FREE PRESS FOCUS: Reporter Paul Goodwin goes on trial at Armthorpe Welfare

Free Press Sports Reporter Paul Goodwin takes part in a training session with Armthorpe Welfare. Picture: Andrew Roe
Free Press Sports Reporter Paul Goodwin takes part in a training session with Armthorpe Welfare. Picture: Andrew Roe

COLUMNS and commentaries are more my thing these days - but when the chance came to have one last crack at soccer stardom, I couldn’t resist.

Very quickly I was put in my place on a wet night down at Armthorpe’s cosy half-lit ground on Church Street.

Free Press Sports Reporter Paul Goodwin talks to Armthorpe Welfare manager Des Bennett before he took part in a training session. Picture: Andrew Roe

Free Press Sports Reporter Paul Goodwin talks to Armthorpe Welfare manager Des Bennett before he took part in a training session. Picture: Andrew Roe

Instantly dubbed ‘Paper boy’ by former Manchester United trainee Ben Muirhead, no sooner had I started running around I found myself in the centre of a giant circle chasing the ball - and chasing a few shadows!

The evening nonetheless turned out to be anything but a damp squib, even if I am still waiting for manager Des Bennett to call me back.

Before ex-Rovers favourite Leo Fortune-West eventually showed up for one of Welfare’s two weekly training sessions, dressing room joker and highly-rated goalkeeper Jamie Green kindly pointed out I was the oldest player at training.

I was stood firmly in the last chance saloon.

This was one last chance to get a foot on the football ladder.

Much to my relief my first touch of the ball - stood nervously as part of the giant circle - was a decent one.

My second touch, much to my surprise, was then a rather impudent bit of control with the outside of one my borrowed boots.

Sadly I’d peaked a little too early.

As the evening wore on my touch deserted me and my average fitness levels became more and more apparent.

But this experience wasn’t just about me - it was about getting a feel for football at a lower level.

What exactly is it like to play on step nine on English football’s pyramid? And what is it that drives these lads on?

I came away from Armthorpe with a pretty good idea on both counts.

Within moments of parking up at Welfare’s modest home, I met teenage striker Adam Lee.

A sign writer by trade, Lee was released by Doncaster Rovers after a stint as a YT - but he’s far from sulking about it.

“Don’t get me wrong it can be tough when you’re working and you’ve got to travel to Thackley away on a Tuesday night,” he said.

“But everyone’s in the same boat and you come down here for training and it’s good craic.

“The lads here want to do things right - we want to get this club promoted to the next league up.

“Having people here like Des, Leo and Steve [Gaughan] have helped raise the bar and it’s a happy place right now, we’ve made a decent start to the season.”

My brief chat with Adam said everything about life at Armthorpe: a mix of banter off-the-field, and a business-like approach on it.

These lads are not being paid handsome salaries to play - they’ll get their basic expenses covered at most - so they’re entitled to enjoy themselves.

But some of them still harbour ambitions of playing at a much higher level, and the team’s commitment to doing things properly on the training pitch was great to see.

“The lads that play here love their football and in many ways they are the lifeblood of the sport,” said boss Bennett, another former Rovers trainee.

“We don’t get many people watching us - but when they cross the white line they’re playing for themselves and their teammates.

“It’s a pride thing.

“There’s usually lots of banter and enthusiasm flying around the place, especially when we’re winning.

“But we try and teach them to take responsibility and to do things properly.

“Some of the lads probably think they should be playing at a higher level, and we’ve got one or two who could easily fit in at a Conference club or higher.

“What we’ve got here is a platform for these lads to perform - it’s up to them to make the most of that platform.”

The mixture of fun and focus would prove to be the theme of the evening.

Green, one of those players who could go on to bigger things, was constantly at the centre of the banter - most of which would be out of place in a family newspaper.

But he and his teammates were then a picture of concentration whenever the ball was in play, while an air of respect greeted the tactical interjections from Des and Leo.

So did Des want to extend my trial?

Stick to the day job was his frank assessment of my efforts, but at least I didn’t completely disgrace myself.

My football career, which reached the dizzy heights of playing for my junior school’s second team and captaining my university’s third team, appears to have seen better days.

So from now on I’ll be sticking to press rooms rather than press-ups - at least that’s something!