So this week I have been watching a lot of football. Now this isn't something that I normally do too often as I have a house mate who doesn't like it and a girlfriend who has about as much interest in watching it as I do in watching my own feet being chewed off by an angry badger. However this week I've managed to catch a whole host of live games as the pair of them have both been otherwise engaged every night its been on. Actually does that make it sound like they are having an affair? Bollocks, better have a word with them both I guess....once the footie's finished of course.
Anyway this watching football is also rare because even when I lived with 3 lads for a few years before moving in with my current housemate I hardly ever got to watch a match as none of them were remotely interested in the sport either. This wasn't the end of the world, as I'd known the lads for years and knew they weren't in to football, however when you come home from work hoping to walk in to catch the second half of the champions league semi final and all you get confronted with is your trio of male house-mates sitting around watching and discussing an episode of 'Come Dine With Me' you know something's gone seriously wrong.
However as I say, this week has been different and watching these games has made me start thinking about when I used to play football growing up as it used to be something I would do every weekend, both because it was a perfect excuse for getting out of going to Church on a Sunday and also because I loved playing. The other thing it has made me think about is an argument I had with a guy I met travelling who was a rugby fan and hated everything about football and anyone who liked it. The argument began whilst I was watching a game on the telly in some bar in Australia when this rather posh fellow Englishmen aggressively declared to anyone that would listen that:
- 'Football was a shit sport'
- 'Football fans are all arseholes'
- 'Football fans are lower class idiots'
-Football was only played by 'complete wimps who aren't tough enough to play rugby'.
Now admittedly he was probably right about me on three of the four counts but accusing everyone else of this aswell was harsh to say the least! So after about 15 minutes of this guy irritating me more than buffering on a porn video irritates a teenager, I decided to join in with the 'banter' and even though I didn't mind rugby, I 'advised' him that:
-Rugby was not a sport, it was a hobby for fat people who couldn't play football.
-That rugby players only throw the ball backwards because the fat person behind can never keep up.
-That they call a 'goal' in rugby a 'Try' because they 'tried' to play football but couldn't, because they were too fat.
So as you can tell there was a common theme developing in my rather flawed argument, but hey I wasn't going to beat him physically or mentally as apparently I was a lower class wimp idiot, so slyly insinuating he only played rugby because he was fat and had zero footballing talent seemed like a pretty wise retort.
Unsurprisingly, because he'd drank his own body weight in booze (which was A LOT) and because I'd effectively told a man twice my size he was unfit, untalented and probably clinically obese, he didn't take my banter too well. Luckily for me however, rather than beat me to death like he quite clearly could of, he decided to leave the pub! I have no idea why as he really could have quite easily eaten me for breakfast (metaphorically and maybe even literally), but lets just presume I scared him off? Although considering he was the size of a house with a neck the width of my waist and all I had in my locker was a one pack under my T shirt and a pair of arms that looked like pasta poking out of a colander, I have to say that seems unlikely. I think in reality he probably just didn't want my death on his conscience so he just left me to it.
Anyway as I mentioned earlier the other thing this football watching has made me think about is playing Sunday football when I was younger. Now I gave up playing in any kind of serious manner when I was 26 as I had got to a point in my life where I had broken my arm, 2 ribs, one of my front teeth, my hand and my ankle over the years and vowed to myself that I would quit the next time I got any kind of bad injury. However within 2 weeks of this declaration I was back in hospital with a collar bone that I had broken in 3 places and a doctor, who clearly had forgotten who he was speaking to, telling me it was the most 'spectacular break' he had ever seen and excitedly trying to thrust the 'fantastic' X Rays he had developed under my nose.
Now as tempting as it was to see an X Ray of my body that going by the doctors excitement must have looked like the biggest scattering of bones witnessed since the police poked their noses under Fred West's patio, I decided to turn this viewing down and instead just hung up my boots. However before this 'retirement' I'd spent nearly 20 years playing every Sunday and anyone who has played this distinctly mediocre type of football knows that there are a host of things that can drastically effect whether your team does well each game or not:
It sounds ridiculous, but in Sunday football the kick off time can be as early as 10am, so if you and the lads only got home at 6am after a night on the sauce there is a good chance that either A) some of them won't turn up, or B) that those who do will have such bad hangovers the first time they head the ball they will instantly want to lay on the floor and not move until half time has arrived or their declared dead and their body is carried to the morgue, whichever comes quicker.
Now for those who don't know what a 'ringer' is, this is a player who will be a friend of a friend of a friend who hasn't signed for your team but because you have heard he's good your manager will get him to play under someone else's name who did previously sign, in the hope this 'ringer' will fire your team to victory. This usually didn't work as the friend of a friend of a friend normally turned out to either be just as useless as everyone else, or even worse, he turned out to be a raving lunatic and because he was effectively playing incognito saw it as an opportunity to attack people with impunity.
3: The kid who had 'Trials':
It's almost guaranteed that every few games you will come across a player who according to one of your team mates has had 'trials' with a Premier League team and instantly everyone will assume he is some kind of footballing genius. When this happens it normally goes one of two ways. The first way is that after about 45minutes you're 3 nil down because some kid who doesn't look old enough to be out without his parents has scored a hat trick and left you on your arse more frequently than a granny on 'You've Been Framed'. Whilst the second way is the kid turns out to be terrible and the only trial he should be facing is one at Croydon magistrates court for falsely impersonating a footballer.
4: How many of your team are in their 'twilight' years:
This is the big difference between Sunday football and football at a higher level as most Sunday footballers that I played with or against weren't exactly at their peak of physical fitness (including me). I remember at one point where we had a goalkeeper who was about 65 years of age and a centre back in his late 50's. I mean there's a lot to be said for experience, but when some of that experience included witnessing the end of World War 1, the death of Gandhi and potentially the invention of the motor car you have got to start asking questions.
To be fair to our keeper he was pretty damn good for his age and in fact he was quite often referred to as 'the cat' by everyone in the team. Now I believe there was two reasons for this; the first was because he was surprisingly agile, especially considering his age, whilst the second I think was because as a man in his latter years it would not have been surprising to see his lack of bladder control kick in and him start to inadvertantly urinate on the grass at any moment.
That's the thing with Sunday football, there is no age limit, no fitness level required and no rules saying you can't play just because you're pushing 70 and outside of football you sharing a shower with a bunch of teenage boys would be borderline illegal. Effectively if you turn up with a pair of boots and a pulse (no matter how faint) then there is a good chance you'd get a game.
5: The referees:
Anyone who has played amateur football knows that the task of being a referee at this level is impossible as effectively you are trying to control 22 unfit, hungover, relatively unskilled and in turn angry individuals who on the whole appear intent on running around a field trying to kick the crap out of each other. I have always been baffled why anyone would choose to do it, I mean you only get about £20 a game and for that you have to frequently stand in the freezing cold and get verbally and potentially physically abused for 90 minutes. If you want to do that, become a Policemen, at least you get plus £30k a year and you've got a can of pepper spray and a truncheon at your disposal. As a referee all you have is a whistle and a set of cards that when deployed, rather than calm the situation down, just seems to make everyone angrier.
Now I have no problem with referees at Sunday league level, if it wasn't for them the games would never go ahead or alternatively, especially when playing as a teenager, they'd go ahead but with the overambitious dad of one of the opposition doing it. The problem with this type of referee suddenly taking charge of a game is unsurprisingly within a few minutes of kick off you start to notice more corrupt decisions being made than at a FIFA AGM and that you had about as much chance of winning the match as England did of winning the rights to host the 2018 World Cup.
I remember one such occasion when I was watching my brothers team play and after about 30 minutes of the terrible referee whistle blowing more times than you'd see in a whole series of 'Dispatches', the centre back for the opposition caught the ball as one of my brothers team mates tried to chip it over the top of him for his forward to run on to. Now if you're thinking 'well that has to be a free kick and a straight red card' then you'd be right. However unfortunately as it was the players dad that was the ref the free kick was given to him for a foul nobody saw and the red card was given to my mum for calling him a cheat from the sidelines! Yep that's right, she was sent back to the clubhouse because she questioned the ethics of a man who'd just made the worst decision witnessed since some TV Exec allowed David Pleat to become a commentator.
During a Sunday football match you are almost guaranteed that someone in either yours or the oppositions team will make a terrible footballing decision. Whether that be to try and dribble the ball out of defence only to be tackled by a forward who goes on to score, or one of your team deciding that it's a good idea to punch one of the opposition just because they'd tackled him in a way they didn't particularly like.
However these sorts of occurrences are pretty much standard, it's the anomalies that make Sunday football the brilliant and quite often ridiculous experience that it is. From the time we turned up at a ground in Thamesmead and the game got called off because someone had dumped and set fire to a car in our penalty area. Or the time one of our star players had to be substituted not because he was injured, having a bad game or due to a tactical change, but because he was so cold that he'd started crying and couldn't carry on! Jesus, maybe the rugger bugger was right after all.
However my personal favourite and the one that makes you realise just how unpredicatable football can be was the time that my team conceded a goal because, wait for it.....our goalkeeper had decided to sit down and make a daisy chain whilst he thought he had a few minutes to himself!
So as the ball went rolling towards the net Joe, our goalkeeper, was just sat on the ground, linking daisies like some kind of overworked flourist and presumably humming the theme tune to something like 'The Antiques Roadshow' in his head. By the time he'd realised what was going on it was too late and we were 1 nil down, he was left looking like the worlds worst goalkepper and the rest of us were left wondering if maybe Joe's heart wasn't really in it. Still his daisy chain turned out to be a humdinger, so it wasn't all negatives.
Now there's something you don't see in the Premiership....
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