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Eleven Portraits of Football in Sheffield

Interviews with footballers can be drab, cliché-laden affairs. Not so with Peter. 20 odd years of non-league football, and now plying his trade with a group of mates in an over 35s league – “we are blokes, we need competition”, he tells us – Peter’s inside knowledge of the sport is captivating, and our conversation is wide ranging. We talk about local lad and flavour of the month Jamie Vardy, “I played against him six years ago. That feels odd now”. We hear insights into the mental aspects of the game: “football does test you; psychologically it can create some real highs and real lows. It has helped me build my self-esteem, but some lads find it difficult to deal with the extremes”.

Like many non-leaguers, Peter had to manage a demanding career throughout his time as player. “I’d have a really tough day at work, drive for hours and then it’s a second job in the evening.” But the game seems to have enriched his work, too; he’s learnt about life through football. “It’s taught me a lot. I’ve seen different management styles, I’ve seen all the politics at work – it’s helped me professionally to understand people and teamwork.”

It’s clear that the healthy balance between football, played hard and at the best level possible, and a life outside of the game has been hard won. We talk about the dangers of staking too much on the sport, of players Peter’s known who have had the world at their feet and lost it all. His advice for young players is clear: “don’t hang your hat on something that can be taken away from you”. While he’s vocal about the joys of the game, Peter offers wise perspectives on its pitfalls. “Football is too lucky… there’s too much investment in something that is totally out of your control.”

There’s a lot in this book about unity; football as family; as a force for cohesion, but Peter gives an antidote to the idealism: “football has always been about being out for yourself, the team is a platform for that. You’ve got to think ‘there’s two more strikers on the bench, if I don’t score this someone else will’”.

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