With my dad being a Scot, it was always going to be football and “not that square ball game”. He had played for his RAF squadron in WW2 against what was left of the French national team at the end of the war and brought his passion for the game with him to his new life in New Zealand. He joined Hamilton Wanderers playing left wing and met some lifelong friends through the club – including my mum. Dad was short but fast, strong and driven.
So my youth was all Scorcher and Score, Chelsea FC, Georgie Best and running around on soggy Waikato fields on Saturday mornings in a blue shirt that was too big for me. I watched as much black and white footage of those colourful teams from the UK as I could and filled in the blanks with the comics. I made the first XI in my last two years at Hillcrest primary school and we won the shield both those seasons. I was small but fast and could score goals with my
right foot and learned to use my left.
My team mates were mostly sons of immigrants too – English, Irish, Dutch and we grew up together through the beautiful game in the land of rugby. Glen, Mac, Keith and later Dick, Harry and Geordie – we became thick as thieves.
When we got to Hillcrest High it was a brand new school and we put the football team together from scratch with one vaguely interested teacher. At this time the Wanderers started a team in the fourth division of the Northern league and we joined that too.
I remember my first game for dad’s old club – I was nervous as hell. At intermediate school I had been relegated to lower team status because of my size and the size of the school but the coach (Paddy McConnell who had played with dad) gave me a shot on the right wing. I scored twice against Hamilton FC in that match and didn’t look back.
In high school we played two games every Saturday – for the school in the morning and the club in the afternoon. We trained for both teams as well during the week – Mondays and Wednesdays under lights at Galloway Park for the Wanderers and a bit of a kick around and planning session after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
There was a referee called Perry that used to train with us who had one leg shorter than the other and a special built up boot for his right foot. We were training one freezing night and Mac hit a high cross that I jumped up to head to the goal just as Perry swung that hefty boot of his right into my groin area in mid-air. It was a very special kind of pain where I couldn’t uncurl and had to be carried up to the changing rooms.
We had some good players and both those teams went on to win their respective trophies that first year and by the following fourth form winter the guts of that Wanderers side were playing in the third division and against grown men…
The Ghost of Electricity – War Stories by Jon McLeary is a new initiative at Off The Tracks, a series of stories and reflections from painter, writer and musician Jon McLeary