The other day I had a pub conversation about "who you know who should be given the MBE". To borrow a phrase from Sir John Stevens, Gordon Brown and others (last used last night, which got me thinking) - the everyday heroes.
Mine would be a bloke called Dave Godman. I went to a primary school in Bounds Green called Rhodes Avenue. It was a pretty decent school as they come, and I was mostly happy there. One downside was that there was no organised sport whatsoever, except for rounders in PE lessons.
Dave was dad to a lad called Joe, several years below me, and set up and ran the Football Club (ironically, Joe paid no interest in football whatsoever, if I recall). It was far and away the best thing about going to school - this would have been 1991-94 for me. Every Wednesday and Friday lunchtime we'd bolt our lunch down in record time (five minutes was considered VERY slow), go down to the local rec and have real training sessions. We had everything we could ever need: cones, bibs, and we'd all get changed into our best football gear (for some reason I had a particularly hideous stripey top and nasty burgundy jacket from a jumble sale that I decided was my training top...I've no idea why). We even started to play matches against other local schools; who could forget the first competitive game, against Coppetts Wood, which finished 5-0, shortly followed by a 14-0 win over Coldfall - a fifteenth goal was scratched from the records as we accidentally started the game with twelve men! - and the home game against Copthall, which was 19-1. Sadly, I was massively crap, and didn't feature in most games - although I played most of the return match with Copthall, by which time they'd got their act together, and held us 2-2.
It's the same all over the world, but the best players sat at the top of the social tree by default. In the year above, there was Chris Condon, a really nice lad whose mum (Clare?) used to come and help out at the training - she was quietly brilliant. Chris was probably the best player we had. There was Ankeet, a powerful full back, and of course the rocksteady central defensive partnership of Shona and Eleanor. There was Johnny, a skinny lad who always used to wear an Arsenal jacket, who I used to think was brilliant. In my year there was Dillan Leslie-Rowe, who used to play up front; Dominic Hill in midfield; and my best mate Liam Charalambou, a brilliant keeper, although he used to throw massive strops whenever he let in goals - so much so that he was eventually usurped in the first team by Harry in the year below. I also remember Jonty, who was an irritating kid, but a tricky playmaker. Then there was Duncan, who famously broke his toe midway through a match but kept quiet because he didn't want to be substituted.
The school hall, where we used to hold our meetings at lunchtime and have a team talk before the training, was a sacred place. Once the doors were shut, Chatham House rules applied. We were men in there, and everyone was equal. Petty squabbles and minor bullying disappeared ("Stop screwin' around" Dave would drawl, and we'd shut up instantly). Dave would talk tactics, and we'd hang on his every word.
But there was more than that. The school actively discouraged the Football Club. Dave used to have to jump through hoops to get permission to take us out, and the school provided no support whatsoever. None. Everything that we did was organised by Dave, with Clare's help. In the sanctity of the hall, Dave would rumble about the ruling powers and how we were always on the brink of being shut down (the Chatham House rules were just as well). For us, it was an unspeakable thought, but galvanised us together. The school never had a good word to say about football, and never lifted a finger for Dave, but made damn sure to make a fuss when we won a match.
Sometimes, without warning, Dave didn't turn up. We'd sit in the hall with increasing frustration. No Dave. Time would go on and on, until we'd drift away in bitter disappointment. Next time he's turn up saying "Sorry lads, I had to sort a guy out who's losing his job..." Never before was someone's impending unemployment met with such a lack of sympathy! We couldn't care less about Dave's trade union work; what about football training?
Dave would sometimes play himself in training, and it was honour to have him on your team. He was grizzled with a craggy face and a cheeky smile - he seemed to be a bit older than the other dads, but it didn't matter at all. He always used to bang on about the new astroturf centre which would be the ultimate playing surface and was just around the corner. In four years we never came close to seeing astroturf!
I wonder where Dave is now and how he's doing. I hope he realises even a fraction of the extent that we respected him - he was our idol. After school, picking up Joe, he'd be surrounded by throngs of kids wanting his opinion on the latest England squad or Spurs transfer rumour, giving out his wisdom as friendly and patiently as ever. If I ever met someone who inspired dozens of people, and made them feel better about life, an everyday hero, it was Dave Godman.