The small village of Copmanthorpe – affectionately known as Cop – is located just outside York and consists of two pubs, a Co-op and some of the finest manicured lawns in all of England. At the centre of it all you’ll find Patrick Solich, a resident since birth and holder of the most important position in the whole village; left-back for Copmanthorpe F.C. Reserve team. In a regular column, he’ll chronicle what it is like being a footballer on the smallest stage possible. In this edition, after a spell on the side-line, he has an existential ponder about the unpopular position that has always been his.
At my old secondary school, Tadcaster Grammar, situated in fine acres and old buildings somewhere between York and Leeds, we had an old eccentric teacher, one every school has. He taught generations of families throughout the years, including my older brother and sister. His main subject was English, although he had been head of our Sixth Form for a number of years, and also gave out the worst detentions. He also organised the school bus service, making sure we all got there on a morning and got back home to our various villages and hamlets in the afternoons.
In his farewell speech after 40 years’ service, in his special assembly we all sat uniformly in nice uniforms and ties and awaited some funny anecdotes and emotional goodbyes. He didn’t begin by thanking the staff and the pupils, but simply said, “I love buses.” In a way, this is a bit like my relationship with playing left back. There are other positions to play, and thousands of stories of the beautiful game to be told, but for me it’s always been about playing left back. That is where I get the most joy from playing the game; a bit like my old teacher and his passion for buses.
I don’t think I could play anywhere else, other than sub left back waiting for the call from Floody to get warm as the chancer in my position is getting a bit tired, or just to give me a run out. The number 3 shirt has followed me around from my earliest days on the pitch, from school where I didn’t miss a game for the Tadcaster Grammar School A team in 5 years, to now, playing for as long as possible before age gets the better of me.
I like my role amongst the back four, the relationship with the centre back and the left midfielder, the same throw-ins down the line or hopeful balls down the line to quick wingers. The same sliding tackles seeing the ball go out for a throw-in, number 7’s trying (and generally succeeding) in getting one over on me, the same calls from gaffers telling me to keep my position and stop going forward. There are good parts and bad parts to my game, never improved upon over the years, but that’s how it is, and how it’s always been and it’s too late to change. That’s also why I love it so much. When I’m not available for the reserves, the lad who takes my place usually grumbles about playing there, but I can’t see why.
Cop’s season so far hasn’t been a good one, but we finally got our first win of the season on a cold wet mid-October afternoon at the Rec. We were up against fellow strugglers Malton and Norton, the side we forgot to take our kit to on our away fixture last season. Our first win coincided with my first start to the campaign, so make of that what you will.
For various reasons I’d only played 20 minutes so far this year, a brief sub appearance after finishing work, but we were already 2-nil down to Old Malton by the time I’d got changed from my Co-op uniform to my football one. Our first game of the campaign I was at Bootham Crescent, watching Stockport County play York City. My old mates in the York end, me, my Dad and loyal County fans getting rained on in the away end. It was a pitiful performance, we lost 2-nil and Cop lost 2-nil at Wigginton. In the following weeks we went on to lose to Pocklington, Malton, and Thorpe Utd, only managing to score 3, in a Crystal Palace-style start.
This week would be different however. Meeting in the pub after work on Friday, Tank, Settle, Fed and myself talked tactics, the new lads we have playing, and the starting XI, but we all agreed it was a “must win” game. After a few more drinks talked turned to Tanky’s upcoming stag do in Bratislava, but that is another story for another day.
Come Saturday 12.30 we were out on the pitch, fetching goalposts and corner flags from the lock up, new lads Liam, Stelios, and Jack all helping out, looking for the pegs for the nets and chairs for the dugouts. A quick team talk from Fed and Steve, a quick warm up and we were ready, and I was in my position to get my season underway, with the rain and wind from storm Brian adding to the occasion.
We start well, pressing high and getting in amongst them, and I get a few early touches to settle in to the game. A ball down the line, a few headers won, all under the watchful eye of the touchline and new centre half Jimbo. Then they score against the run of play, but we are playing well and it’s undeserved. Soon after our Greek striker Stelios is brought down, and Jake slots away the penalty. Half time 1-1, and after a positive team talk with smoke billowing from mouths we go out for the second half. The league has brought in a new “rolling subs” rule this year, so a couple of lads come on. These fresh feet make a difference, and soon Jake gets another, a cracking 20-yarder past the hobbling keeper.
More changes are made, but I keep my place, although we now appeared to have 5 centre midfielders on the pitch. There are a lot of new, young faces in the side this year; lads that someone knew who fancied a game again, a couple who answered my message in the village paper for new players, and lads back from uni staying with their parents figuring out what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. It’s a good bunch, and the youngest side we’ve put out for a number of years.
They push on, thwarted by our star keeper Andy, and one incredible goal-line clearance that right back Tom’s sizable frame somehow managed to stop from going in. In the dying minutes Stelios gets his well-deserved goal to make it 3-1, and the home “crowd” on the patio cheer us on. It’s the same faces there watching every week, but that’s how these things work in village football, as in any game on a Saturday.
It was a great win, and all shake hands, put away the goals, and head for a drink. Emily and Lauren behind the bar have sorted the food, and Fed goes around with the card to raise a bit of money. The name scratched off is Coventry, although I’d put my pound on Celtic, hoping for a nice link for this article. A few drinks are sunk, new players get chatting to the older lads, and lads’ Dads congratulate us and tell us “well played.” By closing time, the talk has turned to our plans for the rest of the evening, upcoming Tinder dates and availability for next week against Church Fenton. I take the kit to be washed and limp home in the rain, tired and a little drunk, and everything is right in Copmanthorpe on this wonderful autumnal Saturday evening.