as a cry for help; it’s not. Imagine the mess I’d make of one of those! But, I have felt alone. It’s no one’s fault. Worse things probably do happen at sea, as they say. I mean, imagine who you could get stuck next to on a deckchair on your dream cruise for instance. That’s if cruises even do deckchairs. I’m aware that everyone has their problems though.

Given the age nature of some of my problems, you could be excused for mistaking this for a mid-life crisis. It isn’t. But if it was, I think only I could get it so badly wrong. No Porsche, no ponytail, no piercing or ill judged tattoo and no cringeworthy flirting with younger women as I struggle to cling on to my youth and masculinity. No, if it has been a mid-life crisis, I did it by writing a blog and some poems. Trust me to err on the side of a cautious crisis.

With all of this in mind, my summer break can’t come soon enough. Six weeks of not going to work but getting up in the morning with each day stretching out in front of you and a lot more possibilities than usual. Bliss. I’m even looking forward to the mundanity of jobs around the house and garden. Anything that takes my mind away from the type of things that I find are bugging me on a daily basis at the moment.

So what do I plan to do with my time? I always imagine that the summer holidays is some kind of blank slate upon which I will write a novel, do some sketching, do more running and fitness, watch some football, do some decorating, but in fact life gets in the way. The mundane still needs to be done, so there’s food shopping twice a week, days out to places I don’t really want to head to, but have to in my role as dad and husband, shopping trips for uniform and school shoes and endless talking and planning about jobs that we need to get done, but run out of time to do. So it’s a balancing act between idealism and everyday life.

A friend used to say that, as teachers, our summer holidays were worth £10,000 a year and I have to say that I’ve always agreed. I can live without the extra money, but don’t even think about taking my holidays away.

I imagine that at this time of year every teacher is simply hanging on in there for the end of term. I’m exhausted and I need to know that there’s a block of time when I don’t need to be up and out of the door before 7.30am five days a week, I don’t need to be dealing with the demands of 30 pupils and everything else that comes with working in a modern academy trust.

Most of all I need the time and space to be able to think. I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years now and have found things a little stale this year. At the very least, summer gives me time away form it all, enough to be able to re-charge my batteries, so to speak and to work on regaining some of my old enthusiasm.

I have some serious questions to ask. I need to think about retirement plans because ideally it’s not that far off and I want to be well and truly prepared so that I can spend it doing stuff that makes me, my wife and my family happy.

I also need to give thought to my present role. While I don’t feel tremendously unhappy, I also don’t feel tremendously fulfilled and it’s clear that something needs to change. Whether that’s where I work or just how I go about doing my job, I don’t know, but it needs some serious thinking time. I still have ambitions as a teacher and I think I’ve let things drift a little off course. I love my job, the school that I work at and the people that I work with, but something still doesn’t quite feel right and at least this summer gives me time to figure things out. Summer might just give me time to relax and be able to start all over again in September refreshed and raring to go.

I started writing a novel during lockdown. I know, I know…half of the population started writing novels and screenplays over lockdown. But I genuinely felt that what I was writing was good. It was a fully formed idea, rather than just something half baked that I believed I could make into something as I went, but it got shelved somewhat once I returned to work. It is without doubt something that I’ll be revisiting over summer, with the intention of getting at least a first draft finished. I figure all I’ll need is a typical British summer with just enough rain to keep me indoors for long periods of time and I’ll have the timeframe needed! It’s definitely something that I feel positive about though, and definitely one of the most exciting aspects of my summer.

There are lots of other things that I want to achieve over summer, as well as the kind of things that just need doing and can no longer be avoided when everyone knows you have so much time on your hands!

I’ll be looking to run more and get fitter and I think that will involve as many early mornings as I can manage as I just love the freedom and solitude of being out running at that time of day. I even have a race to take part in in early August and I’m looking forward to testing myself against others again. It’s been such a long time since I ran among lots of people, so it’ll be very strange, but I’m sure hugely exciting too. If nothing else there’s a blog that’ll come out of it! Once I get that out of the way, I’m hoping that there might be the opportunity to compete in at least one more as well. I think I need to get back to fitness workouts too, so if nothing else I’ll be revisiting my old friend Joe Wicks’s YouTube channel and flinging myself into that!

We have a holiday to go to as well. We’ve managed to book a week in North Wales, despite rising costs and demand, post Covid, and it’ll be lovely just to relax on our favourite beach. It’s always a good place to do all of that post work reflection!

I’ve also considered taking in a bit of sport. I don’t think it’ll be football, as I think I fancy something different. Before lockdown I was looking into going to watch our ice hockey team, Leeds Chiefs (now Leeds Knights) but Covid scuttled that plan. I think it’s something I’ll revisit, but the season doesn’t seem to commence until September. I’m considering taking in some games in the upcoming new format of cricket in the UK, The Hundred. We have a team based in Leeds and I reckon that the shorter format might be enough to keep my son’s interest, so I may well have a look.

But it can’t all be exciting over summer. There are a lot of humdrum jobs that need to be caught up on. I have a back garden that resembles a jungle and is in need of major maintenance. My wife seems to have big plans that centre around the movement of some long standing shrubs – and we’re talking plants that are my height and above here – and I would imagine that this will end up being a time consuming job.

Summer always sees decorating rearing it’s ugly head in our house too. My daughter’s bedroom – recently started while she was away on her Duke of Edinburgh expedition – needs to be finished. Our kitchen and dining room still awaits and our bedroom could really do with updating as well. And I see that I’m stretching myself quite a bit here and that there’s quite possible no chance at all that these rooms will all get finished, by the way! But if we can’t be optimistic at this time of year, then when can we be?

I hope to be able to visit my parents for the first time in something like 20 months, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’ll be able to happen. Having spoken to them, they still seem very reticent and fairly paranoid about Covid. Despite us being double jabbed, I think that my mother in particular would rather avoid contact and I have to respect that. There’ll no doubt be conversations to be had, but I’m starting to wonder if the thought of hugging my parents once again will remain just that for a while longer yet. Hopefully I’ll have some nice weather to offer some comfort instead…

So, with a few days still to get through at work, my summer holiday feels like it’s more important than it’s perhaps ever been. Clearly, I’m going to benefit from the time, but hopefully I’ll find lots to do and be able to enjoy lots of it with my family and friends. I’ve no doubt there’ll be a few unexpected surprises; there usually are, but in all, I’m just hoping to feel a lot more settled about everything by the time September rolls around again. I feel that I need to be coming back to work feeling an enthusiasm that not only gets me through the first week, but keeps me going for long enough that I’m not starting to feel restless again.

Whatever form it takes and whatever you’ve got planned, enjoy your Summer everyone!

Euro 2020 Diary: The Final Instalment

Ah, the morning after the night before. For completely different reasons, had England won the final of Euro 2020, this would have been a difficult entry to write. As it goes, on the back of such a cruel loss, it’s tough to know where to start.

In fact, I started by staring at this keyboard. For quite a while. Then I flicked tabs on the internet to have another look at the BBC Sport football page. Then I looked at social media on my phone for a bit. It didn’t change very much.

I’ve tried to avoid writing too much about England as I’ve written these diaries. And although I’ll abandon that stance quite soon, I’ll think I’ll revert back there to start with.

It’s been a helluva tournament. A month’s worth of football and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, until around 11pm last night that is. What’s occurred in and around stadiums has been an absolute spectacle though and it’s been wonderful to indulge my love of the game.

  1. I’ve done a bit of freelance scouting for my team. Every football fan does this at major tournaments though, don’t they? We all watch the games with half an eye on our club side, searching for the diamond in the rough that, in our heads, we can recommend to our club side. We all know that we have no influence whatsoever and that said rough diamonds are probably playing beyond their ability just because of the lift that a tournament gives, but we still do it.

This time round my keen eye has picked out a few Italians, Elmas the attacking midfielder who plays for North Macedonia, the Welsh lad Ethan Ampadu and a few others. As ever, I’ve found that most play for big clubs and would cost way more than Newcastle United’s budget, but it hasn’t stopped me looking and playing the ‘expert’.

Sadly, I imagine our manager will be scanning the list of free transfers and players available for loan as we speak. Alas, my role as Head of European Scouting was fun while it lasted.

2. Why would you go to a game in fancy dress? Come to think of it, why would you go anywhere in fancy dress? Even a fancy dress party is about a dozen steps too far. During this tournament I’ve witnessed German fans dressed head to toe in lycra as the German flag. French fans dressed as Asterix and Obelix, Dutch fans dressed as oranges…oh wait, that’s just the colour of their football shirts, England fans dressed as St.George and actual lions and during last night’s final there were Italian fans dressed as Mario, a pizza and even the Pope. Some Scotland fans even attended games in skirts.

I don’t get it. Given the heat which has been a fairly regular feature in the tournament, I get it even less. But imagine simple logistics like sitting down in an Obelix costume. Imagine the conversation stopper that is, ‘Lads, I’m thinking of going to the final dressed as a pizza’. And the feeling of looking like an even bigger tool when some bloke a row down from you steals your thunder by dressing up as his actual holiness the Pope. I understand the excitement and the fact that people get carried away, but fancy dress? Never.

3. Why have England fans been booing national anthems? I mean, I know what reason most will give for booing the German anthem, but I think it’s time to leave this behind lads and lasses. In fact, go to Germany. Spend some time there. Immerse yourself in wonderful things like trains that arrive on time. Visit the museums, sample the night life, enjoy the people who are truly lovely, sit in an enormous beer garden and feel stunned at how friendly it all is. Don’t boo and hate because of ancient history. Don’t boo any nations anthem. Just rid yourself of your small mindedness and show a tiny bit of respect. And listen carefully; some of them – as I’ve pointed out in an earlier diary – are absolute bangers!

And why are people booing Denmark’s anthem by the way. We’ve all stood barefoot on a piece of upturned Lego in our time, but it’s hardly worth all that energy on an anthem that is a little bit rubbish and means literally nothing to you.

4. We couldn’t quite bring football home, could we? But that’s OK. We’ve been not bringing football home for years.

It was heartbreaking to watch the final as an England fan. We started so well, scored early and offered hope for a while. It looked like we might finally see a tournament through. But, to cut a long story short, we were beaten by a better side on the night.

While I’m beyond disappointed this morning, I’m going to try to be positive. We have a young, vibrant, gifted squad of players with more waiting to come through and represent their country too. The future looks bright. The experience gained last night could and should stand the team in good stead in future tournaments. We’ll have our day, I’m sure of it.

Mistakes were probably made last night, if we’re being honest. Most notably with the penalties. As a result of missing some penalties, the now usual barrage of racist abuse has appeared from a spiteful, hate filled, thick as mince underclass and this kind of thing clearly needs to be dealt with. But just for now, let’s applaud the courage of those that stepped up. Bukayo Saka, who took and missed our final penalty, is 19 years old. At his age I was frightened to talk to new people, shy beyond belief. I wouldn’t put my hand up to answer questions in university seminars, hated going into the pub on my own to meet friends, blushed noticeably if a girl spoke to me and was just too immature to appreciate the opportunity afforded me in being able to go to university and study for three years. Bukayo Saka stepped up to take a crucial penalty in front of a packed Wembley Stadium while 30 million people watched on telly. I bet he’d have no bother walking into a pub to meet his mates and he’d be at ease in a seminar. Give the lad some respect and some love. And give the rest of the squad and the coaches and officials exactly the same while you’re on.

The England team have left us with even more amazing memories. They’ve beaten pretty much whoever has stood in front of them and it’s been absolutely brilliant to play a tiny part in it all as a fan. That overrides a missed penalty kick. So while I’m disappointed this morning, I see no point in apportioning blame and forgetting how much enjoyment this tournament and our teams has given me and countless others over the last month or so.

5. Finally, spare a thought for Jordan Pickford. Jordan is a Sunderland fan and I’m a Newcastle fan. We don’t know each other, but I get the impression he wouldn’t like me just because of my allegiance. I’m not a big fan of him because of his allegiance either. He is however, the England goalkeeper.

Jordan Pickford was magnificent in the penalty shoot out last night. He didn’t deserve to lose after saving two Italian penalties and I felt heartily sorry for the lad. And while I’m hopeful that he has his usual meltdown if he plays against Newcastle next year, I hope he has a brilliant season.

So that’s me signing off on the Euro 2020 diaries. It didn’t quite go our way, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. Here’s to writing about it all again when the World Cup in Qatar starts at the back end of next year!

Euro 2020: Fan’s Diary Part Three

I write this as we’re a day away from England versus Germany. Superstition tells me to make no predictions, while England’s form suggests that we may never win a tournament in my lifetime so whether it’s Germany or Guernsey we’re playing doesn’t really matter. History reminds me that we’re never comfortable against the Germans.

Asides from the inevitable discomfort produced by the Germans, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable tournament so far. It’s been brilliant to see fans in stadiums once again, despite the limitations on crowd size. And as ever with tournament football there’s been no shortage of drama, tension and upsets.

So here’s what made the cut into diary entry number three.

  1. Fans make all the difference. The sights, the sounds and notably the colour have been an absolute delight. Whether my senses have been heightened by the fact that I’ve got used to watching football played out in empty and therefore soulless stadiums, I’m not sure, but fans have brought an HD element to our viewing.

There aren’t many better sights in football than the delirium of fans celebrating a goal. ‘Limbs’ I believe is what the football hipsters refer to it as. I watched the Czech Republic beat the Netherlands last night and the sheer ecstasy behind the goal for both Czech goals was fantastic to watch. Keep your perfect volleys, your overhead kicks and your rabonas, what I want to be watching is shirtless, out-of-shape blokes hugging each other screaming and tumbling over in celebration. That loss of self control doesn’t seem to happen in other sports. And neither does the need to shed ones’ shirt in order to watch the match.

Another almost minor and obvious detail about the fans that has been brilliant is just the colour. Be it a wall of red for Spain, Switzerland or Denmark, a chunk of orange for the Netherlands, masses of yellow Sweden shirts or a block of white for England v Germany, it doesn’t matter. It’s always a startling sight and it’s often very much a tournament thing.

2. Why do TV editors cut away when fans spot themselves on camera? OK, I think I already know the answer to this one. But let’s treat this as very much a rhetorical question. They cut away to avoid people mouthing obscenities or perhaps making offensive hand gestures. But aside from the fact that there’s no harm in any of that really – and they could cut away as they do it – why bother? Every time someone spots themselves on camera via the big screen in the stadium they’re absolutely thrilled. So don’t cut away! Let them have their few seconds of fun! I personally love it when people see themselves. The waving, the laughter, the jumping up and down or grabbing the badge – surely this is showing fans at their best? Why not enjoy that? Why not savour it? After all, we heard enough foul language from players when crowds weren’t in, but I’m not sure it damaged anyone. I absolutely loved hearing Matt Ritchie ask the linesman, “How have you given that, you wee prick?” when he gave our opposition a thrown in. It made me and many others laugh out loud.

So why can’t we see a father or mother with their kids enjoying the sight of themselves on camera? There’s no harm here. One minute I’m watching people enjoying basking in the limelight, smiles everywhere and then the camera cuts away only to repeat the whole process another four or five times. It’s just weird.

3. Sometimes watching the national anthems is as good as watching the match. And sometimes, it’s actually better.

As a football fan, I want the players representing my team or my nation to be passionate about it and we see that regularly with the anthems. One of my favourite bits of the whole tournament so far has been watching the Italians singing their anthem. Firstly, it’s just a cracking tune. Secondly, they love singing it and they mean every word (I looked it up and some of the words are ‘Brothers of Italy…Italy has awoken’ so that sounds passionate!)

Alongside the Italian anthem I’d put those of France (chooon) and Wales (just seems to be shouting, hey what shouting it is!) as some of my favourites.

I must admit that our own anthem – ‘God Save The Queen’ – struggles to keep up in terms of its immediate appeal. But I still love singing it or more likely just standing up for it. I think our players are awful at it, but I still love it. It makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. I know a lot of people struggle with it because of their opposition to the royal family, but I don’t have a problem with them. If someone gave me several castles to live in, I wouldn’t think twice about it! I just think that, in terms of sport and identity, our anthem isn’t a great fit. But certainly, it provides yet another wonderful experience alongside everything else in tournament football.

4. There are some dreadful hairdos at the tournament. OK, so footballer’s hair has long been known for erring on the side of bad taste. If you know your football, think Chris Waddle’s mullet or Carlos Valderama’s afro as featured below.

However, I’ve noticed one or two that rival even classics such as these. Step forward, Croatian defender Vida, our own Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik and of course, the German manager Joachim Low.

I’m no hairstyle guru – in fact way back when I copied the Chris Waddle mullet when he added the twist of perming only the back of it – but for grown men to be wandering around football stadiums looking like this, well, at the very least it needs to be gently mocked.

5. England beat Germany and I had to fight back the tears. It’s been 55 years since England beat Germany at a tournament. Longer than I’ve been alive. There have been some heartbreaking moments in that time, as well as some embarrassments. We’ve beaten them in friendlies and qualifying games, but not in a game that actually mattered for a long, long time. So it was bound to be emotional.

It wasn’t during the match. When we scored my son jumped into my arms both times, but we just kind of jumped around screaming. There were no tears; not even hints of tears. Bizarrely though, after the match had finished and as the BBC pundits were reacting I found myself immersed in the moment and realising that I might cry.

I didn’t. I fought them back, but boy was it close! Proof once again that football, derided by many as boring, is actually powerful, thrilling, emotional and vital to some people.

So with another week to go I’m hoping for more excitement from the tournament. I feel sure we’ll get lots.

Oh and…COME ON, ENGLAND!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the blog. Feel free to leave a comment.

‘I got 99 (middle age) problems…’

My attention was caught early a few mornings ago as I got downstairs and opened the kitchen curtains. Sadly, it wasn’t some miracle of nature that greeted me. Nor was it the latest in a succession of bright summer days. No, it was a tarpaulin. And it was an immediate reminder of how taxing middle age has felt over the last few weeks. But we’ll have to come back to tantalising tales of tarpaulin later because it’s a bit down the list in terms of my recent middle age problems.

It’s been a busy few weeks. This time of year is always busy in our house as we have three birthdays and Father’s Day to contend with across June and July. And yes, I do mean contend with. None of it is hugely enjoyable due to the stress and the effort that comes with preparing for them. To clarify, Father’s Day isn’t stressful, but given that this year it was the day before my wife’s birthday, it did come accompanied with feelings of guilt!

This year my daughter is also off on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition in late June too and the sheer level of preparation needed for this has been ridiculous. It’d be a ridiculous amount of preparation if it was leading to her first attempt at scaling Everest, but she’s not attempting that just yet. Instead, it’s a hike from somewhere in Dewsbury to a mystery destination in Huddersfield, where the biggest danger they’re likely to face is the fact that it will probably rain all day and they might well moan each other to death.

Suffice to say, with two birthdays out of the way, I’m already knackered. I’m quite sure it wasn’t always like this. In my twenties and thirties I reckon I probably crammed more into life and bounced back twice as quick. Middle age is taking some getting used to.

Recently, the aches and pains have intensified. It’s strange because whenever I go our for a run I seem to manage just fine. We isolated during May and that made me a bit rusty for a while, but I was still able to get out and run a 10k fairly soon after. Standing around for any length of time though; that’s a different matter. When I coach my football team twice a week a lot of it sees me standing around and maybe punctuating this with a bit of shouting perhaps a quick demonstration of what I want to happen next. But mostly, it’s standing around. So why does the next day always, without fail hurt so much? I’ll tell you why. Middle age problems. I genuinely think it’s my body just seizing up.

The same has happened with work. I’ve been a teacher for over twenty years now, so I’m used to whatever gets thrown at me. And for a long time, I’ve coped fairly well. I’ve rarely been ill and despite the highly stressed environment I’ve not quite lost my mind.

Summer term is always difficult. It seems to take an entire decade to pass for starters. And then you have to factor in things like end of year assessments and the cavalcade of fun that is getting a year 11 class ready for their final exams. In my thirties we also had the added bonus of getting coursework ready, but although it was tiring work I always managed. And then Year 11 would leave, you’d have extra time on your hands and you’d enjoy a well earned rest. Goodness me, many moons ago I wrote an entire manuscript for a book using Year 11 time once they’d left and still didn’t really feel it!

This present summer term feels like it might kill me off. For the past few mornings I’ve woken up confused, grumpy and feeling like my head had been packed full of cotton wool. Or soup. Or cotton wool soaked in soup. Either way, it’s showing that middle age isn’t being overly kind to me. I seem to be waking up, barely able to walk let alone make breakfast. Tying my tie is taking longer as I struggle to get the length just right; something I’ve been doing for work for about the last 25 years. I even forgot to make my dinner last night and had to stand making sandwiches at 7.15 the next morning instead. And all the while, I’m just waiting for students to start asking, “Can we just watch a film?” as the end of the school year plods ever closer. I mean three weeks to go is close enough for us to get started on watching films, right? Hmmm…

I can see the faint glow of retirement somewhere on the horizon, but I’m not sure I can make it that far! And that’s a real middle age problem. I think that my body is ready to give up work, but it’s arrived at that particular station at least a decade too early! And at the moment it feels like my brain’s not that far behind it. Life’s not fair sometimes.

Lately middle age has reached my eyes as well. I’ve had glasses for a couple of years now, but not always needed to wear them. Recently though we’ve reached crisis point. As a teacher, some of my job involves reading and it’s not been an entirely lovely surprise to find that I often can’t read the words in a book without my glasses on anymore. The same applies when reading the paper. And is it a middle age thing that means my eyes don’t wake up at the same time as the rest of my body?

Middle age problems have led to a new set of situations as well. My parents – both well out of middle age and into the category of ancient relics – have been preparing their wills of late. This has meant that myself and my sister have been called upon to sign the forms giving us Power of Attorney (I don’t know whether grammatically that needs capitals, but in terms of how adult and grandiose it sounds, it’s getting them). I’ve never felt so old and it was all I could do not to phone home and plead with them not to give their son this responsibility as he still has the same mind he had aged 17.

It’s obviously led to lots of thoughts about things I didn’t really want to think about, but it’s made me feel especially old too. And despite being fully aware of exactly how old I am, I haven’t felt grown up enough for it at all!

I’ll end on a lighter note and return to this morning’s tarpaulin. Tonight my daughter is having a birthday meal with friends and then afterwards they’re heading back to ours for a little gathering in our back garden. You’d think that was simple, wouldn’t you? Well no. No, it’s not. The discussions alone have left me on the edge! She’s requested alcohol, which isn’t strictly legal, but understandable. And they don’t want to drink until they pass out; just a couple of drinks each. But the thought of my daughter drinking has only helped the middle age fatigue and dread!

Then there has been the planning. Oh, the planning. Snacks to suit all dietary needs – 104 different ones and counting, I think – , where they’ll sit, what they’ll sit on, play lists, volume of said play lists, a table for drinks because the table in the garden is what they’ll be sitting around, not what a selection of drinks and snacks should go on (don’t ask, me neither), the neighbours and then finally, as if all of that wasn’t quite enough to induce some kind of middle aged nervous breakdown where I walk out and just sit on a roundabout for the next three hours, the Great British Weather popped up. Hence the tarpaulin, which presently covers our garden furniture but later will be involved in an almighty struggle with this middle aged grump so that I can erect a makeshift shelter in case of rain!

My 18-year-old self, full of hopes and dreams, wouldn’t believe it. My 30 year old self would have taken it in his stride. My 49-year-old self is only prevented from chopping up the garden furniture to make a bonfire by his ever aching limbs and the fact that he’d most likely lose a finger or two in the chopping due to the fact that his eyes are failing too.

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 2

I cannot express my love for tournament football strongly enough. The sheer joy of watching several games in a day or even the challenge of trying to keep up with the events of a 2pm kick off while you’re still at work; I’m not sure it can be beaten. Whether it can or it can’t – seriously, it can’t – here’s my latest Euro 2020 Diary and some observations I’ve made over the last week or so.

  1. England v Scotland was as frustrating as ever. So much ground to cover here. Let’s start with the fact that it was an awful game and that much of the blame here lies with England. We were truly awful, although if you’re looking for plus points, we gave a masterclass in sideways passing. So if UEFA can tweak the laws of the game to include two new goals at either side of the pitch, we’re in business and that long wait for success might just be over.

Other observations? Harry Kane might be pregnant; certainly his movement is that of someone not far off giving birth. England fans seem incapable of providing an atmosphere unless it’s via social media and Gareth Southgate’s coat was horrendous. In fact his whole sense of style suggests he’s discovered a time portal that allows him to visit C&A back in about 1985. (C&A was a fashion retailer way back when, notorious for terrible clothes). I never imagined I’d long for the return of the World Cup waistcoat.

2. The Fourth Official in the England v Scotland game had a look of Alan Shearer about him. Except no one in our house agreed. And we still couldn’t win. Look at him though…definitely a hint of Shearer.

3. I love the concept of different host cities across Europe. I’ll be honest, when I first heard of this I thought it was a terrible idea dreamed up by an idiot. The kind of thing that gets dreamed up in education while I sit there thinking, that’s awful, who’s going to go for that before hearing that everyone else loves it. However – unlike in education – it works. Who knew Baku was such a great place and had such an ace stadium? Seeing the Allianz Arena in Munich on TV gave me a real kick as I’d been there myself. And did you know that there’s a railway in Budapest that – apart from the train driver – is run by children? I mean, apart from the fact that the stadium there has been full for games and it’s looked and sounded incredible, it’s got a railway run by kids!

Then you’ve got Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bucharest, Glasgow, London, Rome, St. Petersburg and Seville – an incredibly diverse selection of European cities. And let’s face it, this could be done every four years for the tournament with a fresh selection of cities each time, without it ever becoming dull. Covid allowing, this is definitely one to add to my ‘To-Do’ list; even if it meant experiencing the inevitable disappointment of following England, I think it’d be quite something to do in a few different cities. In fact, it’d possibly be even better just going to games that didn’t involve England, just to enjoy the cities!

4. I’ve started writing Euro Poetry! As anyone who puts themselves through the chore of reading my blog regularly will know, I write a bit of poetry as well, usually publishing it as a blog. Well, I’ve just started writing some poems inspired by the Euros. It started because the whole Denmark story just felt very inspirational, so I wrote a poem about what they’d gone through – players, staff and nation – and the somewhat glorious outcome. After that things just spiraled and I wrote more and more. So I’ll be putting them on the site soon and hopefully I’ll be able to write some more as well.

5. I wonder if other nations cheer so much for the underdog. In the UK, it’s well documented that we love an underdog story. In football, every year produces several underdog stories as David meets Goliath (if you’re reading outside of the UK, neither David or Goliath are actual teams) in the FA Cup and we adore it. At the Wimbledon tennis championship, where British success has depended on Andy Murray for far too long, we’re used to cheering for our underdogs.

At any major football tournament smaller nations have a habit of capturing our imagination. But it has made me wonder if other nations do the same. Are the Germans willing Finland on? Do the Spanish cheer for plucky Wales? Are there Argentinians watching Rwanda in the World Cup, desperate for them to do well? And are the Italians hungry for Hungary?

The obvious underdog story during this tournament has been Denmark and it’s reduced me to tears as well as having me jumping around my front room, fists pumping and cheering like a lunatic. It’s not my nation and I have no known connection. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Similarly, I’ve been desperate for North Macedonia to do well. Again, no connection, just a need to see the underdog give the big boys a tough time.

Tournament football always produces underdogs. Indeed this very tournament has been won by underdogs over the years with Denmark and Greece springing to mind. They are part of the fabric of the sport and I don’t think I’ll ever stop taking an interest.

As ever, I hope you’ve enjoyed the article. As the group stages end we move on to the knockout stages of the Euros. I can’t wait and I’ll look forward to finding more to write about.

Peak District Mini-Break

Covid, lockdowns, running out of telly to watch, the cancellation of live sport and music, walk after walk after walk, no contact with dads and mums, no hugs, no pubs. It’s safe to say that we’ve lived sheltered lives for the last 18 months or so.

As a family we’ve spent a lot of time hunkered down at home and not suffered that badly from it all. We even managed to squeeze in a week’s holiday in North Wales when restrictions were lifted last summer, but other than that we might as well have had a force field within a mile radius of our house because we would have very rarely troubled it.

Lately though, the boredom has been taking hold. We’ve had to venture out, although still never far. But the delights of our back garden and the limits of our estate have pretty much worn off, so we had to start making plans. We were finally being forced to travel in search of adventure…as long as it wasn’t too far away; I mean, we’re not exactly natural adventurers!

With half term fast approaching, what we needed was something that was not that far away, yet far enough away that we wouldn’t be tempted to head home at the end of a day. So, with the Yorkshire Dales on our doorstep, the Yorkshire coast around an hour away and the Lake District not a great deal further, we plumped for…The Derbyshire Peak District!

We booked to stay in a family room in the Whitton Lodge in Hardstoft near Chesterfield and decided to spend two days around the Upper Derwent Valley in the Derbyshire Peaks. To be fair, this was a slight oversight on our part as we thought that the two places were a lot closer than they were and as a result left ourselves with an hour long drive after our first day in order to get to our accommodation! But what’s an hour in a hot car on narrow, winding country roads between friends!?

So on the Wednesday of half term (2nd June) we set off midway through the morning heading for an early lunchtime arrival at the Derwent Reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley.

It has to be said, it’s quite an amazing journey. The first part is unremarkable, unless your some kind of motorway pervert and then I’d guess your blood really will be pumping, as we spent about 20 minutes on the M1, Britain’s foremost motorway. After leaving that though you are quickly transported to the middle of nowhere and there are times when all you can see is stunning countryside. It’s a difficult journey as a driver as the roads are narrow, winding and bumpy too. But it’s undeniably fun at the same time!

So by the time we get to the Derwent Reservoir and the visitor centre it’s fair to say that we’re a bit like one of James Bond’s martinis; shaken, not stirred! We circuit the car park unsuccessfully and decide to head back up the road to look for a space. We’re rewarded by a roadside spot a couple of hundred yards away and free parking for the day. Result!

Once we get down to the Visitor Centre we get our bearings before opting to walk without a map. It’s a friendly and helpful centre where you can purchase a map and also get some advice on the best walk to suit your needs, but today we settle for taking a photo of the route from a sign outside. Other than that we’re hiking on instinct alone. We’re off road and wrestling with whatever nature can throw at us!

Of course, I’m exaggerating so that we sound far more adventurous than we really are. We’ve actually done this hike once before, but it’s not as simple as just following regular signposts, so we’re winging it to an extent.

The Peak District is well known as an area of outstanding beauty – one of many in the UK – and it doesn’t disappoint today. It’s a scorching hot day and even just walking down near the side of the reservoir is lovely. But then, after about a half a mile of trekking and continually telling ourselves we’ve gone wrong, we take a sharp left over a stile, as signposted and start to head uphill.

The higher we climb, the more amazing the view. However, having tweaked a hamstring the day before while taking a coaching session, I’m making an extra effort to remain sure-footed and struggling a little bit. If you follow in our footsteps and take this walk be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted; it’s a steep climb and for much of the way it’s a narrow path with a steep drop to your right. It’s a rocky footpath too, so you need to choose your path carefully. It isn’t particularly dangerous, but with the wind blowing a little bit things felt quite hairy at times!

As we get closer to the top we decide to scramble up the banking to our left a little way and refuel. It’s picnic time. We’re sheltered quite well from the wind and we have the best of views. It’s safe to say that while it’s a welcome break from our upward hike, it’s a wonderfully relaxing one as well. We spend a good half an hour eating, drinking, chatting, fending off flies and taking in the view before finally hauling ourselves into a standing position and heading upwards once more.

Once at the top of the hill – and Strava showed my ascent as just short of 700ft that day – the view is incredible. A 360 degree sight that just takes the breath away. Looking back down from where we’ve come there’s the reservoir stretching through the valley, to our left moorland and the peaks of the next valley, to our right the steep sides that – I think – lead towards Hope Valley and then in front of us, what awaits our feet; miles of stunning moorland. It’s days like this and views like this that make me all the more thankful for living in England.

The walk takes you for another couple of miles across the top of this stunning landscape before you make the steep descent down towards the Lady Bower reservoir. This is definitely not a walk for smaller children, especially not this bit and it can feel a little treacherous at times as you’re descending sharply down a narrow and rocky path. Watch out for stray sheep too! And if you’re lucky you may well spot the odd bird of prey swooping or hovering over the valley seeking it’s next snack!

Once we make it down to the bottom we’re all shattered. My legs are like jelly after the descent, it’s stiflingly hot and I have a rucksack on my back. Yet there’s still further to go! It’s safe to say we simply amble along the path along the side of the reservoir diving into shade as we go.

Once we make it back to the Visitor Centre we queue for ice creams and slump on a low wall to rest and cool down. But we can’t stay too long as there’s another hour long drive ahead of us before we get to our accommodation.

Whitton Lodge is situated 6 miles outside of Chesterfield, in a pleasant part of the Derbyshire countryside. When we show up there is no one around and how we actually check in is a little unclear. However, we make a quick phone call and the owner is with us within a couple of minutes, greeting us with a warm smile and showing us around, before taking us to our room. The property has nine bedrooms, a breakfast room and best of all, a lounge with TV and a pool table. Our room – a family room – is huge and there’s more than enough room for us all to feel comfortable. Despite this, two members of the family still take up residence on my side of our bed when I point out that there’s a plug socket next to it. It’s OK, my phone charging can wait!

We drive back into Chesterfield for our tea, opting for Frankie and Benny’s to suit both our children and due to the fact that the gluten free and dairy free options are good.

Next morning, after a good sleep in the peaceful Derbyshire countryside we head downstairs just before 8am to be welcomed warmly by our hosts. Breakfast is excellent and again the gluten free and dairy free options are great. Best of all though is my cooked breakfast; lots of bacon, sausages, egg, beans and hash browns with a decent supply of toast, juice and coffee too. Our hosts are friendly and chatty, as well as being brilliantly efficient and we’re left waiting for nothing. We even have a chat about their goats as we leave and I’m sure we’ll be back in the future.

We’re homeward bound today, but not until late, so we’re heading back into the Peaks and the Hope Valley to visit the beautiful village of Castleton. We’re not quite sure what we’ll do, but in the spirit of adventure, we reckon we’ll find something.

In fact, there’s lots to do in Castleton. There are caves to visit, a Norman castle – hence the name – a number of walks, a visitor centre and lots of pubs, cafes and restaurants. We consider the caves and the castle, but then, already tired, settle on what we think will be a reasonably easy walk. We opt for the Cave Dale – Peverill Castle loop and very quickly find that it’s yet another steep, rocky ascent! It’s narrow too, with steep hillsides either side of us, but popular and lots of people are out on the trail.

Even though the walk is slightly short of 3 miles, we take our time today and there are several stops on the way up. It’s lovely though, as with the rest of the day ahead of us and hearty breakfasts to try and work off, the rest stops can easily be accommodated! I have to say I’m grateful for every last one of them! As you’d expect in the Peaks, the view from the top is stunning and once again we can see for miles and miles.

It’s approaching mid afternoon when we get back into Castleton and we just take a leisurely stroll back towards the visitor centre, where another low wall beckons us to have another sit down! It’s a busy little place though, so ideal for a spot of people watching!

Although we’re still feeling fairly well fed, we’re now very thirsty so we head for the Three Roofs Cafe, where again there are enough gluten free and dairy options to keep the family happy. We’re unable to resist the snacks and so crumpets, scones, chips, a sandwich and a tea cake are ordered and promptly scoffed, while we sit and enjoy the cool inside air. It feels like the ideal time for a coffee, but I have what I call a ‘pop thirst’ and so I go for a San Pelegrino Limonata which absolutely hits the spot and is the best thing I could have drank at this moment in time!

We have a quick stroll through Castleton at the end of the day, but by this point everyone is shattered and it’s clearly time to head home. We’re back in Leeds within an hour and a quarter and the country air seems a distant memory. There’ll definitely be a next time though and I’d recommend the Peak District to anyone who fancies some serenity, fresh air and incredible views.

I hope you enjoyed the blog. As ever, feel free to leave a comment.

Grassroots Football: End of Season reflections.

As the curtain falls on another year of grassroots football I thought I’d reflect on what has been an eventful season. The prevalence of Covid-19 has had a major bearing on how the season has run, but then when you factor in all of the usual ups and downs of running any kind of sporting team, it’s safe to say that things have been demanding in the extreme!

A little bit of background: regular readers will know this already, but I coach a football (soccer) team for under 12s. I’ve done it now for the past four years and it’s a source of great joy and satisfaction as well as fatigue! The highs are right up there, but the lows can be an absolute pain.

The global pandemic wrecked the previous season (2019-20), but you’d hope that this type of thing would prove to be a once in a lifetime event. Unless of course you are a Hollywood actor, or you live in the Bible. Sadly though, with wave after wave of the virus hitting, grassroots sport was paralysed again and we found ourselves back in lockdown and unable to train or play for large spells of season 20-21. In fact at one point it genuinely felt like the season would be abandoned and we’d be looking at waiting 7 or 8 months before a ball was kicked in anger again. And then, just as we were beginning to lose hope, the rules were relaxed as vaccinations took effect and we were able to get going again, albeit with tight restrictions in place.

So what are my reflections on the season gone by? Well, they’re a funny old mixture of satisfaction and extreme frustration. We finished 7th in a 10 team league. 7th in Division 7 of 8. So, it’s safe to say that our performance overall wasn’t what I’d hoped for. There have been times when we’ve played wonderful fast moving, flowing football, but there have also been times when we’ve played like a team of strangers, both to each other and to football! It’s the kind of inconsistency that leaves a lot more questions than answers and has also meant a lot of time spent trying to figure out what the problem was and how we could be more consistent as a team.

When I started coaching the team they were Under 8s. We were the 2nd team and even then there were a range of abilities. My goal – no pun intended – was always to coach my players so that they were comfortable with a ball at their feet. I’d like to think that with the majority of my players I’ve achieved that. I’ve always wanted to instill the importance of playing a quick passing game into my players. Pass to a team mate, move off the ball, look for space and look for angles; play the game on the grass, in the right way. I think that for a large proportion of the season we’ve got there with these goals, but a lot of the time physicality and focus have cost us.

So these are two areas that we need to work on with pre-season and next season in mind. I still feel like some of my lads are very immature and prone to just switching off in games and that’s when mistakes happen. Since we started playing again after lockdown in January we’ve been competitive in every game and only lost one by more than one goal. In all of these games we’ve had spells of playing wonderful football; we’ve been good to watch. And yet, there’s always the risk of a mistake.

Teaching the boys the value of a team ethic has been more important than ever this year. For a few years previous there had been a bit of a tendency for boys to mix with only the people from their primary school and it caused problems. The feeling that this was everyone’s team and that everyone was a team mate took a lot of getting through. And while I don’t think we’ve quite got the message through, we’ve definitely made great strides with it this season. You can hear it on the pitch with the encouragement that they give each other and the positivity. Rather than criticising a team mate who takes a bad touch or misses a chance, now we’re more likely to hear one of them shouting that it was “unlucky” or “just keep going, don’t let your head drop.” They’ve never been the loudest of teams, but we’ve improved vocally this year and it’s something I’m genuinely happy about.

The team ethic has come into play with our physicality too. While some teams have fielded several players that look like fully grown men this year, we’re still quite a small bunch. It’s meant that we’ve been bullied off the ball at times over the years and worse still, we’ve allowed it to happen and simply complained, rather than trying to be stronger. That changed a little in the period since around April this year. We’ve talked and talked about it in training and before, during and after games and the message seems to be getting through – don’t cheat, but fight for the right to keep the ball and win football matches. This is definitely something that we need to keep working on as well as carrying it forward for next season.

Next season will be a big step up for my team. They move from playing 9-a-side football to 11-a-side and that means playing on a bigger pitch with bigger goals. We’ll have to adapt to new positions and different formations and all of this presents a real challenge. I’m hoping that the size of the pitch will help us because we pass the ball well. However, I’m conscious that it should help others too who rely on how well their stronger players can run with the ball. With this in mind, part of our build up to the season will be spent working much more on fitness and trying to improve players strength, pace and stamina. If we can get closer to teams physically, the way we play the game might just give us an advantage.

At the moment though our main concern revolves around the recruitment of players. the 12-13 age range is a tricky time with junior footballers as lots of them start to explore new interests and the drop out rate is quite high. So far, having asked parents who’ll be signing up next season I’ve had only 11 positive replies, which basically means we haven’t got a squad yet. Our goalkeeper has decided to drop football, leaving us without anyone to fill what is a really key position, so we’re on the lookout for a new keeper! It promises to be a crucial next few weeks, with the simple fact being if we can’t get enough players then the team will have to fold. I’ve already heard whispers of other teams that are in the same position, so it’s going to be a case of putting out adverts, relying on word of mouth and crossing everything that’s crossable in the hope that we can attract bodies! If not, I’m going to have to find something else to fill my everyday thoughts and Sunday mornings!

The other thing that I need to think about now is sponsorship. Grassroots football clubs are not organisations that are awash with money. But the kids that populate them tend to grow fast. So when it comes to kit, my lads have grown out of what they’ve got and we are in dire need of a new home kit. The last time we got one we could only secure sponsorship to pay for just over half of what we got, meaning that the club had to stump up money to help out. I’d like to avoid that this time round.

That said, schmoozing potential sponsors is not my thing and that is yet another problem. My assistant coach is usually pretty good at that kind of thing though and as well as this, we have parents of some of our players that have tried to get sponsorship in the past. In fact, our last home kit sponsorship was achieved by one of said parents badgering a business owner who drinks in the same pub as him!

If we do get the money then we need to get the kit, which shouldn’t be a problem, but again is something that irks me. Our club committee insist on sticking with the same supplier for all teams and frankly, I don’t rate the supplier. Our home kit for the last two seasons has been plain, dull and unimaginative, so I’m hoping that this year there might be a bit of flexibility.

A couple of years ago I used an online kit designer to come up with some ideas from a different supplier. I then put the idea to the club. You would have thought I’d just arrived at the meeting riding a sea horse while holding hands with a mermaid. Suffice to say, we stuck with our usual way of doing things.

A year later however, we decided that we’d buy a training kit that could double up as an away kit because our home kit clashed with several other teams in our league. We went with a neon yellow and grey number and it blew a few minds. And then, a coach from one of our younger age groups got in touch to find out which kit it was, as he wanted to order it. Gradually more groups did the same and now several of our age groups wear the same snazzy kit that we introduced. So there’s hope for a quiet kit revolution yet!

Overall, it’s been a season of highs and lows and it’s left us with lots to work on. I think I have a team of players that are capable of a great deal more. I think their potential is a lot greater than they realise and happily, I think the penny might have dropped a little with this. I’ll be going into the season with some targets for them, both individually and as a team, but in short I’ll be looking for a much better league finish. This season we finished 7th out of 10 clubs. Next year I’ll be pushing my boys for a top three finish (if we get the players and actually still have a team, that is…) and if results in the final four or five games are anything to go by, we can achieve just that.

We lost to the teams that finished 2nd and 3rd in the league, but were competitive in both games, particularly against the 2nd team. We defeated teams that finished higher than us in those final games too, most notably against the team that won the league. In fact, we were the only team to beat them over the course of the entire season; the only team to take any points at all off them as they won every other game that they played. And it wasn’t just a win; we made them look very ordinary and dominated all but the final five minutes or so. If we can take that performance forward, then we’ll be OK.

So here’s to another year of football with all of the challenges it brings. Let’s just hope that the pandemic isn’t going to cause the chaos that it has for the last two seasons though!