Monday, 5 December 2016

Winter tames man, beast and footballer

Game 28, 2016-17

It's one degree centigrade, and the pitch is semi-frozen. Is it playable? I have no idea - I've never had to judge a frozen pitch before. Usually at this time of year teams play on turf or cinder, and the grass fields are locked and bolted until late spring. I run up and down it without falling over (always an achievement at my age), but that's nothing like turning on it with a ball at your feet.

Standard winter playing
 conditions, in 1980s England.
I think about the frozen English pitches I sometimes played on as a kid. During one foggy game the grass was stiff with frost, and all I could do was pray that I got substituted. We were losing by several goals to a team of big lads and I didn't care. All I wanted was to feel my frozen toes and fingers again. Finally my number came up and I ran for the changing room, faster than I'd run all afternoon. It was locked. Longing for warmth and the final whistle while on the touchline, it turned out, was even worse than longing for warmth while playing, when you could at least run around (there were no such thing as training tops in 1980s Lincolnshire).

So, according to my memory, you can play on a semi-frozen pitch, just not very well. But both teams are here and warming up vigorously. No one's falling over. Bugger it, if they're happy to play then let them. If people start slipping up and breaking limbs, I can always call it off.

As it turns out, the semi-frozen pitch is not really a problem. A few players fall on their arses, but they
tend to do that anyway. No, the main problem is the sun. It's a bright afternoon, and it's setting behind one of the goals without a building, a tree or a single cloud to cover its descent. Throughout the first half the dominant home team attacks the Sun End and I can hardly see a thing. Of course there's a goal-line clearance and the home team claims that the ball crossed the line. I wave play on and their stroppy winger moans. Then they score a minute later and the incident's forgotten.

I feel sorry for the away team's goalkeeper because the first three goals are all his fault. Goal One - a misjudged free-kick that floats over his head. Goal Two - he fumbles a corner kick over the line. Out of pity, I don't note it down as an own goal. Goal Three - he lets a long shot slide through his fingers. If only he'd been in the other goal, he could have blamed the sun in his eyes. With 28 minutes gone, he's given the game away already (3-0. Can we call it a day? Go into the warm club house and watch proper footballers?).

No one moans at him, though. I'm guessing he's not the normal number one choice. Most of the players on both teams are easy-going all afternoon, which makes a nice change - winter, it seems, tames man, woman, beast and footballer too. I'm probably the loudest person on the park, aside from the away team's right back who keeps giving the ball away and then yelling at his team mates for not telegraphing his 'passes'.

One defender even apologises for hitting the ball against me, even though it was my fault for being too close to the play. The bedazzling sun finally fucks off in the 88th. minute, having emitted way too much light and way too little heat. At the end, a player wishes me a Merry Christmas. The club secretary says "You're welcome back any time." One more week and it's the winter break. With our frozen fields and toes and fingers, we're all about ready for it.

Final score: 6-1 (two yellow cards)

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