Anyone who knows me well thinks I talk too much, that I’m an extrovert and like being the centre of attention. There is however a caveat to this, I may talk a lot but I don’t reveal a great deal about myself to people.
I feel it’s the right time to change this.
This week I accepted an invitation to attend the Football Blogging Awards on the 21st November. The votes are still being counted but I am reminded that this isn’t the first time I have put myself forward for a public vote. The first time was when I was 12 years old and it was an event that kick started years of bullying and teasing that had left an indelible mark on my confidence.
Up until Year 7 I had always been a happy child with a large group of friends with whom I had grown up with throughout primary and infant school. In Year 8 the other local middle schools came up to the secondary school and suddenly our class was broken up and separated. I found myself in a new class with fresh faced pupils to which I initially loved.
Being the outgoing type of child and always seeking new knowledge and information, I jumped at the chance when my school announced they were setting up a school council. The teachers were looking for student representatives and anyone who was interested should come to the front of the class and the others would vote on which pupils they wanted to represent them.
Just myself and another girl from the form class made our way to the front. Little did I know that this girl would become a source of misery for me over the next few years.
Our form teacher thought it would only be fair that we turn our backs on the class so that the other students could vote anonymously. Turning to face the blackboard we waited whilst the teacher pointed to one and then the other and the rest of the class decided our fate.
The other girl won. Disappointed but not despondent I returned to my seat and carried on with my day.
It was after this the comments and the whispering started. Girls who I had known all my life stopped talking to me for no reason. Jibes were made about my clothes, my hair, the way I smelled all of which were completely unfounded (well maybe the clothes, I did favour a particular Sheffield Wednesday shell suit at the time) but it made them laugh so they continued.
This went on for two years.
Somehow I’d made friends with the girls that were bullying me but I was always the butt of the joke. One class they would make me feel included only to disregard and taunt me in the next lesson. It was constant.
The ring leader, the now duly elected school representative, was herself a product of bullying. The kids in her middle school named her ‘Walrus’ because she was overweight and had incisors like ivory tusks. Over the summer though she had lost her blubber and grown C cups, the attribute of any popular teenage girl.
The situation came to a head when I was diagnosed with suspected glandular fever and I spent weeks in bed. Looking back I wonder whether my illness was entirely medical. After about 6 weeks I was strong enough to return to school but only in the afternoons. It took a long time to build my strength back up. The girls in question seemed pleased to see me and on my return they took care of me. It lasted for a day before the ‘Walrus’ told everyone that I was faking it and just couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed in a morning. It made me yearn to be back at home tucked up in my bed within the safety of my family.
I never told anyone about what was happening to me.
The only time I felt superior to her was in PE lessons. I was good at any game I turned my hand to. I could play and beat the PE teacher at tennis, I was always goal attack in netball because I could accurately score time after time and I always felt accepted when I played football. There were only a handful of girls who opted to play football but the boys didn’t care who you were as long as you played passionately and could pass a ball.
I still to this day prefer the company of men because of this reason. It’s hard to let my guard down around a group of women. Emotional scars are far harder to heal than any physical ones picked up on a football field.
Whilst my bully spent her time fannying about in a PE skirt trying to get boys to notice her I released my inner rage on hockey balls, netballs and during one particular football game Richard Wynne’s balls. I am sorry about that shot Richard.
It was after a PE lesson that the situation began to resolve itself. After yet another session where comments were made about me not shaving my legs properly and the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra, I was feeling particularly low. 13 year old girls are sensitive about their bosoms. Mine didn’t arrive until I was 18, I remember it well because a friend of mine announced at a bus stop ‘bloody hell where did they come from’ to the entire queue. However at the age of 13 they were more like two aspirins sitting on an ironing board.
It’s amazing what you can grow in five years under an Umbro training top.
After this specific PE lesson as we headed to the science block another girl from my form class asked me if I wanted to sit with her and her friends. She was little with wild curly hair and her best friend was a half Burmese beauty. The pair of them looked at me without pretext or expectation just with a hint of sympathy.
Fearing the wrath of the Walrus I hesitated because if I didn’t sit with the group the comments would probably get worse but something had changed. I was tired, still recovering from glandular fever, tired of being put down and tired of being unhappy. What more could they do to me if I just went to sit with another group of people?
The science lesson was tense. The bullies glared across the room and talked about me for the entire lesson but the wild curly haired girl and Burmese beauty just brought me back into their conversation.
I continued to ignore them and my new friendships grew. Over time the taunting became less and less until they didn’t comment at all. One act of kindness from a relative stranger started a chain reaction of confidence in me. I earned a scholarship to play tennis, did well in my exams and reached the dizzy heights of relative popularity at college.
Self-esteem doesn’t come easily to me as a result of this period of my life and it’s something that I work hard to attain. After my divorce I took to blogging about football as an outlet because it made me happy and raised my confidence. Whatever happens, however I feel, there is always some comfort for me in football, family and friends.
For me it’s quite apt that the Football Blogging Awards falls during Anti-Bullying Week 2013. Current statistics show that 46% of children and young people in this country said that they had been bullied at some point whilst at school. 29% of those said it had happened in the last year.
This is not an X-Factor style sob story to make you vote for me. I’ll turn my back once again and you can vote or not, the result for me is irrelevant. If by writing this it gives some young pupil, football fan or the family of a bullied child a connection to someone who knows how they feel then it’s all been worth it.
My dad used to say a phrase to me in Latin when I was feeling a little cornered.
‘Illegitimi non carborundum’
It means ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’. I advise you to use it, it’s a saying strong enough to bring down a walrus.