How sporting ability can leave a lasting impression

Football's coming home? I'll believe it when it gets here and I can shake it warmly by the hand, to be honest. 

Having been born in March 1964, I was two years old when England won the World Cup. I may well have watched it but I have no recollection. My first memory of watching England in an international tournament was in 1970; I was six and I cried when we lost to what was then West Germany.

Since then, I've sat through disappointments, disasters, endless penalty shoot-outs...48 years of hurt, as the song nearly says. So I'll be there on Wednesday evening in a pub, watching the game with the same friends I was with in 1990, 1996, 2006 and two years ago, when losing to Iceland in the European Championships seemed to be as low as England could go.

A different pub, though; our favoured haunt from 1990 and '96 is now a pizza parlour, a sad reflection of the way 'proper' pubs have been treated in recent years by money-grabbing companies with no understanding of the trade. 

And in my mind will be a picture of Andy Biddle. I went to Andy's funeral on Friday. He played nearly 500 games as a talented left-winger for Sutton Coldfield Town in the 1980's and '90's. I watched him every week when I was sports editor of the Sutton Coldfield Observer from 1990-92. He was an incredibly talented player who could easily have played at a much higher level, but he loved playing football on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings with his mates and playing cricket for Sutton Coldfield Cricket Club.

It was while playing cricket for Sutton CC Veterans that Andy suffered a fatal heart attack last month. It would have been his 53rd birthday on Sunday July 1. I attended his funeral last Friday; it was packed with his former team-mates in both summer and winter sports, far too many of whom looked fit enough that they could still pull on a pair of boots if needed.

I got talking to one of them, who played behind Andy in the back four of that Sutton Town team. He said: "Andy will be up there laughing about the fact he died playing cricket. In his mind the shot he played went for four, he will forever be not out."

Which is what sport is all about. It means everything and it means nothing. Andy Biddle will probably be livid if England win the World Cup next Sunday and he's not here to see it. I'm pleased that his talents were a part of my life, however fleeting. And life is about making a lasting impression when you've gone. I'm trying to do that, through my stroke-awareness work. Andy Biddle, through his sporting ability, certainly did.