Picture the scene: its 10:20 on a breezy Sunday morning in your local park. Kick-off is scheduled for 10:30. The park-keeper has forgotten to put the goal nets in the changing rooms for your pitch. You have eight players present – just enough for the referee to start the game. The goalkeeper has not yet shown up and won’t answer his phone. Six of your eight players are nursing hangovers. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the scene described is of course that of a Sunday League football fixture.
So many of us have been there and vowed that next week will be different, and if it isn’t, heads will roll. Yet we find ourselves strangely drawn to it week on week, month on month, season on season.
There is something about the amateur game which provides much needed respite from the seemingly omnipresent glitz and glamour surrounding professional football in the 21st Century. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an absolute sucker for Saturday Night Football, and the Champions League anthem will give me goosebumps every time I hear it until the day I die. When Sunday mornings come around though, it is the farcical nature of it all that keeps us coming back for more.
Think about it; when was the last time a Premier League match saw a linesman run across the pitch to celebrate a goal, then return to his position off the pitch while holding a flare? Have Europe’s elite teams ever tried to bring on a last minute substitute who was wearing the wrong shirt, a pair of jeans and Converse? Ever seen Louis van Gaal trying to sign a former England international in a pub after a match? I use these examples because I have witnessed them all with my Sunday team (up the USOP). And this was not across the course of a season, that all happened during one game.
I’ve visited some amazing stadiums in my life and had the pleasure of watching some huge games of football, but rarely have I enjoyed a game quite so much as our 4-1 home defeat to bitter rivals Sandy this Sunday.
The referee, of course, was far from impressed. He was heard muttering to himself multiple times how “unbelievably immature” we were, and made sure to remind us that while the yellow smoke billowed onto the pitch from the celebratory flare after our equalising goal (an absolutely stunning 35 yard volley, by the way), the organiser of our league was watching from the side. He handed out bookings like they were going out of fashion, and warned our players that we should have had more at the end of the game for our “unprofessional behaviour”.
This is a man upon whom the magic of amateur football is clearly lost. He has forgotten, somehow, that we are not professionals. He has been sucked in to the corporate, cold, often soulless world of the upper echelons of the footballing pyramid. He is the kind of person who could be responsible for a loss of the spontaneity and ridiculousness that makes Sundays what they are for 29,000 teams across the country.
Of course, we as a team must accept responsibility for certain incidents and ensure that our games are not at risk of being abandoned as a result of our actions, and that we are not putting anybody in danger of harm. However, part of my point is that this kind of thing won’t happen every week, so when it does, you just have to sit back and enjoy it rather than taking yourself too seriously.
Luckily, the league official who witnessed the entire game was able to see the funny side. Our player-manager gave him a call soon after the game to clear the air and apologise, and was told not to worry because he’s “seen it all over the years” and accepted that it was “just hijinks”. We’ve had our share of fines and run-ins with the league since we formed in August of this year, but his response to our actions this weekend atoned for all of that, and went some way to restoring my faith in the powers that be.
We are one of many teams enjoying the freedom to be stupid on Sunday mornings, and it would be a tragedy if we all started to take ourselves as seriously as professional football has to. Just as there is a place for the flashy, futuristic studios, the endless analysis and the stone-faced post match interviews at the top level, there is also a place for the farcical at the bottom.
So next time you’re sitting at home, feeling uninspired by Wayne Rooney declaring in a characteristically monotonous way that “at the end of the day we’re delighted with the three points”, just take heart from the fact that somewhere in the country there is a centre back throwing up last night’s doner kebab on an opposition striker’s boots, and that football is very much alive and kicking.
NB: In case you’re wondering, the former England striker we tried to sign in a pub was Andy Johnson, currently of Crystal Palace. He said he would sign on if we bought him a beer, which we were more than happy to do, but unfortunately he was joking. He came across as a top bloke though, and we hope that we can strike a deal in the January window. Here’s a picture of our manager attempting to get him to sign the forms…
By Sam Fraser