Welcome to my blog. I’m Paul G. Walmsley. My nickname has always been “Wammy,” so feel free to call me that whenever we meet.
Born and bred in Blackburn, Lancashire in the northwest of England. My hometown football club, Blackburn Rovers F.C. is the only team on the planet to be both a founder member of the world’s first ever professional football league (in 1888) and the English Premier League (in 1992).
So as a boy, I spent all of my spare time playing soccer. Outside the house on the street, down at my local school pitch, in fact anywhere that was remotely possible to play. Back then there were no computers, iPads, cell phones etc. Our TV only had three channels and was black and white until I was about 8 years old!
I learned to play soccer by simply playing every hour God sent. If there was only me, then no problem, the garage door or a wall at school was perfect. If there was just one friend available, then it was either “to you to me” or goalie vs goalie (keeper wars.) If three or more kids showed up, then it was on…any combo or permutation of small sided games ensued. No goals, no cones, no pinnys, flags or any other claptrap. Just a bunch of kids with a ball, jackets for goalposts and shirts vs skins.
AND not an adult in sight. Certainly no possibility whatsoever of anyone “coaching us.”
We’d watch a game or highlights on the telly and then run right outside and try to create what we had just marvelled at. That was our coaching.
Having said that, I did have a coach, his name was Mr. Hodgkinson. He was the teacher at my primary school who ran the football team. We had 12 players on the team, 11 started with 1 sub (and that sub may or may not get on the pitch and there was no rule to allow the sub to rotate.)
We played a 4-2-4 formation. Yes, 4 defenders, 2 midfielders and 4 attackers. I was one of the 2 midfielders and my job was easy. Get the ball and knock it out wide to either little Chris Watkins on the left wing or slightly bigger Craig Smith on the right wing. They’d fly down the wing and whip a ball into the box to the awaiting big strong center forwards, Paul Purves and Kevin Allcock. Couldn’t be a simpler or more effective strategy.
When it came to corners, I was instructed to take the corner and put it on the penalty spot. Paul or Kevin would do the rest.
And we won the league, the cup and the three a side tournament too.
I don’t ever remember any kind of drills. I certainly never saw a cone or a pinny, heck we didn’t even have nets on the goals for our games!
But with Mr Hodgkinson’s “coaching” and his amazing “man” management, we felt invincible and enjoyed the game to no end.
I was the only player in my “senior” year (Under 11s) to make the “Town Team” (the Allstar team of all the boys in Blackburn) and completely bottled it. I was far too nervous and simply wilted under the pressure.
I went to high school at 11 years old and struggled to make an impact on the U12 team due to having surgery. I did play for Blackburn Rovers U12s and then one fateful night whilst stood on the touchline as the sub, drenched to the skin in the pouring rain waiting to get on the pitch (and never did)…I quit soccer.
That’s right. There I was on the Blackburn Rovers U12s team, pursuing my dream, doing what I was put on this earth to do…and then I quit the game and never touched a ball again for three years.
You see, I had been playing competitively since I was 8 years old (and the youngest teams were Under 11s so I was playing two years up), sometimes up to 5 times a week. I played for the school team, the cub scouts team, the local catholic church team, the Town Team and Blackburn Rovers.
I remember the night I quit. I had been the sub for the Rovers the previous game and never was subbed into the game. I called the coach and asked if I was going to get some playing time the next game, because it was on a Tuesday night and I had a lot of homework. He assured me that I would. So I showed up and stood there looking like a drowned rat for the entire game and never played a minute.
I guess the pressure of having so much homework, the tiredness of playing so many games and the disappointment of not getting to play just hit me too hard.
Of course, I regret the decision. I can’t for the life of me understand why my dad let me quit. But quit I did and threw away any remote possibilities of becoming a professional player one day.
So, for the next three years when all my mates were playing for the school, the town, the county and a couple were at professional clubs, I spent my Saturdays working on a local dairy farm.
I don’t know what brought me back into the game, but once I put the boots on again, things happened pretty quickly. I signed for the local semi pro team’s Under 18s team (at 15 years old) and made my debut in a thrilling 5-4 win. I scored two goals (including the winner) and was named Man of the Match.
I started to train with the semi pro team’s first team that was made up of players 19-36 years old and all of them had played for professional clubs at some point in their career. I signed semi pro at 16 years old although I didn’t play in any official games except for a pre season friendly.
I was training with Preston North End F.C. at school holidays and was picked to play for their third team against Manchester United. An experience of a lifetime.
The manager at Preston seemed keen to sign me, but once he found out I had already signed semi pro forms, then he had to back off otherwise the club would have had to “buy” me and they had no money for that. I was told to cancel my semi pro contract and then come back to the club. I did so, but in the meantime the manager was sacked and I never heard from Preston again.
So that was it, no professional football for me. So, I decided to just play for the fun with my mates. I captained the Blackburn and Darwen Interleague Team at the Under 18s level, but we only played a couple of games.
I then went to college and then to university playing for their teams. The pinnacle was playing for the University of Illinois and helping them win the National Collegiate Club Championship in 1988.
Graduated aged 23 years, should have been in my prime, but again, totally lost interest in playing. And never really kicked a ball in anger consistently again.
Looking back now as a 50 year old and I am devastated by the decisions I made.
My dad kept encouraging me to stay in the game and he really wanted me to become a referee. I would have none of it having seen the abuse they got at the local Saturday and Sunday leagues.
No idea how this came about, but on my 27th Birthday I found myself attending the Lancashire Football Association Preliminary Badge coaching course. It was taught by a former pro, Roy Tunks. He’s played over 850 professional games as a goalkeeper and he’s now head of the goalkeepers at Manchester City.
My life changed that night as Roy showed me how to teach other people how to pass the ball. I had no idea what I actually did when passing the ball, it was all self taught and natural. When he pointed out where the standing foot should be placed, the importance of pointing the big toe at the target, the locking of the ankle of the passing foot and the correct follow through…. I was blown away. I knew right there and then that my regular job as a sales manager for a life assurance company was over.
I relished every moment of the coaching course and was thrilled to pass. I then volunteered to work with Roy at every single course he was teaching. I was a complete sponge. I did whatever I could to help him and learn from him. I worked at the Lancashire F.A. Center of Excellence on Friday nights in Lancaster with Roy. Three hours of coaching at the end of a work week with a two hour round commute thrown in. But it was worth every second. I worked with Glen Keeley (a hero of mine when he played for Blackburn Rovers) and Martin Dobson who played for England. I volunteered to help Roy when he was the goalkeeping coach at Blackburn Rovers working with the then England keeper, Tim Flowers and his deputy, a young Shay Given.
Roy then recommended me to his former club Preston North End (full circle?) to work at the Summer Soccer School as a coach. He then recommended me to his agent who found me an opportunity to coach soccer in the USA at a summer camp for 6 weeks in 1996. And here I am in Beverly Hills, California 21 years later!
So, thank you Roy for completely changing the course of my life.