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Bottles, knives and headlocks… it’s all part of being a Sunday League midfielder

This is my Sunday League story. There are many like it but this one is mine.

This is my Sunday League story. There are many like it but this one is mine. All names have been changed to avoid identification.

‘You want the knife or you want the bottle?’

Not a question you get asked during most games of football. How did I get here?

I, like many of you reading this, trek around London dealing with varying degrees of hangover to play knock and run football on questionable pitches.

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He’s got the best seat in the house

Phil Shephard-Lewis - The Sun
He’s got the best seat in the house

I’ve played on Sunday League’s equivalent of Wembley- the sprawling tapestry of Hackney Marshes.

A breathtaking collection of odd socks, half-assembled nets and warm ups consisting of booting the ball at an unenthusiastic goalkeeper.

Arrive late at your peril.

Trying to locate your team-mates among the 82 pitches is about as easy as finding Nemo with weights around your ankles.

‘We’re the ones by the grassy bit’

Times Newspapers Ltd
‘We’re the ones by the grassy bit’

I’ve been elbowed in the face by an ex-England international during a Sunday League game.

I’ll spare you the ‘Who am I?’ but he’s got more caps to his name than Marcus Rashford and spent eight consecutive seasons as a Premier League player..

Sunday League has taken me abroad.

I’ve screamed c*** at the top of my voice after smashing the ball over the bar from 35-yards out in at least three different countries.

I’ve asked where my options were after giving the ball away due to my lack of ability on more times than I care to remember.

It’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it?

As for refs, I wholeheartedly apologise for anything I’ve ever said in the heat of the moment.

In this series I’ll be reliving some of the stranger moments I’ve had playing this game I love. This is episode one.

There are some moments where you find yourself asking why you bother. Which takes me back to the beginning.

You sure he’s just a ringer?

News Group Newspapers Ltd
You sure he’s just a ringer?

Sometimes Sunday League is less a game of football and more a pub fight with boots on.

You can tell from the minute the first tackle flies in, two seconds late and followed by a pat on the head and a snigger.

‘I was going for the ball, mate’ you get told as you try and rearrange your ankle into place.

Sometimes you know just know you’re going to be in for a long afternoon.

You sure these are the right goals?

Times Newspapers Ltd
You sure these are the right goals?

This was one of those games. Tastier than a McTasty from minute one.

I found myself in a running battle with the type of player only found on a Sunday League pitch.

Fantastic first touch. Can drop the ball on a penny. Happens to tip the scales at 17 stone.

His lack of mobility had a downside.

Every time I got away from him his default move was to hack me down, which gets a bit tiring after the 17th time, especially when the ref is one of their coaches and better than Arsene Wenger at looking the other way.

Eventually you rise to the bait, which is when it all boils over.

No sooner had I questioned his size than I was getting dragged off the pitch in a headlock asking whether I wanted to be bottled or stabbed.

Not an easy equation to work out when you’re tired.

Of course with Sunday League the bark is often worse than the bite.

The brawl which had broken out on the pitch, including fans from both sides, lured my new best mate back onto the pitch where he threatened to knock everyone out without actually doing anything.

After a couple of bloody noses, three torn shirts and one dog everything died down and the dust settled.

What happened next? We finished the game, of course. The last 15 minutes were played out without any major incidents.

I can’t remember the score, but I’ll always remember the game.

What is it about Sunday League that makes grown adults hate people they’ve never met before?

I’m sure you’ll all have your own stories of when it all got a bit on top. It’s part and parcel of amateur football.

Would I change it? Absolutely not. Just don’t forget your shin pads.

Come back next week when I’ll be explaining how I ended up playing against a former Man United player after a 48-hour bender.