Wednesday, 3 August 2016

"Oh shut up Danny, you twat"

Game 1, 2016-17

I recognise the away team's striker. Let's call him Danny. We last saw each other three months back at a disciplinary panel hearing. A few weeks before that, I'd sent him off while he was coaching a youth team because he wouldn't shut his mouth. 

The tales start here...
You're supposed to give a coach two verbal warnings for "irresponsible behaviour" (that is, "being a twat"), and then the third time you order him off. I'd given Danny four clear warnings because I genuinely don't like sending anyone off, player or coach, but he didn't take any notice - he still kept yelling at me for every perceived injustice against his team. The disciplinary panel landed him with a three-figure fine. It wasn't his first offence, and they said that if they saw him again he'd receive a lengthy ban.

And yet now, Danny and I greet each other like old friends. We shake hands. "How's it going, how was your summer?" Back in April, outside the disciplinary panel hearing as we'd waited for the verdict - and just a few minutes after he'd basically accused me of being a liar - we chatted about football like we were old mates down at the pub. Now, just before a pre-season friendly, we're all smiles and small-talk.  

Danny plays for a reserve outfit in one of the city's lowest divisions. Once the game starts, he and his striking partner, both in their mid-20s, work well together - at gobbing off at me, the referee. As football players, they are less talented. The pair's main complaint is that they are being fouled every
time they don't win the ball (that is, almost every time). From my point of view, they're simply being outmuscled by superior defenders. Around ten minutes before half-time I show Danny's partner a yellow card for dissent, hoping that will shut them both up. But it doesn't.

Danny's team-mate continues mouthing off at me, diligently moaning at every last decision. In a league game I'd have shown him a second yellow and bid a tearful adieu. But it's just a pre-season friendly, and they only have eleven players, so I'm lenient. Rather than sending him off, I ask a rhetorical question: "Hey, how about you just play football and shut your trap?"

The two are comically indignant at this. How dare I speak to them in this fashion? Well, lads, respect is a two-way street. I laugh and tell them that I can say whatever the hell I want (which is not strictly true, but a friendly suggestion to 'shut your trap' falls well within the realm of acceptability in a fag-end of a game like this). Danny then has a brilliant idea and calms his partner down. "Don't worry," he tells his fellow forward, "we'll report him." He's imagining an hour of revenge in front of the disciplinary panel, bearing witness. Maybe it's this future call to justice that causes his striking partner to actually shut his trap for the rest of the game, or maybe he's still in shock that the nasty referee was so rude. 

At half-time I talk about Danny with an official from the home team, who's also a referee. "I've come across him when reffing youth games," he says. "If his team's ahead, he tries to sub in every 30 seconds to waste time and then gets mad if you wave him away." That sounds like Danny the coach I came to know, love and dismiss on a miserable, wet and dark winter's afternoon.

Danny the player continues to moan in the second half, but I've moved ahead. "What did you see this time, Danny?" I ask him when he whines about me giving a goal kick. "A deliberate handball? Did he trip you? Did he grab your balls?" He says it was a corner, though he barely sounds like he believes it himself. Every time he whinges I sing a little song to myself, "Shut up Danny, you twat/Oh, shut up Danny, you twat." At the final whistle, he doesn't come over to shake hands. That the result is only a 3-3 draw is clearly the fault of the terrible referee.

It's July. There are several weeks to go until the start of the new season. It's going to be another long and frustrating year for Danny, whether he's coaching from the touchline or struggling out on the field. Provided that his hobby isn't curtailed by another date with the disciplinary panel. 

You can support this blog by buying Ian Plenderleith's latest book, The Quiet Fanhere.

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