Excerpt from the autobiography of Dexter Bagley (2045)
It may have only been a friendly, if such a thing truly exists in football, but I'll never forget my first match in the senior squad. I'd only been at the club for a short time and in that time only played in a couple of youth matches and a handful of training matches. Despite my bravado at that age I still didn't expect to be making the first team so soon but a couple of key injuries to the senior squad and I was in!
At just 14 it was a surreal moment in the dressing room before the match against Grimsby. The rest of the team weren't sure what to make of me sitting there, probably looking like one of the mascots who come out holding the hand of the captain. Even for me it was hard to maintain my air of supreme confidence and superiority in the face of these grizzled veterans of the lower leagues, I'd already faced these guys in training matches so they knew what I could do and while I was already my final height there would be a few years of hard work before I stopped looking like a strong breeze would knock me down.
Mark, the manager, came into the dressing room and immediately everyone fell silent. That was one of the things about Mark, he had the players respect, hell, he was a player so how could they not respect him. While his career was coming to a close now that management had taken over a lot of the men in that room could remember him and Danny Ellis holding the back line like immovable objects. Like they say though, out with the old and in with the new and they don't get any newer than a fresh faced, nervous teenager.
"Morning lads," he said, looking around the room and sharing genuine smiles and nods of greetings with the team until he got to me, we looked eyes as he announced to the room "I want you all to welcome Dexter Bagley to the team, with Danny and Nicky out for a time and the backup striker not back from bloody Spain yet we've decided to go in a new direction. You'll probably know Dex from training, but try not to think of him as that cocky little shit who left you standing, think of him more as that cocky little shit you'll get to watch leave the other team standing." That brought a bit of a chuckle to the room but there were still a lot of doubting faces in there and they weren't shy about showing it either.
"I know, I know" Mark went on "He's only young but he's good, you all know that. See this less as a problem and more as an opportunity to show him how a team works, god knows he needs a bit of help in that respect." The last bit was directed straight at me but of course at that age, in that place, at that time, I was still determined to ignore all of the well meant advice in place of my own ill placed sense of self-worth.
Mark then got down to business, outlining the tactics and responsibilities of each player. Even for a friendly there was a determination to win, thats the thing about being at a low league club, every match matters, it's all about momentum. As it was, I knew my role. Get the ball, score goals, simple, it would be up to the other guys to get me the ball and stop the other team scoring so as always at that age I zoned out and thought about the fans cheering my name when I won us the game. It genuinely never crossed my mind that it could be any different.
Pulling that yellow shirt on as a senior player for the first time and heading out onto the pitch was a pivotal moment for me. Life had suddenly gotten interesting and it was up to me to make it count. If only lower league clubs had a tunnel to wait in rather than a miserable trek from the changing rooms to the field, it would have been so much more poignant and dramatic in a tunnel...