It was May 1975 and the inter-house school football tournament had come to a head. The school, Sir John Mogg’s, was housed within a British army camp close to Detmold in Nordrhein Westfalen, West Germany.
The Cold War was well underway and we “army kids” knew little or nothing about it and anyway, there were scores to be settled.
Hillary (as in Sir Edmund, Red) had easily done away with Chichester (as in Sir Francis, Yellow) in the previous round 4 – 0 and we, Wright (as in the Brothers, Green) had had a torrid time dealing with the hacking and “honey pot” tactics of Bannister (as in Roger, Blue) and secured a scrappy 1 – 0 victory.
Hillary were favourites for the final.
Their chief goalscorer and renowned school bully, Paul “d’you want a fight about it?” Garvey squared up to Derek Padgham at kick off and the tension was obvious. All the classroom windows of the school buildings facing the pitch were crammed with kids watching, in some cases with their faces pressed against the glass, the mist of breath clouding the view.
The first half kicked off and the rain came down. So many players slipped over in the mud chasing the waterlogged leather ball that had absorbed so much water, it had the density of a small medicine ball.
Hillary pounded our goalmouth with sliding tackles, shoves and the occasional shot that just would not hit the target. As I recall, almost the entire first half was played in the sludge of our penalty area.
Still, nothing doing. 0 – 0 at half time.
The rain stopped and the referee, Mr Dunn (beard, glasses) called for a new ball and the second half was played with a plastic, orange coloured, Mitre branded ball, the kind that stung ferociously when it hit you on the thigh when your legs were wet. Hillary surged forward again and Garvey was through on goal. It felt like our entire team was chasing him and getting nowhere. He scuffed his shot by kicking the ball hard into the ground, where it bounced up high and over the head of Nicholas Thomas, our lacklustre ‘keeper (well, in his defence no one wanted to play in goal) and into the net. Garvey reeled away, fists punching the air and the roar of the spectators was hard to take.
For what seemed like an eternity, Hillary had possession but a lucky deflection off my knee sent the ball over the halfway line and suddenly we were on the break. Padgham hurried the ball down the wing and sent a through ball into the Hillary goalmouth where Paul Radley was brought down as he tried to make contact. Penalty, no question.
Radley left the field to recuperate, Andrew Price stepped up to convert the spot kick and we were level.
This time, the roar from the classrooms was ours and confidence quickly spread through the team. Suddenly it seemed easier to play. We were actually passing the ball around and even forced a few saves from their goalkeeper.
Time was running out. Garvey had another shot for Hillary thud against the post and the frustration throughout their team was clear to see. Surely not extra time? No one wanted that. Padgham burst down the wing again for the final time. I was running level with him, glancing to my left as I approached the Hillary goal. The cross came over. The ball was veering through the air about a foot behind me, almost at head height. Somehow, I managed to stop myself in the mud, turn 180 degrees on my left heel and stick my right foot up in the air. The ball glanced off my big toe and through the ‘keeper’s reach to make it 2 – 1.
I couldn’t breathe.
Face down in the mud as I was mobbed by my ecstatic team mates. The final whistle sounded. Sheer exhilaration.
Kevin fucking Keegan.