Sunday league player Chris Fidler, of the South London Press, has been training with Ryman Division One’s Tooting & Mitcham. Here’s how he got on…
After four seasons on the sports desk covering Crystal Palace, Tooting & Mitcham, Dulwich Hamlet and Fisher Athletic I thought it was time to climb down from my ivory tower and practice what I preached.
As a seasoned Sunday league player, 31 years young, I would be training with whippersnappers who actually get paid, rather than pay their subs, to play.
The nearest I have ever got to facing “real” players came a year ago when my Sunday side, the London Owls, took on a Sheffield Wednesday All-stars XI.
After speaking to Tooting boss Richard Cadette, or “Gaffer” as I now refer to him, I was fearing the worst.
And after dropping points against Lymington & New Milton and Kingstonian, the players were set for a roasting on the training pitch.
Trotting out on to the hallowed Imperial Fields turf, my heart was in my mouth.
Ted Hart helped put me at ease by knocking a ball to me, and I did what all Sunday leaguers do for the best and “got rid” with one touch.
I kept things respectable by cruising the 10-minute warm-up. I had got off lightly -clearly fitness was off the agenda.
I was then given a yellow bib by Cadette, who asked me where I played. “Centre-half, Gaffer,” I asserted confidently.
“Okay, right wing it is,” he replied. I was being kept out of the way.
But as the game started, Dublin told me to enjoy myself. And that’s exactly what I did. Closing down play was my tactic and was all I could hope for as I got to see at close quarters how quick, and skilful, Ryman Division One players really are.
I felt sorry for the 16-year-old right-back who was making his first team training bow.
With a decent player in front of him he would surely have had less work to do.
My moment of glory came to an end all too quickly as the game finished 50 minutes in. After a warm-down I went to see Cadette and Dublin for their verdicts on my performance.
Cadette said I really needed to come back in the summer to go through the proper rigours of pre-season training to get a real idea of the fitness work involved.
There was clearly some good cop, bad cop stuff going on.
Coach Keith Dublin, formerly of Chelsea, Brighton and Watford no less, was more sympathetic to a Sunday league player scratching around for the slightest bit of positive criticism.
Nobody likes to be told they aren’t good enough, even though they know it themselves.
And I’m pleased to say Dubbers offered up the words I had longed to hear all my life: “You done well, Chris. You kept going.”
A fitting epitaph to my two-hour non-league career.