A few years back I watched a cup match between Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday and came to the conclusion that I could kick the ball up in the air and misplace passes and could run like Forest Gump, so why the flip wasn’t I playing out there? Obviously the scouting system in this country had failed me, how many others have been failed too? We actually had a scout living in my village and he got one of my mates in to the Southampton youth setup. Arguably I was as good as he and left footed to boot, but to my bitter chagrin I wasn’t even asked to be the teams poet laureate, even though I was displaying promising signs at school. At the time I thought that any day soon I would be scouted, that it was up to fate, but as I got older and uglier I realised that you have to fight to be a winner… but how much and at what cost?
Fast forward fifteen years and I’m playing in the Churches League, the lowest FA league. I’m not a Christian, but somehow managed to wangle my way in on the “potential to be converted” card. I had made the choice to join this fine league because my shins were beginning to look like Cassanova’s bed post and thought that people who play for Church teams were more likely than not to be good Christians who would joyfully part the defensive sea as I dribbled towards their goal. I couldn’t have been more wrong, in fact it was the Referees who performed the ministry of the lord, forgiving the players their foul sins as they hacked vicariously at my naivety. I had thrown myself to the lions!
Over the course of my fifteen years of playing I had always prided myself in my attitude towards the officials, I would never utter a peep of criticism (well… I got a yellow for accusing one of being paid by the other team… but was suitably apologetic immediately after!) and felt like they should be able to enjoy the match as much as the next person. More often than not the refs would try their hardest to be accurate and fair. All this was to change for the worse. Our church team had a ref who had been their official since Genesis began, he spoke to everyone on a first name basis and on the face of it seemed like a decent enough old chap. But get him on the pitch and it was like he had a hatred for us that ran deeper than science itself. I argued with my team that we should get a new ref, but they were so into self-flagellation that they would rather keep losing than hurt his feelings. Anyway, it turned out that he was a man that could be swayed. Other teams would shout at him and as long as they didn’t swear or utter blasphemous remarks he would give them the advantage. To my embarrassment and shame, over the course of the two seasons I turned from a player of unquestionable integrity to one who was corrupt, angry and vocal. When Daniel was thrown to the lions he asked the god to save him, when I was thrown to the lions I just shouted at our god instead … and to a degree it worked. I quit football after that disappointed in myself and what I had become!
Winning games against evenlyish matched opposition is about having the edge, gaining the advantage, maintaining a winning mentality, eating good quality oranges at half time and making sure the opposition goally is looking into the sun. So when Liverpool hit the woodwork lots of times (27) and squander most of their corners (324) it says to me that they don’t have the edge, they are close, but not Jack and Meg White close. However, I would rather it that way than winning by abusing the referee and conning him to give free kicks and penalties in 50/50 situations. As the league draws to a thrilling finale it’s still neck and neck between the two greatest penalty accumulators in the business. Whether it’s a trailed leg or an imaginary push or god forbid actual physical contact Young and Suarez have the ability to turn the innocuous into an incident of grave proportions. I feel the spirit of my game was destroyed by trying to gain the advantage in a questionable way and it was nice to hear Robbie Savage confessing his sins on MOTD2, saying how embarrassed he is for cheating. I wonder if players like Suarez and Young, Rooney and Gerrard will one day look back on their careers and acknowledge they made the game just that bit uglier by their simulation and bullying of officials.
Is there anything any of you lot would like to confess to for redemption?
Big love to my big enemy.