Monday, 24 July 2017

Bad behaviour in a pre-season friendly - here we go again

Game 1, 2017-18

In the country where I live the football press is pregnant with pre-season flam. It can't wait to give birth to the new season, but for now is hampered by interviews in which every coach, player and manager is obliged to say that this year they have a really strong squad, and that all the lads worked very hard during training camp. The clubs are all in such good shape that clearly no one will be getting relegated next spring.

Cycling towards my first game of the season, I wish that referees could be afforded a platform for such inane optimism. "This year," I would tell the reporter from The Referee's Recorder, "I think that all players will be so focused on improving their game that they will allow the referees free rein to call the game as they see fit. We will see unprecedented levels of sportsmanship, and I doubt that I will have to whistle a single foul all season, let alone show a yellow card."

In fact what dulls my mood on a warm, breezy day is the prospect of all the inevitable cards and complaints over the coming months. This opener is a friendly game, but we've all learnt by now that classifying a football match as 'friendly' is like calling the civil war in Yemen a temperate discussion ground for some minor differences in interpreting the word of the Koran. Players don't tend to end the afternoon by swapping phone numbers and arranging to go out for a beer next week sometime.

Indeed, with 20 minutes to go I have to take both captains to one side and offer them a choice. Either I
call off the game and write up a disciplinary report, or they can tell their players to stop acting like idiots and play out the rest of the match without a single further incident. It's a bit of a gamble, because I have no intention of blowing up early and spending hours writing up this playground spat (I have other plans), but then neither side wants to have to explain to a disciplinary panel how they went off the mental rails two weeks before the season even started.

It works. Both captains roar at their players to calm down, for Christ's sake. One day later, and I can't even remember why they got so upset. Someone pushed someone else at a corner-kick, and then a few more people pushed a few more people and everyone started shouting for good measure. You know, the kind of really important stuff that leads to an ululating swarm of restless stupidity just inside the 18-yard box.

In the first half the away team's number 9 had complained at length about me blowing for a foul when he went into a tackle with his foot raised. "Ah, Mr Referee, what happened to the idea of Scottish hardness?" he says after the game. "Your refereeing was too fussy today."

The Stone of Scone - a crudely hewn
representation of Scottish football.
I mutter something about it not having been me who committed any of the endless fouls. Later, a far better answer occurs to me: "I may have been too fussy, but at least I wasn't so shit that I got subbed out at half-time." Oh, and what the hell is "Scottish hardness"? The sound of a Glasgow Kiss cracking against the Stone of Scone, or the physically oriented approach to football that means Scotland haven't qualified for a major tournament now for almost 20 years?

The valves have been re-opened for the legitimised ventilation of excess testosterone on a field measuring approximately 70 x 105 yards. We've got a good bunch of lads and they've been training hard. All ready for another ten months of kicking opponents. And crying out loud at the injustice of hard luck caused by an obviously erroneous whistle. Here we go again.

Final score: 1-4 (1 x yellow - an extreme case of pre-season lenience)

Did you enjoy this piece? Then please support the writer by pledging to buy a copy of his forthcoming crowd-funded book, The Quiet Fan, here, at Unbound. It's about the importance of football. Thank you very much.

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