17th August 2012

PFA Scotland is delighted to make available the first blog article from St Mirren’s Sam Parkin.  Over the course of the season Sam will continue to provide his thoughts as an SPL player in Scotland.

Tournament Football

As England departed the Euro’s in typical fashion,I looked on disappointingly  from a bar stool in New York.

It got me thinking about all the past tournaments and how I viewed them as a child and later as a professional footballer.

Does interest in top international football dwindle when you’re playing club football for 9 months a year?  Does your average league footballer just want to switch off from the game in the summer months? I know players who claim to have ‘no interest’ in the game away from the training ground but the answer for me when the major tournaments comes around would always be a resounding no.

This summer’s football spectacle in Poland and Ukraine was no different. During a family
holiday my brother and I sought out a TV in a quaint French village to take in the England\Ukraine match. We’d forgotten France were playing at the same time. After the initial panic subsided we asked around in Franglais and were eventually shown to a restaurant cloakroom where amongst the jackets we watched the 2nd half on a black and white TV. Funnily enough a couple from Halifax had the same idea as us and had beaten us to the only 2 chairs.

On hearing a piece on radio recently asking callers to recount their favourite late goal of all time my mind immediately raced to think of David Platt’s extra time winner for England against Belgium at the Italia 90 tournament. It’s a moment that probably changed my life forever. With one swivel of his hips Platt gave me the buzz that i’ve gone on to experience again and again as a supporter and latterly as a professional. As the ball flew in I can still see my best friend and I charging out of my front door into the street where we grew up in West London. Barnes ,mostly known for its picturesque pond and media celebrity house owners, now had 2 screaming 9 year old boys who had discovered that football (and not rugby!) was going to be the pastime that defined our childhoods.

From that moment we watched every second,in the most random fixtures. We would each choose a country to support and build a makeshift barrier with cushions to create the impression we were segregated in a stand (this was 1990 after all!) The barrier would be dismantled as we celebratedgoals. We called it ‘Bundling’ Something I managed to do for real a few years later at QPR before the introduction of the all seater stadiums.

That tournament ended for England with the crushing penalty defeat to the Germans ,I sobbed behind the sofa. From the euphoria of Belgium to that in a week. Despite giving Gazza run for his money in the crying stakes I was well and truly hooked. A tournament that had such an impact on me that much to my friends amusement the mere mention of Nessan Dorma sets me off to this day.

The USA 94 competition was a continuation of what happened 4 years earlier. Despite
England not qualifying we had the wall chart blu tacked to the wall and we attempted to watch every game. The living room was now a football pitch and even had a conveniently positioned sofa in front of the goal to soften the keepers despairing dives. Not only were we insistent on watching every moment we now wanted to recreate every goal from Bulgaria to Brazil.

Another four years on and as France 98 kicked off my mum had decided to hang three plates in the top right hand corner of the goal,probably as a deterrent. One after another they would be broken,she seemed to have plenty in reserve as there would always be  3 hanging  by morning!

Having been full time in football since the age of 16 the World Cups and European Championships that followed bring back many memories. With my International career only showing a handful of England U18 caps and a solitary Scotland B appearance my summers have unfortunately been spent watching the action rather than taking part.
Whether it be from a bar during a holiday with ‘the lads’ or from a hotel room while a long suffering girlfriend is sunning herself outside,I’’ve never been able to switch my passion off. It doesn’t matter where in the world I find myself, you always know when England or Scotland are kicking off their campaign by the sight of full families in replica shirts at the breakfast buffet.

No tournament brings back more vibrant memories for me than Euro 96. I can still remember those balmy summer evenings as if it were yesterday. I was still at school,but for those few weeks it was Gazza and Baddiel and Skinner that occupied my thoughts
and not the periodic table. I watched one of the games on a big screen in town and I can’t remember ever being so proud to be a Londoner. The Olympic Games this year has induced similar feelings although these days I do consider myself an adopted Glaswegian!

Happy memories include a conga round a Cyprus pool after England’s 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany. Being in Greece during their European championship success 4 years
later was a fun experience. My girlfriend and I were adopted Greeks and were there amongst the mayhem when they lifted the trophy.  Not even the early starts for the South Korea and Japan World cup put me off. Bacon rolls and a cup of tea was the match day
ritual in my friends pub,The Red Lion in Barnes. Thankfully I was one of the fortunate ones who could return to bed after the action rather than head straight to the office.

In early July when I’ve returned for pre season training,tournaments are reaching the latter stages and most training grounds will have the games on. It always gives me an
extra buzz getting back into the swing of things if the tournament has been producing great football.  The lads who have a similar outlook to me will discuss the games non stop and lots of the young players will be sporting the new boots the best players are wearing. Soon after joining St Johnstone we watched the Holland\Spain final together  from our training camp at Warwick University.
We had the customary sweepstake and a barbecue and it was a chance to relax away from the hard physical work whilst taking in the biggest game on the planet. Everyone in the room that night would have aspired at some point to have been on that pitch so we’re all in similar boats and probably realize in those moments how fortunate we are to be doing the next best thing.

Like I said earlier, not all players watch all the coverage but for me whatever the future holds I will continue to search out a TV during my travels and despite leaving mums at
20 I’m sure the wall chart will continue to dominate the front room wall for years to come.