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The Big Interview with Mike Burke

Next up in our series of Meet The Player Interviews we caught up with Manchester United fan, Mike Burke to chat about his Football Aid experiences so far – including his debut appearance back in 2001.

Let’s begin …  

Firstly, can you just start by giving the readers some background on your “football” career, can you tell us a bit about yourself and an overview of the clubs you have played for?

"Well I was born in Stepney East London and lived on a council estate where everybody played football, it would be one estate against the other, very competitive. I played for my secondary school team at right half, the position in those days sort of midfielder. There were a lot of good footballers around at that time and the goal was to get into get into the district side (East London) I went for trials, but was not successful. To get a trial for a professional club at this time you would have had to play for your district.

After leaving school I played Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings for two different sides. The Saturday afternoons was a better standard. The Saturday afternoon side was called Parmiterians and Old School type of team although I never went to the school. They had about 10 teams and I was in the first team. Because it was an old school league there were no subs allowed. I continued playing Saturday and Sundays, until a friend I met on holiday in Spain saw me play and introduced me to a club called Southall, who played in the Vauxhall Opel league. I had a season with them and decided to leave, Mainly because of the travelling to games and the birth of my son.

After many years playing I got introduced to Vets football but at the time it wasn’t for me. I eventually started playing seven as side at Highbury Arsenal. They had an indoor football pitch which they called the JVC centre. We would play in a league there on a Sunday night and I met a few ex pros playing. Micky Droy of Chelsea Chris White of Arsenal and a few other very good players, Overall I was like a jobbing footballer as I would go anywhere for a game of football. When going on holiday I would always take my trainers and most times end up in a game of football."

Similarly, can you tell us which footballers you loved to watch when you were growing up? Also, are there any players in the modern game that you particularly like to watch?

"I first started to go to watch football at West Ham and in the early days could say I was a West Ham supporter given I lived in Poplar which was about 4 miles away. But It was the European Cup final Manchester Utd V Benfica in 1968, the first football match I saw on TV that made me want to support and watch Utd. I was a great fan of George Best and was fortunate to see him play for Utd. Also when he left Utd to play for Fulham with Rodney Marsh and Bobby Moore I was able to go and see him play, pure genius. I also was a fan of Franco Baresi who I would say was better than Bobby Moore and that is saying something.

My favourite player of today has to be Lionel Messi. Who to me is the best player I’ve seen. There is a lot of debate about Maradona and Messi and when I get into debate with my friends, I tell them the story of a conversation I had with Ossie Ardiles at Tottenham, a Football Aid match. I asked him who he thought was the better player and bearing in mind he had played with Maradona he said Messi."

Moving on to your experiences with Football Aid, you've made 24 appearances in 5 x different Countries (England, Scotland, Wales, Portugal & USA) and even played in our first ever season back in 2001! How did you first hear about Football Aid and what are your early memories?

"I first heard about Football Aid on the radio. I was driving round London listening to talk radio now talksport and heard the late great Sir Bobby Robson talking about the chance to play. I’d never played in a stadium before, Hackney Marshes was about the best so a chance to play was great. In those days we were still on dial up for internet and it was very nerve racking trying to get a place. I just bid for any position just to get accepted. Unfortunately, the early games were not filmed, but my best memory was being in the Old Trafford dressing room and noticing how small it was."

What are your favourite Football Aid moment(s) and highlights so far?

"To be honest it has to be the first time I played at Old Trafford I had an assist to our first goal (click here to watch Mike's assist on YouTube). It was a free kick and our centre forward headed in, I was pleased for him as he was a Utd fan and he will live on that for ever, Playing at Wembley with Mark Wright was also a good memory the way he coached me through the game got me man of the match, which I thought I would never get as one of our players scored a couple of goals, so I always thought he would get it. I also got man of the match in two other games. Funny you walk off the pitch sometimes and think you could have done better and you get man of the match. It’s sure a great feeling. My biggest regret is I wished I could have had the opportunity to have done this in my twenties. One other favourite memory is my goal last year at QPR (click here to watch Mike's goal on YouTube), how I scored I don’t know, but the whole world knows about it and my son was there. I think one of the best things about Football Aid is you can dine out on all your experiences. Also when I get asked what team I support and I say Utd, I get that look as if to say but you live in London and reply with yes, but I have played there four times and then we get into a conversation. What’s it like etc."

As a Football Aid player, you have played in England, Scotland, Wales, Portugal, and USA – many of which are regarded as the most iconic stadiums in world football. What is the best stadium you have played at?

"Has to be Wembley, but close second White Hart the lane mainly for the pitch."

Can you tell the readers who is the best Legend/Ex Professional you have played alongside, and/or been Managed by, and why?

"It has to be Denis Irwin a true professional. I remember him walking into the dressing room when I was playing my first game at Old Trafford, you would think he was one of the lads he was a gentleman and a pleasure to play football with."

From looking at your record of appearances, you would have built up an impressive collection of football kits over the years. Do you have a favourite kit, and why?

"I would say the QPR kit because the shirt was extra large so it fitted me ha ha. Also the spurs shirt I had Ossie (Ardiles) sign as I was playing in two different positions and therefore had a dry shirt with a world cup winners signature on it."

Do you have any pre-match superstitions/rituals that you like to do before playing in a match?

"Oh yes, I always put my left boot on first, make sure I’m not the first person to put my shirt on and when walking out onto the pitch I make sure I’m not the first one out. And I have a chat with my Grandad upstairs asking him to make sure I have a good game. I’m told he could have played for Charlton Athletic in the 30’s but for a knee injury and the war."

On Sunday, 17th November 2019 at Wembley, you made your second appearance in a Football Aid match at the home of football. As an England fan, how did it feel to play on the hallowed turf at the home of your beloved nation?

"What a pleasure this was. I only played 45 minutes due to fitness and that went very quick, It was also special because this time it was under floodlights. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity. When I played at the first Wembley Football Aid game I also went to watch Wycombe play in the play offs and it was strange to think I was only out there a couple of weeks ago."

Apart from the games at Old Trafford, are there any other events you look out for at the launch of the new Football Aid season in September?

"I always look out for something different and if Barcelona comes up I would definitely consider."

Lastly, do you have any advice / recommendations for any supporters that are thinking about taking part in a Football Aid event?

"Firstly do it you wont regret it. Obviously try and get fit, understand that the 45 minutes or 90 goes quick so take it in. I still kick myself for not doing certain things on the pitch as you tend to get wrapped up in the atmosphere. And as David (Dale) says in his pre match speech, don’t overdo it in the warm up and then spoil your day."