*BS*Mark Winter has joined doverathletic.com as a regular columnist to share his views and stories.
Mark has followed Dover Athletic up and down the country, as a supporter and reporter. He has also published his own book, “Missed Penalties and Peroxide”, focusing on our traumatic 2004/05 season.
This week he recalls a 15 minute football masterclass by a Dover supporter:*BF*
In my experience, only a handful of truly gifted football writers ever have anything original to say about the game. The rest spend most of their time rehashing old stories and changing the names around, with the more pompous of us referring to them as ‘exclusives.’ For my part, I’ve always taken the view that a good yarn is there to be retold. There’s always a new generation that hasn’t heard it and an older one happy to reminisce for an hour or two; as a visit to any local boozer will verify.
I was thinking alone these lines this week, as a couple of things jogged the darker recesses of my memory. The first occurred in a game at Eastbourne, when the home side’s first equaliser in a 2-2 draw against the Mighty Whites came as a result of the most remarkable refereeing decision I’ve seen in many a long year. On the bus home I read a redtop to pass the time and noted that, beneath a headline and photo that were as predictable as we might expect, Porto’s much-fancied Brazilian striker Hulk was being linked with a January move to one or two Premiership clubs.
Immediately, I was reminded of the first time I ever used the ‘Incredible Hulks’ headline; long before I ever started scribbling a few notes to earn a little beer money. I was so blown away by what I’d seen, I felt duty bound to go home and record the event on my pre-war sit-up-and-beg Remington typewriter. In essence, I’d just seen a 10-year-old boy turn into Marco Van Basten for 15 minutes and was convinced I’d witnessed football’s equivalent of the second coming.
Many of you will know the hero of our story, an affable cove of some 29 summers and regular attendee at our theatre of dreams. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Ritchie Hulks, a stout yeoman I’ve known since my return to Dover in 1982 coincided with his birth, allow me to fill in a few gaps.
Notwithstanding his unerring ability to get me lost in just about every non-league town in the Midlands (had he been given the role of Passepartout, Phileas Fogg would not have gone beyond Croydon) young Pike, as I call him, has always been a personable and gifted young man. Certain to enjoy a brilliant career in teaching, he also has an enviable reputation as a local sportsmen. Indeed, our local periodicals of record frequently dust down the ‘Incredible Hulks’ headline when he sends a few stumps cart-wheeling around the cricket grounds of our fair county every summer. Yet by his own admission, he has never been any great shakes as a footballer.
*Q1*Still, by dint of learning how to face the right way, the old lad made it into the Vale View primary school team and his dad George and I popped along to lend a little encouragement when his side played Melbourne. A very good game it was too and with around 20 minutes to play it was nicely poised at 2-2. It was at this point that our hero showed the technique he hadn’t previously indicated he possessed by smacking a half- volley of quite awesome velocity into the top right hand corner from the better part of 25 yards out.
What followed reminded me of an old story from my childhood called Sparky and his Magic Piano. In essence, Sparky was a ham-fisted duffer with zero talent who became a concert pianist, but was ultimately left looking a bit of a Charlie when a magic spell wore off. Pike’s Dad and I had barely trotted out enough superlatives to do his goal justice when he added another. On this occasion, following a run from the halfway lane that would have had Lionel Messi weeping at his own inadequacies, Pike left four defenders in his slipstream, rounded the Melbourne keeper as though he were a dustbin, and stroked in a finish that gave full illustration to the word nonchalant.
Speechless, other than to utter one or two Meldrewesque exclamations, I was simply in awe and lapped up what followed. A perfectly executed lob, a sizzling left footed volley on the run and a thumping far post header from a corner took Ritchie’s personal tally on to five goals in about 15 minutes. Vale View won 8-2, with the final goal coming from a talented kid who went on to play for Millwall and, during a charity game, sent me four feet up into the air with a brutal tackle. Her name was, Louise, I think.
Almost 20 years on, I remain convinced that had a scout been present at the game, Hulks Junior would have been whisked away to the big city under a blanket and his parents promised untold riches if a dotted line was signed. Sadly, the final whistle broke the spell or the big man upstairs found himself another plaything. In his next appearance, Ritchie gave a very passable impression of a camel chasing a coconut down a flight of stairs, yet still appeared to be having a lovely time, bless ‘im. Then he toddled off to Dover Grammar School, took up cricket and the rest, as they say, is history.
‘Twas the briefest of careers in the beautiful game, certainly, but nonetheless a 15 minutes of fame that to this day remains the most remarkable thing I’ve seen on a football field.
This, as I’m sure you will imagine, was up against some exceedingly stiff competition.