It’s not often you get called up to play in a charity match, but that’s exactly what happened to me a few months before what was, in my opinion, the biggest game of the year!
From my perspective, the journey down to London was easy. A quick EMR service down to the capital and then Thameslink and Southern Railway took care of the rest of the journey. I already attend university in London, as I study Multimedia Sports Journalism at UCFB Wembley. Yes, you did read that right, I do study at the national stadium! Having already been in footballing environments for the last eight years, with my media work at Kettering Town Football Club, I was looking forward to actually being on a pitch myself for once!
The location of the game, I hear you ask? A club full of tradition, Millwall Football Club, in their Community Trust building! Unfortunately, Gary Rowett’s men were not on location for all the players to meet before or after the game. A shame, really! It would’ve been nice to learn about their experiences!
I was originally under the impression going into the game that the organisations (Spautism and MAN v FAT Football) were going to play each other. Oh, how wrong I was! Turns out when the teams were being put together, it was a mix of the representatives on either side! It felt great to be out on the pitch and warming up. I hit some absolute beauties in the warm-up (and admittedly, the three hours leading up to the game), but unfortunately, I couldn’t replicate any of that in the match itself. It was great to see everyone who was taking part too; good to meet a lot of the lads who played in the match. Incredibly, one of the lads on my team used to go to the same gardening club as I did when I was younger, so it was awesome to have a little reunion at the event!
When deciding on a team name, one side named themselves the Millwall Meerkats. Not a bad name considering where we were playing, so it made perfect sense. However, my team were struggling to come up with a name, so I used my initiative and looked at the colours that everyone was wearing. Most of them were wearing black and yellow, and no word of a lie, the first thing I thought of: American rapper Wiz Khalifa. Admittedly, I don’t listen to his music, but I do know he made a song called ‘Black and Yellow’, so that’s where the idea came from. The full name of the team, you ask? Wiz Khalifa Ballers.
The game itself was enthralling, as both teams fought for possession, and at times, made the game look better than a Premier League clash. Two 20-minute halves full of fantastic football from both sides, with admittedly Millwall Meerkats seeing the better of the ball. The game finished 1-1, which was probably the right result, with the Khalifa Ballers opening the scoring through a beautiful low finish into the bottom corner and the Meerkats equalising through a last-gasp penalty.
Throughout the game, from a personal perspective, I committed handball twice and got hit in the eye with the ball, so I had a pretty rough afternoon myself!
Speaking of penalties, that’s what was decided to determine the winners of the event. Khalifa Ballers netted all but one of their seven penalties, with Millwall Meerkats only dispatching two of theirs. I was the last one to score a penalty for my side, so effectively, I won the game for my team. Not a bad day at the office, really!
The experience I gained from this event was huge, especially as most of the players on the pitch play the sport or train with their team almost every day. I was potentially one of two non-footballers on the pitch but the effort I did put in was something I never thought I could do. It was a pleasure to be able to take part in this event and hopefully this is the start of raising more awareness of autism within the sporting world. Who needs the World Cup when you can have fun championing a personal superpower?