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Sunday League footballer plays in 'secret' game at Man City's stadium and fails miserably

Sunday League footballer plays in 'secret' game at Man City's stadium and fails miserably

A Sunday League footballer played for Man City at the Etihad Stadium but it turned out to be an eye-opening experience.

There it was. My shirt, complete with my chosen name and number on the back, folded nicely in the away dressing room at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

For the first time in my life I felt like a proper footballer. And yet this was also the day that I realised I am in fact not a proper footballer.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to play at the Etihad – just days after Phil Foden bagged a brace which clinched an unprecedented fourth Premier League title in a row against West Ham.

The Premier League Player of the Season did so with the No.47 on his back. Here I was, wearing the iconic No.23 - the same number I wear for my team Oldham Hulmeians in the Hyde, Oldham and District League.

Michael Jordan, LeBron James and David Beckham are associated with the number, while at City, the shirt is retired in memory of the late Marc-Vivien Foe.

It was an early start at the Etihad, a midweek 11am kick-off. Wayne Rooney memorably tweeted about not enjoying forcing pasta down his gob at 9 in the morning but the pre-match menu here was an assortment of pastries and tea and coffee.

After they got demolished, it was time to head down to the dressing rooms. I should mention that I wasn't just playing a game of heads and volleys on the Etihad turf by myself, there was an 11-a-side game going on featuring a host of content creators.

Me and my mate Matty were escorted to the away changing rooms to greet my teammates before I got changed into my all-white Puma strip and Sondico socks.

We then headed out to the tunnel and walked onto arguably one of the best playing surfaces in world football. It’s no wonder we were instructed not to perform any knee-slide celebrations beforehand. It would be like messing up the Mona Lisa.

Following a mandatory pre-match handshake and a bizarre run and jump from me took place, the referee got us under way and soon an empty Etihad (the jokes write themselves) was treated to a feast of goals.

Image: CAA
Image: CAA

I was lining up at right-back (not in the changing rooms), my usual position – and defending the goal where Sergio Aguero scored that dramatic title-winner against QPR in 2012.

It was quite clear that when it came to the teams, we had been shafted a little as the side lining up in City’s home strip undoubtedly had the better collection of players. Still, it was no big deal.

Normally games involving City are like chess in how they break down their opponents with expert patterns of play but this was pure Under 7’s football with everyone chasing the ball.

Image: Matty Dove
Image: Matty Dove

There wasn’t much defending going on and even though I was technically playing in the backline, it quickly became a sobering experience.

At one point I was completely caught out by a long punt over the top as I tried to play offside. The nippy left winger left me eating his dust with a dart in behind.

34-year-old Kyle Walker defends these situations with absolute ease thanks to his incredible turn of pace but this was 26-year-old Josh, scorer of two own goals against ex Premier League players in a 10-a-side match.

YouTuber Ellis Platten, who turned up with pal Ben Gibbs in a Gucci tracksuit, was involved in the fixture and had the game filmed for his Away Days channel so his nearly 400,000 subscribers could see what went down.

I was looking forward to seeing the footage and then remembered the first half cooking I received. My brother remarked, “Were you towing a caravan there or what?” in a brutal dig at my lack of pace.

Thankfully the goalkeeper spared my blushes with a fine near post save but that didn’t stop a mate from inserting me into a Scooby Doo meme.

Warner Brothers & Jack Kenmare
Warner Brothers & Jack Kenmare

I’ve never been particularly fast but normally you can get away with a bit more on a tight, bobbly pitch in Oldham.

This playing field was a green carpet and the sheer length and width of it was remarkable. It had to be much bigger than what I am used to playing on and even with semi-decent fitness, getting up and down felt like climbing Everest.

I can only imagine what it is like as an opposition player coming to City’s home patch and finding yourself chasing shadows with the way they move the ball.

I had a stint at left-back in the second half and despite a bit more of a settled side, the game finished 7-5 to the home team and that was excluding a disallowed goal for mistakenly having extra player on the pitch.

Image: SPORTbible
Image: SPORTbible

As an experience it was the stuff of dreams for a lifelong City fan and I’ll always be able to say I’ve played on the Etihad pitch – even if I was moving in slow motion.

Featured Image Credit: Josh Lawless & YouTube/awaydays

Topics: Manchester City, Premier League, Spotlight, Kyle Walker