Thursday, 3 August 2017

THE TIME I MET MY CHILDHOOD HERO

If you had the chance to meet your hero what would you do? Would you jump at the chance? Or would you run a mile in the other direction through sheer panic and nervousness?

Depending on how risk averse you are you may not want to meet him/her and risk feeling disappointed at how different they may be in real life to the person/personality you’ve created in your mind’s eye. Or if you’re like me and the opportunity arises wild horses couldn’t keep you away. 

A few weekends ago I was in the fortunate enough position to be meeting my childhood hero and first crush; West Ham United’s ex-goalkeeper and legend: Luděk Mikloško, or “Ludo” as he is more affectionately known. He told me recently that the nickname “Ludo” was coined for all us east-London types who couldn’t get their teeth around Luděk. You see, Luděk isn’t phonetic and the “ě” isn’t pronounced the “English” way and after a few attempts at trying to pronounce Luděk the way it should be pronounced I quickly came to see why a nickname was needed!  

But let’s rewind a bit shall we? Let me set the scene for you. I was a mere 8 years of age when Ludo came crashing into my life all the way from Czechoslovakia (as was). It was 1990: he had just signed for us (“us” being West Ham United football club) and I was a season-ticket holder in the family enclosure with my dad and little sister, Claire (our poor mum really was a football widow. And my dad, bless him, didn’t let a little thing like having two little girls [instead of boys] stop him from gently guiding his children towards the claret and blue path that he himself has been walking for so long). 

All I can remember thinking when I saw Ludo for the first time was how absolutely massive he was….even from the very back of the top tier of the stand! From my 8-year-old’s perspective it seemed like all he had to do was lift one hand in the air and we could “high-five” each other. He was intimidating and imposing and I was absolutely smitten. 

It wasn’t until a few years after this that I got to meet Ludo for the first time at the players’ training ground in Chadwell Heath. My dad, sister and I used to regularly make the 15 minute drive for the players’ autographs. I was about 13 years old and I still have the dog-eared picture that I got him to sign on one of my next trips back to the training ground. 
~1996~

A few years after that, when I was about 16, I took another trip to the training ground, this time with a good friend of mine during what was supposed to be our GCSE study leave period (mum, if you’re reading this now and didn’t know what’s what I did with my study leave then I’m really sorry). I sought out the one man I was after in a sea of footballers and thankfully I found who I was looking for. Luckily my long-suffering friend, also Claire (who knew, and still knows, all about my crush) didn’t mind playing photographer to capture another moment in time of Ludo and me. 

Of course I couldn’t have that picture unsigned so she and I went back the following week to get it autographed! 
~1998~

And somewhere in between all of my visits to the training ground (there were too many to count) my wonderful parents arranged for my sister and I to sponsor Ludo’s team tracksuit in the season of 1995-96. There it was in black and white, our names in the match-day programmes for the whole season, for the whole world to see….OK that may be an exaggeration: for the whole of Upton Park to see.
Pre-match in the dressing room with his actual shirt that he wore for the game :) 

OK, that’s the background; let’s fast forward to 2017 (purposely skipping the part about how upset I was when he left West Ham, how I cried for days when he got his one and only red card against Everton, and how I might have even phoned up a radio station on his birthday one year to get a song played for him: “Simply the Best” if I remember rightly……I can’t believe I’m saying all of this “out loud”!!!!)

Anyways, the year was 2017. The location was Jersey. The occasion was the Jersey Hammers Supporter’s Club’s End of Season dinner, and the guest of honour was, you guessed it, none other than Ludo himself. When I heard this all plans of being in Copenhagen with the husband to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary that weekend went out the window. To be fair I did tell the husband he could go to Copenhagen without me.

Important Disclaimers: 1) The husband is also an avid West Ham supporter and so didn’t mind re-arranging our Copenhagen trip. 2) Thankfully the husband knew all about my crush on Ludo from pretty much the day we first met and so knew what a big deal this was for me.

It was with a mixture of trepidation, excitement and a lot of nerves that I counted down the days until the evening of Saturday 8th July. Would I be disappointed when I met my hero, the man I’d idolised for so long? Would he be a nice person? What would I say to the man I’ve loved and adored ever since I was 8 years old? How on earth was I supposed to keep my cool and not declare my undying love for him whilst at the same time throwing my arms around him, all within the time it would take him to introduce himself to me?!? 

However I had no time to dwell on these “worries” because my meeting him was brought forward by 24 hours when the husband announced that Ludo and a couple of others from the Supporter’s Club would be in town for a few drinks on the Friday evening if we fancied joining them. 

I didn’t want to go out on that Friday night; all I wanted to do was go to bed thanks to a bit of a late night the night before, and a lot of nerves about meeting Ludo in a social setting rather than as a fan at the training ground. The thought of meeting him was beginning to stress me out and I’d even convinced myself that maybe I shouldn’t go to the dinner, let alone out on the Friday, and risk having my childhood heart and dreams shattered. The husband wasn’t having any of it though, bless him, and knew I’d regret not going and practically forced me out of the house. And boy am I glad he did.

Other than saying it was one of the best nights of my life I really cannot tell you how good a time I had. Any reservations I was harbouring about whether or not he’d be a nice person were dispelled within about 30 seconds, but he probably thought I was a bit of a moody cow when he introduced himself to me, only for me to reply with “I know who you are” in not the politest of voices. Great first impression!

After six or seven (small) bottles of Prosecco, lots of laughs, embarrassing stories and a million selfies and pictures later I meandered my way home with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face. I like to think that I meandered in an endearing way, but it was 1:30am and I hadn’t eaten for more than 12 hours so I’d say that a stumbling, bumbling, (dribbling) mess is a more apt description.
The only downside to Friday being so good was that Saturday had a lot to live up to. 

Alas, Saturday’s dinner was brilliant but in a different way; I had to “share” him, for one thing (boo!!!!!), and I didn’t take as many pictures as the previous night……..ah who am I kidding, I felt like a professional stalker photographer by the end of the night. On a serious note though it was great hearing Ludo’s answers to the questions everyone had submitted for the Q&A session, and listening to a room full of supporters reminisce about the good-old-days, their conversations sprinkled with names I’ve not heard in a long time, brought back many happy memories.
 
~1996 - 1998 - 2017~

And so it was with a happy, but very heavy, heart that I hugged my hero/crush goodbye, purposely not looking back as I reluctantly put one high-heeled strappy sandal in front of the other and made my way to our waiting taxi…..but our gem of a universe wasn’t done yet and she had one final surprise for me up her sleeve. 

Cue: Ludo’s Sunday night dinner with the supporter’s club’s committee members. Am I a committee member? Nope; but you guessed it: I was there for the dinner. Someone must have taken pity on me and allowed me and the husband to gate-crash the final-supper (John, thank you SO much!). I’ll admit I wasn’t on great form. I was jaded, feeling ill (ahem, hungover) and drinking water only, because I’m pretty sure I had been drunk since the Thursday night. 

By the way just a tip, if you’re sitting next to someone you’ve loved for like, ever with the hangover of a 3 day drinking binge running rampage through your body, do not, I repeat do not, order a fishy, cheesy starter. It almost ended in disaster but it wasn’t anything an impulsive Jack Daniels and coke (or 3!) couldn’t sort out (Carol, thank you!)

After a few more selfies, stories, laughs and giggles the bill was settled and the clock struck midnight, bringing with it the carriage that would transport me back to my real life (thanks for the lift, James!) This really was going to be the last goodbye.
As I was being driven home the magnitude of the weekend I had just had was beginning to dawn on me.

It was as if someone had pressed “pause” on reality and had allowed me to spend 48 hours living my dream. I realised then, that on Friday evening I became Alice and I had been handed the key to my very own Wonderland. As the weekend passed I absorbed every single second, drank in as many details as I could and crammed in as many memories as my mind would allow, because I knew that my once-in-a-lifetime, never-to be-issued-again, Wonderland-pass was only valid for 48 hours…. and there was no “top-up” option available. 

I was officially the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. I had spent a brilliant weekend in the company of someone I have, so far, spent 27 of my 35 years looking up to, staring at posters of, cheering on, posing for pictures with, talking about and smiling stupidly at the mere mention of his name (this last one still holds true to this day and the husband knows that if I’m angry with him or sad about something he can say the two magic words that are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face. Every. Single. Time: “Luděk Mikloško”. Stupid aren’t I?). And he turned out to be nicer in real life than I could ever have hoped or imagined. 
The moral of this (long!) story is to choose a hero who doesn’t only meet your expectations in real life but one who surpasses them in the most wonderful ways imaginable and unimaginable. If you do this I promise you won’t be let down when the time comes for you to meet them.  

I’m not sure if he will ever read this, but if he does, Luděk it was an absolute pleasure to spend time in your company and get to know you. The warmth and friendship that you showed not only to me, but to all those West Ham supporters who attended the dinner, will not be forgotten. 

Thank you doesn’t do justice for what you brought to Jersey with you that weekend, or for the time and genuine interest you showed each and every one of us. But the beauty is in its simplicity:

Thank you.

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