Monday, 5 February 2018

A friendly club - except when they're playing friendlies

Games 31-33, 2017-18

The end of the winter break is approaching and the fixture list is gradually filling with friendlies. I return to the club where last time around I sent off the home coach and three players, one of whom threw his shirt in my face and then had to be restrained from attacking me. Has he been banned for life? No, he's in the starting line-up, and is standing at the halfway line with his team-mates having a light-hearted chat with me prior to kick-off about just how nut-numbingly cold it is.

"Last time I was here I showed four red cards," I remind them. They smile at this fond memory and tell me there will be none of that kind of behaviour today. After all, it's just a friendly. The player who threw his shirt in my face looks me in the eye and says, "The guy you sent off that time won't be causing you any trouble. He's not playing today." Either he's thinking of another game, or he's hoping that I don't remember his face (I do), or that I didn't check if his name was on the team-sheet before I left the house (I did). Or, more worryingly, he has two separate personalities.

In the spirit of friendship, it was back to
 liberally dishing out these at the weekend
They're an odd fucking bunch, right enough. They joke with me before the game, and afterwards too. In between, they are almost exclusively unpleasant. There are two borderline red card fouls that I let off lightly with yellow cards and stern warnings. My friend with the faulty memory gets a yellow for a rash challenge too ("Yeah, but what about that foul back there by the other team that you didn't card yadder yadder" - I get this after every yellow, almost every game). A forward goes in the book for not once, but twice, deliberately trying to score with his hand. Again, in a competitive game that would have been a yellow-red.

And then there's the super-friendly number nine, who's constantly telling his team-mates to calm down as they moan at each other, try to provoke the opposition (who remain commendably unprovoked throughout), and whine at my decisions. He scores two goals right after the break to
level the game and we even have a jocular exchange about what they put in his half-time cup of tea. Then a few minutes later I turn down a penalty appeal for a supposed foul against one of his team-mates (the double handball guy - it may have been a foul, or he may just have been throwing himself down with a dramatic cry, apparently being a born cheat), and the number nine completely freaks out at me. I show him a yellow card. He continues to yell. I ask his captain to calm him down. A few minutes later they sub him out.

At the final whistle the home team's captain runs over to me, shakes my hand, and thanks for me doing a good job. When I look sceptical he adds, "Well, there weren't too many discussions." We both laugh. "There seems to be an attitude problem in this club," I point out. "I know," he concedes. "It's been that way for years."

I go to pick up the key to my changing room from the snack hut and ask for a cup of coffee to warm me up - it's been snowing on and off all afternoon. The player who last time threw his shirt in my face and had to be restrained from attacking me is also in the hut, angrily sounding off. "This team's terrible," he tells the bloke serving the coffee. "All they do is moan moan moan the whole game long." Indeed.

Stick to making coffee, coach.
The bloke serving the coffee agrees. And he should know - he's the coach I wrote up in my disciplinary report last time around for screaming in my face, "You're a coward! You're a coward!" Maybe he's serving a self-imposed touchline ban. Perhaps the snack hut, well away from the field of play, is the only place where he can keep a lid on the coffee pot and his temper too.

"Thanks for the coffee," I say when I bring the key back a few minutes later. "It was much better than your sportsmanship." The coach laughs long and loud at this. I suppose it's good that they've acknowledged their lousy club culture, and can even be cheerful about it too.

It's also nice to know that I'm not the problem. Rather than being filled with dread next time I'm assigned one of their games, I'll be curious to see if this self-awareness has translated into better behaviour. Watch this space, but don't hold your breath.

Game 31, Friday night: 1-2 (2 x yellow - both for dissent. This was also a friendly)
Game 32, Saturday afternoon: 1-5 (4 x yellow. All for bad fouls. This was also a friendly. U17s)
Game 33, Sunday afternoon: 4-6 (5 x yellow. See above)

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