stories worth a thousand words #22


Written: Thursday, 11 November 2004

Jim Calloway was really bugging the hell out of me that day, even more so than usual. I hardly knew the guy outside of football training, but when he got onto the pitch he never shut up from kickoff to full time. This would be all very well if he was team captain, but he wasn’t. On this particular day he was up to his usual antics, and from the moment the ball left the opposing goalkeeper’s boot and it was clear it was going towards me, he proceeded to bark instructions for me to play the ball up the left wing, intimating that if I didn’t that I was some sort of moron.

The textbooks would dictate that as a centre-half I was to just power a header forward, and I suppose had it been anyone else giving the advice I would have complied in the recommended direction. Perhaps for a split second I was inspired by the ghost of a former footballing great, but my instinct was instead to lean forward and meticulously cushion a soft header down to the feet of Calloway, who was about fifteen yards to my left, and if successful it would not only retain possession for my team, but would also get the message across to this prima-donna to shut his cakehole.

Considering the ball was coming from a considerable height on account of the kick being from the keeper’s hands, my planned manoeuvre was ill-advised, but I managed to execute it with clinical precision. Initially surprised by the ball heading his way, Calloway to his credit managed to compose himself, take a touch and play the ball up the left wing channel. Lord only knows what happened next, apart from his congratulating me on my skill and my team-mates deriding him for having been taught a lesson.

I was extremely proud of that achievement, definitely more so than any actual triumph in a sporting competition. At the time I was playing for Blackrock College FC, a club formed primarily for soccer playing alumni like myself. We would train at the rugby club, taking whatever training space they would allow that wasn’t being used by its own members on weekday nights.

I was invited to join the club by school coach Joe “Smokey Joe” McGinty, who doubled as manager of the alumni club. He would frequent Glennon’s on occasion, and one day he said to me as I passed the table where he was sitting “You’ll be coming out for training to the club Tuesday week aren’t you?”, quickly followed by “You’d better start jogging in your own time to get off that extra weight, Pagano”.

Smokey Joe’s one liners of feedback had always been an inspiration to me, right through school. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”, “Keep your mind on the game” and “Yer too goddam lazy”. all stand out to me to this day, and are criticisms that are significant in arenas far more significant than the soccer pitch. This was amazing, for to look at him you would hardly be inspired to achieve peak fitness; the man was 5 foot four and earned his nickname by going through 40 fags a day, 60 on match days!

But whatever it was about him, I proceeded to follow his advice from the pub. I started jogging early one morning in what must have been late 1987. The 7am set-off time was down to my presumption that the sight of me running would send the general public into gales of laughter. I kept at it, and after time I was confident enough to go over longer distances at any time of the day. I would say that at the height of my fitness I was able to do five miles with little effort.

This helped me greatly at the club. At one stage I was easily one of the fastest players there, and was told I was eventually needed for the first team on account of my pace. For the first couple of years, I made a few appearances for the “firsts” but starred mostly for the side that played in the UCD Superleague, a team that was triumphant in 1991, winning its division comfortably and giving me my only worthwhile sporting medal.

Looking back it was clear they were grooming me for a regular spot at centre half, but of course I had other plans, to get married and travel the world and all that stuff. And so at the end of the 1991/92 season I hung up my boots, never to go back. Travelling, working long hours, being a lazy sod, and doing significant damage to my already tender lungs by my hash phase, all combined to get me where I am now.

After seeing pictures of myself from our trip to the USA this year, I was inspired to start the early morning jogs once again, but the going has been tough, with the slightest sniffle of a cold ending up in my lungs. It is extremely difficult for me now to gather the momentum to reach a fitness level whereby I could perhaps join an Over-35 team somewhere.

The weight set I purchased back in 1997 helped broaden my shoulders enough to give me some sort of symmetry in my appearance, but I would dearly love to significantly reduce my current weight of eighteen stone. Of course, this has as much to do with eating habits as it does exercise.

Having said that, I do see it ironic that rather than lamenting all the training I haven’t done over the years, I am more inclined to remember nuggets of positive achievements like that outlined above! The great manager Bill Shankly said: “Football isn’t about winning and losing, it’s much more than that!!!” There is definitely a lesson in there for me, but maybe it would take someone like Smokey Joe McGinty to come along and point it out to me to make it sink in. Just do it, Pagano!!!!
© JL Pagano 2004


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