Its the dream of boys (and girls) around the world... stepping out onto the big green pitch, surrounded by adoring fans. Striding across the turf, with joy in your heart and a love of the beautiful game. To play with friends, to score a goal - wow! For many its just a dream. But have you ever wondered if it COULD be possible to play football in a professional stadium?
When I was a teenager - and even as a kid - I loved football. My brothers and I would play endlessly in the local park, frequently returning home late for dinner with scuffed knees and covered in grass stains. If we weren't playing football, we were watching it. Constantly arguing over who's team was better (Liverpool obviously :-D !) or trying to guess who was gonna make the next cup finals. I was, quite simply, football mad.
But I was never good enough. That's not to say I was bad. Sure, I could hold my own on the pitch, make some good tackles, get some goals. But in my North London comprehensive school, the only kids who got to play in a proper football team were the best players. So football was reserved for a kick about with mates, or for some animated viewing in my mum's front room.
When I was 17, I finally made it into a football team. Well, that's to say I just created my own :) . Me and my park-kick-about mates, and my brothers formed Downhills Park FC and we joined the local league. It was amazing. We had kits, we had proper referees and one year we actually won the league! Finally I got to play proper football and it was in many ways a dream come true.
It wasn't long after we won that league that the unthinkable happened. My youngest brother (the always smiling, mega-talented, Lanfranco) took his own life. The details of this tragedy I will reserve for another time, but suffice to say we were devastated. Through the depths of the tragedy it seemed that the best thing to do, was create something positive. And our charity football tournament was born.
From humble beginnings, back at Downhills Park, to today, planning our first football tournament in a professional stadium, its incredible to think how far we've come. This year, the Mental Health World Cup is going to be massive. We've got high profile sponsors, high profile teams and players, 50 games of football to play and a host of activities to entertain the crowds. I've certainly got my work cut out. But when my wife suggested that I would be too busy organising this year to play in the tournament, I'm afraid she was forgetting one key point:
That to play football in a professional stadium is a dream of any person who has played and enjoyed football. For me, I can't possibly turn down this opportunity. No matter how busy I am on the day - I will get my chance to walk out on that pitch, in front of my family and friends, and play football in a professional stadium. And so could you.
If you've ever asked how can I play football in a professional stadium? The answer is simple. Get your team together and sign up to the Mental Health World Cup. To play, each team needs to raise just £500. Its 5 a side and you can have 3 subs. So really its just £62.50 for each player to raise. And the proceeds go to help CALM in their ongoing work in suicide prevention. The tournament is 12th May 2019 at QPR's Loftus Road Stadium. And I can't wait!