How NOT to be a Football Millionaire

By: Keith Gillespie



Concentrating in school on Monday morning was that little bit harder.





3

Making The Grade

THE real troubles of my youth took place within the four walls of Bangor Grammar School.

My relationship with that place is summed up by their reaction to my call-up into the Northern Ireland U-15 squad. There was a tradition that the school paid for their proud student’s team blazer. Not in my case, however. The authorities at the Grammar refused, even though they could have afforded the £80 easily.

It was a wealthy school, with a good reputation for delivering a solid education but from the start it was clear I had a major problem. They hated football. Hated it so much that they went out of their way to deter me from progressing in it. Most schools would have considered it an honour to have a student representing their country, but they saw it differently. It was just one part of an ongoing struggle. And my strife was nothing compared to some of the sick stuff going on around that place.

Certain sports were tolerated. Rugby was king. The walls were lined with pictures and stories of Grammarians who excelled with the oval ball. David Feherty, the golfer, also schooled there, and that was acceptable. There was only a passing reference to Terry Neill, a former Northern Ireland football international who then managed Arsenal. What they didn’t mention was that he only lasted six weeks in the Grammar, and I can understand why. The hostility towards my passion was remarkable.

In first year, we had one afternoon a week for sport, and the options were limited. Just one choice. Rugby. I’d never paid any attention to rugby. I like watching it now, but I detested it then and, on my first day, I decided to escape. But they caught me as I tried to sneak out the door when the teams were being assigned. The teacher stuck me into the ‘C’ team with the lads that were picked last. The rules were a mystery so I stood on the wing and just ran with the ball when I got it, and used my pace. A few tries later, I was promoted to the ‘A’ team. Which was fine until games were scheduled for Saturday morning, the same time when I was needed in Belfast by St Andrews. I always chose football, but it landed me in constant trouble.

I thought I’d found the solution in second year. Hockey was added as an option B, so I went for that. But their games were on Saturday mornings too. The meeting point was the bus station in Bangor, just across the road from the train station where I caught the service to Belfast. I’d creep quietly up the road, head buried in my jacket, and dart into the railway tracks hoping that the group standing on the other side of the street wouldn’t notice. The no-shows became an issue, and the school decided to punish me by suspiciously choosing a Saturday morning detention. I had to let St Andrews know that I’d miss a game. My parents spent so much time down the school complaining, that the other kids started to think they were teachers.

The biggest obstacle was the headmaster, Tom Patton. He marched around in this big black cloak, with an air of superiority, looking down his nose at everyone. He seemed to enjoy the power of his position, being the boss of a school that’s been around since 1856. A place that even has its own song, in Latin of course. Everyone had to jump to Patton’s attention. ‘Yes sir’, ‘no sir’. Mum found him unbearable. He refused to make eye contact with her and one day she’d had enough. “Mr Patton, when you talk to me, I look at you. When I talk to you, you bow your head. Please look at me.”

She told him that I wouldn’t be showing up if I was given any more of these Saturday morning detentions. He never listened. It was like he thought he was a god instead of a headmaster. And that was supposed to justify the petty behaviour, the pointless detentions and the refusal to fork out for a blazer. It felt like they were trying to make a student suffer for succeeding.

As it transpired, the decision makers in Bangor Grammar had more serious matters to be concerned with. In 1998, it emerged that the Deputy Head, Dr Lindsay Brown, my religion teacher, was a paedophile. Brown was always in charge of taking kids away on camping trips, and it came out that he forced himself on boys after pretending he forgot his sleeping bag. The victims showed bravery to come forward and say that he’d sexually abused them and he was sent down for seven years after being found guilty of nine counts of indecent assault, and two of gross indecency. I was stunned when I heard.

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