Monday, 18 September 2017

Danny, the new darling of discipline!

Games 18-19, 2017-18

In Saturday's U15 game, I swear I didn't make a single mistake, although the conditions were perfect - bright sunlight on an artificial field in a league of above average quality. Even the coaches on the team that lost 8-0 said, "Well reffed," although when games are this one-sided the intensity takes a dive. You're relieved at the hassle-free game, but you also think, "Well, I'm not going to remember this one in a week's time."

The fat, the thin and the knackered - back in
the reserves (Pic: Westfälische Nachrichten)
On Sunday it's back to the familiar proving grounds of the city's reserves leagues. The men who only play for fun, but never seem to be having any. The average, the bad and the hopeless. The unsightly, the unfit and the sporadically unhinged. Speaking of whom, there on the bench as substitute and assistant coach of the home team is my old friend Danny, whose antics on the touchline at a youth team game early last year earned him an ordering off from me, and a fine of €150 from a disciplinary hearing. Along with a stern verdict from the jury that they didn't want to see his sorry, scrawny ass ever again.

"New club, Danny?" I ask as he hands me the player passes. "What happened - did your old team finally kick you out?"

"Ha ha, no," he replies. "I'm still coach of the U19s there." As we're so chummy these days, I don't ask him if he's had any trouble with referees lately.

Danny's team captain remembers me too from previous games, and it seems to be a fond memory, for once. "You're from England, right? Or is it Holland?" In fact we're all smiles at the kick-off after I give my 'imaginary linesmen' speech and one player even shakes hands with my non-existent
assistants. It's 10 minutes before I even have to call a foul, but I know in this league the peace won't hold.

At 1-2 down, my pre-match friend the home captain trips an opponent in the box and I point to the penalty spot. No one protests, it's such a clear call, except the player himself. How could it have been a penalty when he had his hands held up high? "Yeah, but you didn't commit your foul with the hands, did you," I point out. He argues all the way to a yellow card. The goalkeeper punches the penalty away to his left. The captain encroaches, but the saved ball is nowhere close to him. I've been reffing in these leagues long enough now to know when to ignore an infringement like that.

"But I played the ball!" 
A few minutes later, right outside his own penalty area, he makes a challenge, plays the ball, but also leaves a man lying on the grass in the wake of his 'robust' tackle. When I blow for the free-kick, he just can't believe it. "I played the ball!" I hear this claim week after week - the rule change from several years ago forbidding tackles like this has still not trickled down into the consciousness of at least half the players at amateur level. Especially defenders.

The captain now walks towards me, grabs me by the shoulder and begins to argue the toss. I take a step back and order him to keep his hands off me. At this point I'd have been quite justified in sending him off - for the foul, for the physical contact, and for the dissent. Take your pick. But from the touchline I hear a voice. It's telling his captain to calm down, to back off, to accept the call. The voice belongs to Danny, the new darling of discipline! His captain walks away, and at half-time, with the score now at 2-2, I see Danny taking him to one side for a quiet talk.

He may be giving him a gentle lecture on the importance of fair play and sporting behaviour. Or he may, just possibly, be saying something along the lines of, "I know this ref, he's a fucking arsehole, he'll write up a blow-by-blow two-page disciplinary report and take you all the way to the hearing. Then the bastard will cycle half way across town to show up and repeat it all with added details, and you'll get a €150 fine and the threat of a long term suspension. So just leave it, Captain, he ain't worth it."

Whatever he says, it works. In the second half, the captain utters not a word and commits not a single foul until, in the act of tripping an opponent, he somehow knackers his ribs and has to be helped off. Danny, though, subs himself in with ten minutes to go. How does the reformed assistant coach act when out on the field? I'm hardly surprised when he starts moaning about every call. At one point, while one of his players is receiving treatment for an ankle tap, he stares at me like a psychopath for a full half minute. I try to ignore him.

"What do you want me to do, Danny?" I say eventually. "I'm not a doctor."

"He was fouled!" Danny pouts. Yes he was, I agree, which is why I blew for a free-kick.

Stop your mithering, Danny.
There should be at least five minutes of injury time, but the temperature's too high, too many niggly little battles going on by now. One unhappy couple gets away with a stern lecture instead of the yellow cards they deserve for a mutual shoving match. After another midfield square-up just two minutes into stoppage time, I blow for full-time. The away team's coach moans like hell. I tell him that the players didn't deserve injury time the way they were behaving. Plus, they got a point each, so everyone should go home happy. Which he clearly isn't, but just like I'm not a doctor, I'm not a fucking therapist either.

Danny continues to argue about something or other all the way to the changing room, until I say, "You'll never learn, will you?" And then he cuts short his moanologue, breaks into a smile, tells me that I had a good game, shakes my hand, and wishes me a nice Sunday. It's that same slightly unnerving dual personality I saw when he shook my hand and wished me all the best right after he got his fine and severe ear-bashing from the four-man panel at the disciplinary hearing.

All the way home I have The Fall's C'n'c s-Mithering in my head where Mark E Smith sings a chirpy, "They say, See you, mate!" Then he replies in his own tired, lowered voice, "Yeah, see you, mate."

Game 18: 8-0 (1 x yellow)
Game 19: 3-3 (3 x yellow)

Ian Plenderleith's next book, 'The Quiet Fan', will be published by Unbound in 2018. Click here to pre-order an e-book or paperback copy.

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