This week has seen a tipping point for VAR in this country. The idea of clear and obvious seems to have been kicked to the kerb with VAR officials actively searching for ways to disallow goals. The general consensus seems to be a push towards just using VAR for offsides. Indeed this week saw the debut of ‘Semi-Automated Offside technology’ a technology that takes the fitst steps towards taking human error out of offsides in football. Below is the goal that wasn’t given by the Semiautomatic offside technology. Schick was offside by the tip of his toenail.
Yes, that bit in black.
There can be no arguing, to the letter of the law this is offside. Surely now we can all be happy knowing that there will never be a wrong decision with regards to offside. One less thing to worry about with regards to VAR.
Except is this really what offside is a part of football for? To disallow goals because of a toenail?
The rule was originally brought in to prevent goalhanging back in the 19th Century. The offside rule was an attempt to prevent football from descending into a game of long punts towards crowds of players milling around the goal.
I have experience of it, I used to coach the Charlton U12 Academy side and in their matches there were no offsides. The idea was the game was on small pitches and they did not want a lot of stopping and starting, the idea was meant to help the children get as many touches of the ball as possible in the time allowed. They wanted the games to flow and, as this level of football is all about improving players, they did not think it would be open to abuse.
Unfortunately, about six games into the season we played Crystal Palace and their coach positioned their striker on the penalty spot and told him not to come any deeper. Within 2 minutes they had scored from a long punt forward to the forward, who I had not even noticed as he was so far behind the game. It was a conundrum for me as I did not want to tell my defenders that they also had to stand around in the area as this would be a fake situation that would do them more harm than good in their development. So I told my team to ignore him and play the same way we always did. I’m thankful to say that with the extra player (it was only 7 a side) we played some great football and won the game 6-4 – all their goals coming from the ‘goalhanger’ two of them straight from long goalkicks to him. I can honestly say it was the only game I coached at that level where the result mattered to me, just because I felt the other team’s coach had lost his way in trying to take advantage of a rule to win a game rather than do his actual job.
Obviously, therefore, the offside rule is a rule that is needed to prevent the beautiful game from becoming a tennis match.
Which brings me to the current rule…
This goal should have been one of the great moments of the 2022/23 season, a 25 yard howitzer, instead it took VAR the best part of 5 minutes to decide a player was offside by the smallest of margins from the original cross.
So my question is: is disallowing a goal because of a toenail in the true spirit of the rule?
If like me you don’t think so and that we shouldn’t need space-age semi-automated technology to decide if someone is onside, then what is the answer?
How about this: Get rid of all the lines, and fancy gadgets. The reason we wanted VAR for offside goals in the first place was to stop the travesties of justice. The goals where players were clearly offside and yet the officials made a howler leaving fans feeling cheated. You don’t need state-of-the-art technology for that. Just 2 people in a room watching a screen. Just like at the moment, if they think it may be offside then they check it, but with their eyes watching from just a couple of cameras and make the decision within a couple of minutes. If on first view it is not clear if it was offside or if they both cant agree, then stick with the decision on the pitch.
I have been so busy promoting and writing my book ‘Losing my Spurs – Gazza, the Grief and the Glory’ that I haven’t had time to write any blogs. To be honest there hasn’t been anything that has really caught my eye enough to write about. Then a friend was speaking to me about his boy starting to play competitive football and how he was worried about the quality of coaching at that level and the dangers of being overcoached. I shared his concerns as I have always thought that some coaches do more harm than good and have often questioned their motivation. I did offer some advice, but when I thought about it afterwards, I felt I had not done a good enough job in explaining what to watch out for. So here is my guide to the Bluffers, Blaggers and Egos.
There are 3 different dangerous coaches to look out for:
The Trophy Hunter
The first thing you should do when talking your child to a football club or to football coaching is have a conversation with the manager or coach. When you talk to the coach of your kid’s potential team if all they talk about is how many games they have won or how many trophies they have won then pick your child up off the ground, run to your car and get out of there! Winning trophies and matches is the by-product of successful coaching and it should never be the other way around. It should be all about how your child is progressing and whether they are enjoying their football. In my experience, the managers who are chasing trophies are doing it for themselves. They want the kudos of being a ‘successful’ manager and coach rather than developing children as footballers, the team is all about their ego, stay clear of these coaches.
2. Subbuteo managers
When you go and watch your child playing in a game, stand near the manager and just listen. If you hear words of encouragement to players who have made mistakes then you may be on to a winner. If what you hear is ‘Pass’ ‘Shoot’ ‘Kick it’ then stop the game, grab your child off the pitch, run to your car and go home! I can remember many years ago managing a Charlton Athletic academy team and we were playing against a top Premier League side and their manager was a well-known ex-professional footballer. He spent the whole game telling the kids what to do. It was like he was playing Subbuteo moving players around and playing the game for them. Obviously, they did well as he was a better footballer than the ten-year-old children on the pitch. It took everything I had not to do the same and to stick true to what I believed. We lost the game, but I walked away happy with the knowledge that the children in my team had developed in the game and were making improvements. Funnily enough, the first question I was asked by the Academy director afterwards was ‘What was the score?’ which made me chuckle. The problem with telling children what to do every time they get the ball is what happens when you aren’t there? I can tell you; you end up with a footballer who has no decision-making or problem-solving skills. In the game in question, there were times I could see the players in the other team waiting for the shout as they didn’t know what to do. If your coach is fairly quiet in the game other than encouragement but then talks to players afterwards in a two-way discussion about what they could or should have done in certain situations then you have a good one.
3. Bluffers and Blaggers
Other coaches to look out for are the coaches who just point out things that have gone wrong but with no advice about what to do about it. They would be the ones on a sinking boat shouting “Hole, there is a hole!’ at the top of their voice until they inevitably sink to the bottom of the ocean. You can spot these coaches and managers as they will be shouting things like, ‘Start winning your tackles’ ‘Stop losing the ball’ ‘Finish it’. These statements are no help whatsoever to a young footballer. They need hows, if they keep giving the ball away then coach them. Is their technique the problem? Are they panicking and need to calm down? Are they short of confidence and need building up? That is your job. If you are just pointing out problems then you are actually doing more damage than good as there is nothing worse as a player than having your faults constantly being thrown in your face but without feeling like you know what to do about it.
So hopefully this might help a few people in finding a suitable environment for their children to play, improve and enjoy their football as at the end of the day a smile on their face is the only thing that really matters.
I haven’t written a blog recently. This is partly due to the fact that I have been selling and buying a new home, publishing my second book and with the whole Super league mania it felt like there was more than enough being written about football. I am now back putting pen to paper, or more accurately finger to keyboard. I feel a need to write this because I have been watching a lot of Premier league football recently as with the clocks going forward the time difference in China has become more manageable. For example a 4pm kick off in the UK is 11pm here in Ningbo. England certainly seems to be the place to watch football now with two teams in the Europa league league final and the two Champions league finalists both being British. But, honestly, I am finding the football being served up in the Premier league dull and soulless.
A typicle game involves two teams persisting to try and pass the ball out from the back no matter what the opposition does. I find myself watching games that are decided by which team gives the ball away in dangerous positions the most times. Time and time again, I see defenders and midfielders giving the ball away in dangerous positions trying to overplay. I would love to see the numbers for how many goals are scored from teams losing possession in their defensive third. I would imagine it is very high! Now the quality of the passing out from the back has improved immensely in recent years but there are still a lot of defenders who would do well to stick to the mantra of head it and clear it, simply put, they look like the oppositions best attacker most games. I can remember very early on in my all too brief footballing career being told that good players know their players. In other words, there are some players you don’t pass to unless they are well away from your goal. I played for years with my mate Darren who was a very gifted footballer who happened to play in defence and he used to take all kinds of risks with very rarely any consequences. The amount of times players alongside him would try and do the same thing with comically terrible results. Rule number 2, know your limitations!
It seems all the more bizarre that ALL the teams seem to try and do it in an age when data is so readily available. It makes me question what I am seeing with my own eyes. Is there data out there that suggests that this way of playing is the only way? Because week in and week out I see teams being given chances from teams trying to overplay in defence. In an age of high presses you would think that the odd clearance or long pass out from the back would prove more effective. Don’t get me wrong I do not like long ball football, but even Brazil would occasionally hoof the ball when under pressure. This pass, pass, pass and then pass some more is so boring to watch. When Barcelona used to do it they were always probing and looking for the forward pass whereas now it seems more like passing the ball for the sake of it. Here are some examples:
The ball is passed and passed and eventually gets out wide in the final third. The forward players make runs into the box and the wide player turns out and passes it back to the full back and then back to the centre half, some times then all the way back to the goalkeeper! Cross it Man! Strikers must be puling their hair out.
The ball is passed well and the team progress quickly up field they are now in the final third and the other team are short of numbers. If the player on the ball can play the right forward pass or take on their man they have a great chance of scoring. But, instead, they turn away from the opposing goal and pass it back to the midfield who turn and pass it back to the defenders, who sometimes then will pass it back in goal. They have gone from a dangerous attack to their goalkeeper passing the ball to the defenders who are now stuck on the edge of their own penalty area. Meanwhile thousands of fans are screaming at their TV!
I always thought that passing teams were successful when they passed with a purpose instead of just passing to not lose possession. A good player always looks forwards if possible. I would love to see the data the teams are basing it on. It is like man marking at corners against zonal. My eyes tell me that zonal seems to be less successful but this cant be the case as everyone seems to go for zonal.
I am fast becoming a football dinosaur. I want to see players with flair and personality, mistakes made by referees in the moment, not made by another referee who is watching it on a screen and still getting it wrong. It is hilarious that red cards given by VAR seem to constantly be overturned! I want to see tackles, not dangerous tackles but honest tackles made by committed players. I want to see crosses and dribbling. I want teams to live within a budget. I want to see players celebrating goals without worrying that it may be chalked off at any second by a line drawn on a computer screen at the point they believe the ball was kicked. I want fans back in stadiums and wouldn’t it be great if lot of them actually lived or where bought up in the local area. I want commentators talking about football like it existed before 1992, talking about the great players who went before. The Premier league is just the first division re branded. Jimmy Greaves is the best goalscorer ever, half of the young supporters will have never ever heard of him. I find myself now drifting in and out of the football as players try and bring up their pass percentages, that never used to happen when I was gripped by the football and literally on the edge of my seat.
I haven’t written a blog for a few weeks as I’ve been finishing writing my sequel to Eye on the Ball, I am hoping to release it in June. In that time there have been a few things that have caught my eye, but the continued slide by Tottenham has been the most eye catching. In December 2018 Manchester United released the following statement:
Manchester United decided to sack Jose Mourinho because they were unhappy with a lack of progress in form, style of play and development of their young players.
I remember reading this and thinking that it was fair comment. I now look at Mourinho at Spurs and think it is pretty much valid now too.
There are a number of reasons why I have always thought that Mourinho was a bad fit for Tottenham. Below are just two.
Style of play- Spurs history
I have always seen Spurs, and ManchesterUnited, as having a certain amount of history with regards to the way they play football. They have been teams that play with flair and look to attack. Their history is littered with players like Hoddle, Ardiles, Waddle, Gazza, Ginola and I could go on. They have attracted a particular fanbase due to this too. Fans who enjoy football for being the beautiful game. Old Trafford is called the Theatre of dreams and Tottenham’s motto is “To do is to dare” like all teams they demand success but how they get it is important too. Mourinho has a style alien to both those clubs. He looks to get an early lead then sit back and defend it. Against most opponents his first instinct is to stop them from playing rather than look at what his side can do. The majority of fans at these clubs will not accept that. Against the top five maybe, but not week in week out. Trying to see out games against clearly inferior opposition does not sit well at these clubs, in fact Rot Hodgson lost his job at Liverpool for that exact reason. The problem he has at Spurs is also the quality of the player. The defence they have now is nowhere near the level of three or four years ago. If you look to defend for long periods of time, you can’t make mistakes. The current squad is littered with mistakes. When he was in his prime at Chelsea and Inter Milan part of his strength was the fact he got world class players to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team. Mistakes were few and far between, they could also go back through the gears and get important goals when needed. For this Spurs side they struggle to change mentality from defence to attack. They need a manager who will develop them and trust them. Improving them so that they get the most from them. Mourinho is not that sort of manager.
Development of players
In 16 months can you name one Spurs player who has improved? Pep Guardiola has thrown money at his defence but when you look at his players their development is clear. Sterling and Foden two great examples. Mourinho is the opposite. Look at the plight of Deli Ali. Throughout his career Mourinho has fallen out with players. At the previous clubs he has been able to discard these players as they have spent fortunes bringing in new players, at Spurs he cannot do that. Look at him now turning to Ali and Bale against Manchester City. Imagine how much stronger the Spurs squad would be right now had these two talents been managed properly and had their match fitness been at the level it should be with a decent run of games. It’s very hard for players to get to their best levels when they are in and out of the side. His recent policy of rotating the defence has not helped either.
I hope it is not too late for Mourinho to change. He is good in the transfer market, but normally on bigger budgets (he spent 380 million at Manchester United and left them at 8th place). If he could be old Mourinho against the top sides and in big matches and be more expansive against the other teams he could still be a real asset at the club. If he doesn’t alienate them in the meantime! Just one more piece of food for thought if you are a Spurs fan. Harry Kane is 28 now and yet to win a major trophy…
The above is a quote about something that has been on the back of my mind for a while. I love the fact that there is still football to watch. I am sure that without it the series of lockdowns and tiers would have been a lot worse for a lot of people. But as much as I am glad it has not been cancelled; I find it soulless without a live crowd watching it. I find it difficult to get too excited by it. I’m also pretty sure that it has had a huge effect on the results of the matches so far.
Soccer AM does a section where players talk frankly about their teammates. When asked whom the best players in training are, it is often a player that you would not expect. This idea is transferable to all levels of football. I am sure everyone who has played football has played with someone who looks like a million dollars in training and often two bob in a game. I saw an article on Vinny Samways on Facebook where he was described as workmanlike. I remember Peter Shreeves dropping him in the Winter and telling him it was the because the heavy pitches didn’t suit him. He was christened Vinny Sideways by the Tottenham fans due to a distinct lack of ambition when in possession of the ball. Vinny Samways was in fact one of the most talented players I have ever seen. He was a clever passer, a good finisher and appeared to run quicker with the ball than without. In training and in the reserve games, he was the best player on the pitch week in week out. Why did he fail to produce this form on the biggest stage? In my opinion it was the crowd. If he gave it away trying something difficult they got on his back. So instead he took the easy option. Players like Gazza and Chris Waddle would just shrug it off. They could give it away five times on the spin, but still do what they felt was right. The mark of a truly great player. It is why I consider Maradona the best player in my lifetime. The bigger the occasion the more he stepped up. I have no doubt that Messi is a better footballer than Ronaldo, but Ronaldo has consistently stepped up on the big occasion. Messi, particularly in recent years has not. I feel that history may place Ronaldo as the greater player of the two.
It may seem like I digress but let me explain my ramblings! This year, without a crowd, lesser players are flourishing. The very top players are often the very best because of their mentality. Think Gazza and Waddle. Now the gap has been shortened. Without a crowd affecting their confidence and decisions lesser players are taking advantage. Shortening the gap between them and the very top players. I honestly believe the best players feed off the pressure of a crowd, rising to the occasion. There are some grounds where the fans really feel like the extra man. It is why any team can beat any team this year. With the exception of Sheffield United!
Not that it is all bad. The development of some players might be enhanced without the pressure cooker of a crowd. I wonder how the Samways of the world might have faired this season. Given a chance to show their true worth. Has the future careers of many players been changed for ever by the virus? Free of the shackles able to do what they want without the fear of feeling the wrath of the supporters.
As an aside I also blame coaches and managers for the waste of talents like Vinny Samways. Too many are happy when a player keeps the ball rather than risk losing possession. I remember Rooney when he first burst on the scene being unpredictable, capable of moments of brilliance. I have always thought he was overcoached, turned into a safer tamer version of himself. A problem in English football for years. Chris Waddle thinks that children should be allowed to dribble, learn for themselves by their mistakes. Too many young players are told to just play the easy pass. Every week I see players receive the ball one on one against their defender with space in behind and they turn back playing an easy safe option. Joe Cole is another name that springs to mind. The truly great players never take a step backwards.
In Manchester United’s game against Aston Villa Pogba can be seen telling Shaw that he should have gone down (not dived, we will come to that later) when the defender made contact with him in the area. Just before Pogba told him to go down I thought the same thing. My opinion on diving is different from a lot of people. Therefore, I have written my guide to diving without water.
For this think when Rivaldo got a player sent of at the world cup. The ball was thrown at him and it him on his knee. He went down holding his face. He then rolled about for a few minutes. This sort of thing gives football a bad name. It is players pretending that they have been punched or elbowed to try and get a fellow pro sent off. If someone punches or elbows you in the face, fine go down. Draw attention to it. If not get on with the game.
Not acceptable, any attempt to get a player sent off for something they didn’t do is embarrassing and should face a huge ban and fine. Video footage is easily used because it is clear. Someone gets pushed in their chest and they go down holding their face. There are no excuses. Modern football gets a bad name through theses actions. I have even started to see big tough defenders doing it, in the same game as the Pogba/ Shaw thing there was Bailly against Grealish. Grealish nudged him in the back and Bailly went down like there was a sniper on the grassy null.
We have contact
I know people with disagree with me on this. If you are in the area and you feel contact, you should go down. Shaw should have got a penalty when Pogba told him. He had touched the ball past the last defender and the defender caught him making him lose control of the ball. It is a foul, but referees never give it unless the attacker goes down. In the area if you have the ball then there is a chance to score, If there is contact on you it can unbalance you or put you off and stop the chance of a goal. The defender has made the mistake you need to make sure the referee does his job. To my mind it is a professional sport and players need to be professional. The defender who makes a mistimed tackle or tries to make a desperate attempt to put you off when you are shooting is the one who should be punished. If you stay on your feet, then the chance could be lost. I see people in nostalgic football groups say that this never used to happen. This type of “dive” has always happened. My coaches who would have a go at me if I did the same as Shaw and tried to stay on my feet had been professional footballers in the 70’s and 80’s and their coaches had been telling them the same thing. Pogba’s mistake was he did it on the pitch. I can guarantee that in the changing room Shaw will have been told more than once that he should have gone down.
Not even a dive. The referee should give the penalty but if you don’t go down, he won’t. Make him make a decision.
This is when defenders have the ball normally facing their own corner flag with an attacker close behind them. The defender collapses forward as if he has been hit by a bus from behind. The referee always gives the free kick even though the defenders dive is normally laughable. Think Harry Maguire trying to convince the referee that a hand on his back from David Silva is enough to throw him to the floor WWE style. The continental defenders even grab the ball as they fall to really give the referee a problem.
Take away their defender’s licence. Defenders should show no pain, wear long metal studs in all weathers and never ever dive.
This is the one that on TV looks awful. The attacker toe pokes the ball then throws themselves to the floor and rolls about like they have stood on a mine. A quick look on YouTube will get some hilarious results. This looks the worst when the defender pulls out the tackle but the player has already committed to the dive. You could drive a National express coach between the two players the defender is so far away. VAR should eradicate this sort of dive.
Not acceptable. Ruins football’s reputation. This is cheating.
Big boys don’t cry
Think Neymar. In the empty stadiums you can now hear the screams as players try to win free kicks. The danger is cry wolf. In the past a player screaming meant serious injury, so the game gets stopped. Now referees cannot be sure, so they play on. I have now seen the hitting-the-floor-in-pain being faked. That used to be another sign of serious injury. Players are clever they have realised that hitting the floor and not rolling around looks serious. They now fake a serious injury to try and win a free kick or break up a counterattack.
If a player looks seriously injured, then doesn’t limp for at least 5 minutes afterwards then someone should be allowed to two-foot them with no punishment! Let the punishment fit the crime. Seriously though have a bit of pride and get up and run back.
I admire the skill factor of this one, but it is as bad as the no contact dive. This is rife in the modern game and needs to be eradicated. Vardy, Kane, Grealish, Pogba, Fernandes, Salah, basically think top player and they do it. The defender does nothing wrong except get close. Vardy will toe poke the ball straight then run across the defender’s path forcing the contact then go down. Grealish will touch it past the defender then actually kick the defender and go down himself. Think Bruno Fernandes’s stamp on the defender that won the penalty. Salah will poke it past the sliding keeper and not run after the ball but wait for the keepers momentum to eventually make contact. Pogba even tripped himself!
So difficult to stop. Think innocent until proven guilty. You can see the contact, you are sure the attacker made it, but so hard to prove. Players need to step up and take the lead. Like a gun amnesty. No punishment but everyone just agree to stop. I know – never going to happen but it needs to as it is killing the game. In the end there will be stoppages every thirty seconds. VAR being used every two minutes.
I have been looking forward to writing this second half all week. If you recognise anyone that you have played who matches my descriptions, please feel free to tag them. I could have named four or five for every position! I can see myself in three or four of them! Remember you can read the first part and all my other blogs at ww.anthonypottsauthor.com Enjoy!
El Loco – Mitchell
This is the goalkeeper. Size and fitness are the first attributes. Either tall enough to look like a keeper or too big to run around. I have named these as El Loco because they will often come charging off their line at the most random of moments. This never ends well. Their own defenders as well as their opponents can testify to this. Secretly have dreams of being a striker.
2. Out of harm’s way – Grant
I hesitated naming a player here for obvious reasons. These players are normally the salt of the earth. They never miss a game. Normally right in the middle of everything socially, and very well liked. They are also consistent. Consistently S***! At least they can be relied on. Full back is where they end up as it is the spot you can do least damage from. These are the players where when they kick the ball no-one knows where it is likely to end up – least of all them.
3. On the Launch Pad – Matt
Every team has one of these. It could be the friendliest game ever. Bible club United vs Good Samaritans FC this player is just waiting for a chance to launch themselves two-footed at an opponent’s mid-rift. Then after the ensuing scuffle they will plead their innocence as if they were being wronged. Self-control is not an attribute they possess, and they are only put at fullback to limit the opportunities for take-off. Warning: DO NOT PLAY THIS PLAYER AT CENTRAL MIDFIELD. 80 minutes is a long time to play with 10 men.
4. Defensive midfielder – Tony
A little bit of history here. Before Claude Makalele and Championship manager there was no such thing as a defensive midfielder, DM, Anchor man, holding midfielder, Deep lying playmaker etc. Instead, there was a central midfielder who was expected to run around a lot. Defending and attacking. Think Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. In Sunday football the defensive midfielder is a specialist position. You need to have once been a good player who can now no longer run. This position is a career extender.
5. The Unit – Ben
Like El Loco the first attributes for this position is size. These players rarely go to ground like On The Launch Pad (It would take too long to get back up). They do though play by the mantra of the ball or the player. As in, only one will get past. These players play in straight lines as they have a very wide turning circle. Once they start on a course they do not deviate. Interesting to note that although often 6’4 plus they often never head the ball.
6. Ping – Daniel
This is a player who can kick the ball over long distances at great accuracy. This is a great skill that they are very proud off. As a consequence, their radar does not function at less than 50 yards. Do not bother calling for the ball unless you are further than the requisite distance. You will not receive it. Cannot play further forward as there is not enough pitch to work with.
7. Tricky Winger – Mark
I have used tricky, but I should probably have used fast. These players are often light and quick. Prone to unnecessary step-overs, they are the natural prey of On The Launch Pad. On occasion known to pass, although not often. Playing style of head down and run. Another player who can often run out of pitch. If you are a forward playing with a Tricky Winger hoping for a cross, don’t bother. In later years with weight gain Tricky Wingers often turn into On The Launch Pad or even Out of Harm’s way.
8. Love of the Game – Steve
Lives for the game. This player will run all day and demand the ball at every opportunity. They will take throw ins, free-kicks, penalties and corners. Can play anywhere and usually does. No formation can tie him down. Will play in any conditions and when everyone else thinks, it is too cold, too wet, too dangerous, too dark, too covered in 5 foot of snow they will still try to get the game to go ahead. These players are in most danger due to Covid as without football they cannot function.
9. Bambi on Ice – Carlton
THE single most frustrating player. They cannot play football. They are clumsy, uncoordinated and without ability. But, somehow, they score goals! Off knees, backsides and faces; the ball has the uncanny knack of finding the back of the net. Their second touch is usually a tackle, their third a goal. Cannot play anywhere else as without the goals they bring nothing to the party. Every level has these players. Think Lukaku and work your way down.
10. Semi Pro – Ryan
This is a player who is too good for this level. And they know it. They get paid to play on a Saturday and use the Sunday to do all the things they can’t do on a Saturday. It doesn’t matter what their real position is, on a Sunday they WILL play central midfield or striker. There is no such thing as an easy pass for these players. Every possession is a chance to show off. Frustrating to the rest of the team for whom this is their main game of football, the Semi Pro has no interest in the result. In the end, they are deemed as a necessary evil as they can often win the game by themselves.
11. Fairweather player – Jack
These players are difficult to spot on a cold and wintry day or if you are losing as they often go missing. On a cold day they wear 5 tracksuits and a woolly hat which they only remove at kick off. In my book I talk about 21 player brawls. This is the player who is missing. In the summer they are unreplaceable especially if you are winning. At this point they can be your most impressive player. They try and live off these performances during the Winter months. Can only run in one direction – towards the opponent’s goal.
12. Wanabee manager – Mr S
The ‘A bit of Knowledge is a dangerous thing’ award goes to this player. Team talks by the real manager are often interrupted by this player. They are to be avoided in the bar at the end of the game as they will walk you through the last 90 minutes in great detail, often with the aid of visual prompts. During games they can be seen throwing their hands up at every mistake made by every other players; toys rarely stay in prams.
13. Functioning Alcoholic – Jamie
These players will often miss games, for obvious reasons. Avoid sitting next to these players in the changing room as the alcohol seeping out their pours can be intoxicating. Often they have played at a very high level, but they rarely mention it. On their day they are unplayable as it is only their lifestyle that has stopped them being a proper player. The line behind failing because they drank or drinking because they failed can get very blurred. As can their eyes on a Sunday morning. Always good for a story or two at the end of the game.
14. I could have been someone – Barry
Every team has one of these as does every pub. I could have been someone but… Every statement they make has you reaching for Google. Every story has you calling Bulls****. There are more holes in their stories than a tea bag but they have told them for so long they now actually believe them. These players are never available to play, they would give the game away if that happened!
NO NUMBER The Ringer – Darren
Closely related to the Semi-Pro, these are generally players who should not be anywhere near Sunday football. They play under assumed names. The Sunday team manager will tell them not to get booked under any circumstances, but if you do; remember your name is Grant. One of my oldest and best friends was often a ringer. He played semi-professionally but had a contract that meant he could not play Sunday football. This did not stop him. Rules for a ringer are to play within yourself, don’t make things too obvious. Not Darren. He was scoring three, four or five goals a game. Word soon got to his manager who went incognito to see for himself. Darren scored a wonder goal and slid on his knees in celebration – stopping inches from his managers feet. He was sacked on Monday morning!
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This blog is about an English phenomena: Sunday football. There are over 11 million people in the UK currently playing Sunday football. I am going to give you a tongue-in-cheek lowdown on what you might expect if you were to join a local Sunday side and for a bit of fun (in part 2) tell you some of the characters you are likely to come across. I have named these players after real people I have played with. If you have ever played or watched then I am sure you will recognise your own teammates in them.
The Sunday morning football story generally begins on a Saturday night. The unfortunate manager will be desperately trying to contact players to find out who is available. This is a thankless task and there are always a few that he is unable to contact. All the players will be part of some kind of group chat, but many will go missing the night before a game. Invariable the manager will get about 4 definites, 5 probables and then 5 uncontactables. There are many variables to this. What is the weather like? Are the players out drinking? If so how big a session is it? Plus injuries, many Sunday footballers have bad knees, ankles, backs etc. Sometimes they won’t know if they can play right up to the point that they step out of bed on Sunday morning and take their first step. The lesson here is not to commit too early. The morning of the game is another key moment in the selection process. It is now a carefully balanced equation of comfort of bed, severity of hangover, level of aches and pains, distance to travel to game, how good the other team is and how cold or wet it is. Anyone of these factors could lead to a message being sent explaining to the manager how they are ill, having to work, injured or any other excuse they have not used too often in the recent past. It is then a mad panic for the manager to call anyone with a pulse. Starting with the better players and ending with literally anyone! You would be shocked at how far down the food chain this search can go. There are always players who sign up at the start of the year just in case their knee isn’t too bad, their job has eased off or their wife lets them out the house. “If ever you are struggling you can call on me I will be there mate.” As a rule, they are never available. Messages are sent out to all the players in the team to see if they have any friends who can play. This will be where a ringer may be called on. A ringer is a player who is not really a fully signed up member of the team. We will look at these players more in part two.
Finally, a team of sorts has been assembled and they turn up. Some are clearly still drunk. This is where the players who have cried off get found out by the team grasses. “I saw Rab at The Venue his knee seemed fine when he was throwing out shapes on the dancefloor,” or “What a liar, he told me he was going Bluewater with his missus.”
At this point the kit is the most important thing. The bigger players desperately trying to find one of the two extra large tops and shorts or the smaller players looking for the only small top and shorts. Trying to not look too ridiculous is very important. Then the socks. The first players there try and grab a pair with no holes and that have not shrunk so much that you can’t get them over your calves. The last players often look like they have got their washing mixed up with a ten-year-old child when they finally get out onto the pitch. It is a very careful calculation at this time. You want to get out early enough to be able to get your body functioning before kick-off. But you don’t want to have to put up the net. A horrible job, especially on a cold or rainy day. A good tip is to grab the corner flags. Then slowly walk around the pitch putting them in timing it perfectly so the nets are up by the time you finish. By now there will be about ten minutes until kick off. So the warm up will begin. The warm up consists of all the players hanging around the edge of the box to kick a ball as hard as possible at the poor goalkeeper, often several footballs flying in his direction at the same time. What about having a run or a jog I hear you say. That is covered by the players all having to run and get the ball having more often than not missed the goal completely. For many players this is all done while smoking a cigarette trying to smoke enough to fill his lungs for 45 minutes of football.
It is now about 2 minutes until kick off and generally either the opposition, the referee or the rest of your team will now turn up. Sunday football never starts on time. The lesser players are now frantically doing the math. The worst job in the world is being a sub in Sunday football. There is never anything warm to wear. You also are now the physio, in charge of the valuables, in charge of the drinks and if there are no supporters (family or friends) you are now the linesman…
This is the worst job and not just in football. There is no flag, so you have to use a spare shirt or a cone or any item you can find. You will get dog abuse for the whole game. Often by players who don’t even understand the offside rule themselves. Often by your OWN team! Finally, you are forced to cheat. In Sunday football you have to cheat because you can guarantee the other team’s linesman will. It is a case of better to have everyone cheat than just one team, as that would be unfair. The level of cheating is down to your own moral compass. I have seen many levels of cheating, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I am now immune. Cheating linesmen is often the catalyst for the other Sunday football certainty. The fight. I am not sure I have ever been involved in a Sunday morning football game where at the very least there will be two players who square off against each other. Players are always braver when there is a referee about. I have seen some bad fights but I have heard some shocking stories that have ended in hospital or prison. Sometimes both.
I just touched on the referees. These are a breed of their own. Powerless in their real lives they wallow in the power that whistle gives them. Think the teacher in Kes. Remember at school when you pick your teams and there was always that one kid left? This is their revenge. I actually have a friend who is a referee. I know, I know, don’t hate me. They are an odd breed, and he is no exception. Although to be fair he was a decent player, mind you he was a goalkeeper, so it doesn’t really count. It is a thankless job and more and more they are under threat of violence as lines are crossed in our modern society. It is worth remembering that without them there would be no game. Although to be fair they do try to ruin most of them.
Onto the pitch itself. Grass is a luxury. The pitches are all a variety of sizes, none of them regulatory. Most are broken ankles waiting to happen. Often they have slopes and inclines. Meaning that games can be played on just one side of the pitch or one end. Sometimes a 5-0 lead can not be enough following a half time change of ends. The slope is often the best player. I have played on pitches where it goes up hill to both ends. I have also played on pitches where goalkeeper kicks can be slingshot back to the taker by an overhanging telephone wire or tree branch. The worse ones are next to rivers or surrounded by houses and you spend most the game retrieving balls.
The game itself is the least noteworthy. Except to say it is not really football as you might know it. It is full of noise and bluster. You know they say about a swan being elegant above the water but working hard under it. Sunday football has no above the water. Everyone is an expert, everyone has an opinion. Actual knowledge is as rarely sighted as big foot, but it is ok as no one is listening anyway. In their heads they are all Messi and Ronaldo. Artists with the field as their canvas, In reality, they are more painting by numbers trying unsuccessfully to stay within the lines. At the end of the game the next game is avoiding being lumbered with taking the kit home to wash. In the bar after, you would have thought it was El Galacticos who were playing by the way the events of the game are described. Every stumble a feint every miskick a disguised pass.
Despite all these things I have made lifelong friends through Sunday football. Had some of the funniest times and have stories to last a lifetime. I pray that Covid does not ruin true grass roots football for it will be a worse place without it.
Don’t forget to look out for part 2 where I address the many different characters of Sunday football.