Growing Up With the Beautiful Game

Luke Weaver – Yorkville, IL

When I look back on my journey in football (or soccer as it’s more commonly known on this side of the pond), I start to smile and instantly feel a sense of joy and fulfillment. As a young boy growing up in England, everyone wanted to be a footballer. The game was ingrained in us as people and always a topic of conversation.

Some of my earliest memories are of playing football and learning from my grandfather, who played professionally for Doncaster Rovers, and was also a county cricketer. Those times were special. No set training or coaching, just kicking a ball around for the fun of it or as a break in between gardening tasks. Looking back, I love the way we were able to just play by either passing to each other or going 1v1. My strongest memory is simply the joy I felt in those moments and thinking how my grandfather towered like a gladiator over me.

As I grew and started primary school, recess became all about football. My new friends and I would play anything connected to football – making up games, playing with tennis balls at our feet, and when there was enough room, breaking out into teams and playing an actual game. At that time in England, the school teams were only for 10 and 11 year olds, but as 9 years olds, a few of my friends and I got chosen to play on a team a year before we were actually allowed. It was an incredible feeling. Getting to play real games on a pitch was motivating, exciting, and thrilling – every young soccer fan’s dream!

I remember the excitement with friends before games, the exhilarating moments on the pitch, the long-awaited tournaments, and our parents cheering us on. I even remember the time we were asked by the school to select new kits for us and the teams that would follow us in the years ahead. We chose a nice red and black kit (AC Milan style, of course). Before game-day would come around, there would be excitement for days leading up to it – practicing moves we wanted to use in game situations, discussing the opposition, and if we knew anyone on the other team that was good and how we could stop them.

Only a year earlier I remember the spectacle that was the 1990 FIFA World Cup. England made it to the semifinals, and I hoped that we might finally be able to win it all – yes, England won in 1966, but c’mon on now. I watched all the games with my grandfather, talking about tactics and how the games could change based on certain players, and although my 8 year old mind did not fully understand it all, I loved every second of it.

Football was everywhere in my life – playing, watching, collecting professional clubs’ kits and sticker packs, talking with friends about the game – and it just meant more than I could describe. After I would get home from school and play a couple frames of snooker, I would head outside and play football until it got dark or I heard the call for dinner. And it was the same on weekends. Looking back now, I realize this was a crucial part of my development. Staying outside for hours to replicate, repeat, and perfect certain techniques and goals in any weather, not just once but 10 times in a row, taught me hard work, patience, and persistence.

I used the same ball for years until it was worn down from passing against the walls (I only broke a window on two occasions) and finding different areas to shoot on with friends. We soon upgraded to an amazing, although small, 3v3 style goal my dad made for us, which had legendary status at the time because it had a net attached.

As the teenage years came, I could see that professional football was going to be a step too far for me. I still managed a respectful amount of time in the adult game though, which generated many memories, moments, and character-building experiences before injury stopped that process. Outside of playing, I had been entering the pathway for coaching, which is where the fun and new adventures really began.

I am so grateful for football, the opportunities it gave me, and the memories it provided me. Now having been a coach for over 20 years, I am proud to pass on my knowledge, passion, and love of the game that taught me so much, as well as watch players grow and develop as athletes and individuals.