I wore a pair of gold boots in a game once.
Absolutely disgusting, they were. It was at a time when garishly coloured boots weren’t the norm like they are now. Even black boots with an luminous trim were frowned upon by most coaches, who looked you up and down as if to say “You’d better play well if you’re wearing those, mate.”.
That was the deal in those days. If you wore white boots, you had to have the talent to back it up. If you didn’t, it was always a case of “Who does he think he is wearing boots like that?”. And, to an extent, they were right.
If you weren’t “that” type of player, flash, confident, extrovert, then all you did was heap pressure on yourself to perform to the standard of player you were telling the world you were by wearing such attire.
So here I was, looking like an extra from Aladdin in these gold boots and certainly not the type of player who should be wearing them since they were mostly the preserve of tricky wingers, playmakers pulling the strings and flamboyant strikers.
And if anyone wasn’t supposed to wear gold boots it was defenders and goalkeepers.
I’d toyed with the idea of wearing them for a week or so leading up to the game after my boot suppliers had suggested it when they realised the upcoming game was to be televised. You wouldn’t believe how much I’d agonised over the decision though and. ridiculously, I allowed my preparation to be hindered by the whole charade.
Even in the moments leading up to kick-off, my mantra became a repetition of “Don’t mess up. Keep a clean sheet. Don’t mess up. Keep a clean sheet.”
By the time the whistle blew, I’d become so self-conscious about these stupid boots I was wearing, every action took far too much thought. In your best games, you’re in the zone and everything happens naturally and instinctively.
Literally nothing can knock your concentration.
With these boots I’d taken myself so far out of the zone I needed an Oyster card to get back in to it and, the more I write about it now, the more crackers it must seem to whoever is reading this.
I’d been in so much doubt about whether or not to wear them I hadn’t even worn them in training the day before . I was breaking all the rules. And not just my own.
Because of the internal commotion I’d created within my own head, I’d put my performance down to chance. Or at the very least I put the start of my game in jeopardy until I got myself in lost in the game and forgot about the monstrosities on my feet.
This, in turn, meant that I potentially put my team-mates’ chances of winning the game at risk too.
So, with that in mind, why didn’t I just say “Forget it. I’m going to wear my usual black, inoffensive boots the company had sent me so I can concentrate on the game.”
Well, £300, that’s why. Yes, that’s right. I wore those hideous gold boots because I was offered a one-off payment “bonus” of £300 to wear them in front of the TV cameras.
Now, I had never had any kind of sponsorship deal at that point and, if I’m honest, I never really had many during my career. But, in this one instance, here I was being offered what was not long before tantamount to a week’s wages.
Almost 90 minutes had passed when a bullet of a header crashed off my crossbar and away to safety, seconds before the referee blew up for full-time.
The game finished 0-0 and the relief washed over me. Without a moment’s thought, I reached down, pulled off both of my boots and handed them to the kid behind the goal.
If I’m honest, what I wanted to do was take them back to the dressing room, put them into middle of the floor, douse themwith petrol and set them alight before apologising to the rest of the players for allowing my focus to be taken away from the game and potentially putting what turned out to be a hard-earned point at risk.
On the surface of it, all I had risked is a bit of ridicule from my team-mates for wearing daft boots, but it ran much deeper than that. However insignificant, stupid and self-inflicted this scenario might seem, it was a lesson to me that there was a price to be paid for what I did; a loss of focus that I found difficult to harness at the best of times.
Did I do anything like that again?
Did I hell, but probably because I didn’t have an overdraft that needed filling. If I was to put myself back in that same position, at that age, I would still do the same again because I felt it was the right thing to do at the moment. I needed to do it.
The big question of the week is this though; would I eat a pie on the bench for a few quid now?
Well, considering I used to take cups of coffee, biscuits and sweets with me when I sat on the bench then a pie probably wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for me, but, no, I wouldn’t.
At the same time, I wouldn’t sit and sneer at someone if they did do it either.
Especially if they need it. Breaking gambling regulations is one thing, but capitalising on a company that your bosses have taken money from too? Fill your boots, Wayne. Fill your boots.