Every footballer at any level dreams of being the player who seals victory for his team in a high-stakes match.
I got my chance to be the hero for my London-based amateur team Duzcespor FC in a London Sunday Junior Cup semi-final against Muswell Hill FC at Wadham Lodge in Walthamstow. But I didn’t make the starting XI.
In the days before the big game, I’d received the dreaded call from my manager. “I may have to start you on the bench as a tactical change,” he warned.
Letting me down gently, he reasoned that because he didn’t know anything about our opponents, he needed options on the sidelines and would bring me on to catch them on the counter-attack if necessary.
I took this on the chin and agreed to start as a substitute, hoping I’d get my chance as the game progressed if my manager really did have some tricks up his sleeve.
On the day, we got off to a good start and scored in the opening minutes of the game. However, Muswell Hill scored two counter-attacking goals in the space of 15 minutes in reply.
“After scoring, I ran to my happy manager who said ‘I told you I needed you as a game changer for the second half!’ “
It was very agitating to watch this from the sidelines because I could see the opposition was leaving loads of space at the back which I knew I could exploit with my ability to make runs at pace in behind the defence.
Luckily, we managed to equalise and the game became even more tense as both teams became desperate to score.
The atmosphere got heated, with dangerous tackles resulting in four yellow cards – two for each side – being shown by the referee.
Being a spectator, I was giving my team-mates tactical advice but I knew it should be me out there, making runs through the heart of a backline which didn’t look that strong.
Towards the end of the first half we netted again to lead 3-2 at the break. As soon as the half finished, my manager looked across and gave me a signal that I should start warming up to come on for the second 45 minutes.
He decided to take off the left back and right back by playing three in defence, putting me on the right wing and another team-mate in centre midfield.
Warming up, I felt butterflies fluttering in my stomach – I was quite nervous about coming on as the atmosphere had been so intense.
After the restart, I found my rhythm by making a few runs behind their defence, trying to exploit the evident lack of pace of the Muswell Hill centre-backs.
Eventually, I made the breakthrough and was clear on goal with only the keeper to beat. He came out quicker then I expected, giving me little time to think. However, I stayed calm and placed the ball across him to make it 4-2 and edge us a step closer to the final.
After scoring, I ran to my happy manager who said: “I told you I needed you as a game changer for the second half!”
Scoring in a semi-final felt unbelievable and it took the pressure off my team-mates in a tense game. That pressure was eased further when I hit another goal to make sure we were into the final with a 5-3 victory.
Scoring twice having come off the bench that day is destined to be one of my favourite football memories.
Seeing my cheering team-mates running over to me after I found the net was an unforgettable moment, knowing I’d played a huge part in putting us through to the final and witnessing the joy in their eyes.
Hopefully, I can score in the final and add to those memories…