Tuesday, 14 August 2012

It was great to meet my Dad’s hero!

This Sunday I’ll be watching FA Cup Winners and Champions of Europe Chelsea play Premiership Champions Manchester City, in the ceremonial season opener, the Community Shield.

Yes, it‘s all about to start again, and as each big game comes along, a part of my mind will wander off to remember my Dad.

When a parent dies after a long slow decline, your mind races around trying to find memories of them that don’t correspond to the ailing ageing person you just lost.
When my Dad died in 2008, my family and I found it difficult to recall how he had looked and behaved in his youthful healthy years, but one memory came to my mind and has stayed there ever since.

In some ways it’s more a memory of my childhood, but the fact that it has stayed with me for 43 years shows why we shouldn’t underestimate the influence that football has in parental bonding.

It was 1969, and a very excited Charlie Adley was bouncing up and down on his bed. Today was the day that Dad was taking me to Stamford Bridge for the very first time. We were going to see Chelsea play Sunderland, just me and my Dad, and as he walked into the bedroom he smiled excitedly and said

“Your namesake is playing today!”

We humans are funny buggers, aren’t we! The excitement I felt as a 9 year-old was so severely tempered by the embarrassment of not knowing what ‘namesake’ meant, especially at a moment when I really didn’t want to deaden our mutual excitement, that I remember it now, 43 years later. Thankfully, my Dad respected anyone who wanted to learn, so I was not too afraid to ask:

“What’s a namesake?”
“A namesake is someone with the same name as you, so my favourite player, Charlie Cooke, is your namesake!”

Off we went to the game to watch Charlie Cooke’s silky skills as he dribbled the ball up the wing, and over the next 6 years my Dad and I went to all the games we could together, including 2 cup finals at Wembley.

Without a doubt those Saturday afternoons were the most powerfully important times I spent with my Dad. Through our shared love of football, Chelsea and each other, we built a strong relationship that lives to this day, even though he is just a memory now.

Sure, just a memory.

That’s why I’m sitting here choking back the tears as I write.

So it was with delight and a thrill of pure excitement that early on a Sunday morning last year I drove across the city to Mervue United’s excellent facilities, to interview Charlie Cooke, who had come to Galway as part of his Coerver Coaching duties.

Exhibiting a mop of grey hair, a ton of enthusiasm and an undying love for the game, Charlie Cooke was working with young local lads in the training cages. He ran and shouted and laughed and ran some more, teaching his many and varied skills and deep understanding of the game to this decade’s young generation.

According to his assistant, I was meant to interview him during his lunch break, but there had been a breakdown of communications. He knew neither about me nor the interview, yet still he remained polite and patient.

So it was that instead of a relaxed half an hour in which I could ask him all my prepared questions, I had only 10 minutes to chat with the man while he ate his lunch. Abandoning the idea of a proper interview, I took the opportunity to ask him to sign a couple of old Chelsea Programmes from games that I’d seen him play in, and managed to slip under his nose a sheet on which I’d prepared my top all-time Chelsea XI, because yes indeed, very sad, but this is the kind of thing football fans do when a little starstruck.

Perusing the teamsheet, he traced his fingers from player to player, considered his thoughts for a few moments and then declared in utterly dismissive terms:

“That’s bullshit, that is!”

We both laughed, but feeling rather like that excited little nine year-old Charlie, I didn't dare to ask him why he though my choices were ‘bullshit’. This was the man who played years of beautifully slick and exciting football for Chelsea. He helped us win the FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup back in the 1970s, and more to the point, he was my Dad’s footballing hero.

My hero’s hero.

So if he thought my team was rubbish, it was rubbish. End of.

Watching the great man head off to coach another session, I wondered how many of today’s Premiership stars would turn out early on a Sunday morning to train young’uns, and shocked myself by deciding that actually, the game is not in such bad shape.

Slagging off today’s crop of overpaid over-pampered out-of-touch-with-reality players is so easy, it’s not much of a sport, but you can’t blame young lads for chasing £200,000 a week, and although today’s Prima Donnas fall over and writhe in pain as soon as you so much as look at them, several of the Premiership’s current crop of players have opened training academies in Third World countries, into which they pour their pay, passion and performance skills.

We all need heroes, but far too often the reality of the person falls far short of our image of them. Meeting Charlie Cooke was far from an anticlimax. It was an absolute pleasure. Dad would have loved the opportunity, so I did it for him. 
From what I saw I can thoroughly recommend Coerver Coaching Youth Diploma, the purpose of which is to give attendees, whether a professional academy coach, junior coach, teacher, or parent, a greater understanding of how to plan and deliver more effective coaching sessions.Those interested should email anthony.oneill@coerver.ie.


Paz said...

thanks, was offline for a while and great story to come back too.

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks Paz, much appreciated - good to have you back!