Doomed? Pub football.
In my local paper there was an article recently about the death of pub football. For someone who has played it and recently retired this is in no way surprising. I’ll list why.
1. Cost: costs to clubs and players alike have spiralled. The former seems to get worse with pitch fees being so expensive, as such when a player pleads poverty or simply doesn’t pay up the debt mounts. I know of several clubs who have folded this way over the past season.
2. Competition: the likes of Pitch Invasion and variants of the 5-a-side leagues have really tapped into a market. Playing on a Monday night for an hour or so versus losing a morning or afternoon at the weekend doesn’t compare.
3. Quality: Following on from the above, you can pay equivalent amounts and have a 90 minute game touching the ball infrequently on a moon-like surface with addition animal faeces or glass. Alternatively paying the same amount you can play several games, get far more touches and on a surface that at least allows you to pass.
4. Involvement: Something of an abstract point but the 5-a-side games require less specialism and are therefore open to more players. I imagine a fair amount of 5-a-sidep players have never played 11-a-side because they either never really wanted to commit through lack of ability or simply feeling that it’s a bit too intimidating.
Arching over this is a sense that the pub and pro game are dimensions apart. Not just in terms of rule application, facilities or skill, but in a common purpose. There used to be a romantic ideal that pub football had a tenuous connection to the game, that an amazing player could go on and make it.
This was realised in the careers on Ian Wright and Chris Waddle, but now future professionals are midfwifed through a club academy from a very young age. Steve Morisson and Kevin Philips are often falsely lauded as proof of the pub football romance but it’s not really true, both were academy players and simply didn’t make the grade at that time. By trying to use both to nourish that link simply backfires and undermines the attempt further.
Football is suffering a crisis. Not in terms of money (which ultimately makes it a redundant and insignificant one) but in terms of connecting with the common game. We are being delivered of a generation who will never know what the game played by the majority is really like.
On Car Park Footballers and the science of Park football, with special guest Brian Cox!
'Hi, I'm Brian Cox, I'm in India for some reason to explain the evolution of park football.'
“I’ve been noticing gravity since I was very young” .... Cameron Diaz
Eastern Kenya, 1952. Professors Ian Cox, Ruel Fox and Danny Fox kneel in a trench in an archaeological dig. Hands fidgeting through the dust. A set of hands stops, paralysed by what it has just brushed against. Prof Ruel Fox pinches a small piece of bone; trembling he holds it up where it is framed against the roar of mid-afternoon sun. Others gasp.
Seminal moment indeed, the find rocked the known football world. The small shard of bone proved inconclusively that the car-park-footballer had evolved directly from the its-my-ball footballer. For years this had been assumed, but now the physical find confirmed what had always been thought.
Its-my-ball had had been a cornerstone of playgrounds throughout evolution. The simple adaptation of owning a ball gave it a strong advantage over its rivals and meant that it always got picked no matter how crap it was. Car-park footballer was well known, its adaptation was also brilliantly simple, the ability to do tricks. Increased brain size had allowed it to practice keepy-uppies far more than others. Like any evolutionary specialisation it had its downside, it was crap at passing and had little understanding of the game other than showing off. But being able to balance the ball on its temple and roll it a bit brought many rewards in the early playground landscape.
Early evenings spawn many an impromptu game and it was to one of these, advertised on gumtree, which I wandered along to recently. All I wanted was a simple kick around, informal and the chance to play the odd pass and just enjoy it all.
There are generally many basic rules in evening park football. I’ll get to the most fundamental in a moment. The chaps I joined were pretty basic. Trapping the ball was done by trying to stamp on it or lunging forward in a weird one-legged goose-step. “Basic, but fun” I thought. Unfortunately a bunch of car-park footballers decided they would join in too. But we’ll deal with them in a minute.
Firstly, as promised, here’s Brian Cox to explain that fundamental law.
“Hi, I’m Brian Cox and I’m stood here next to the Ganges in India. There’s no real reason for me to travel here, ironically the concepts I’m trying to simplify could be explained on the set of Saturday Morning Kitchen. But its space right? And it looks impressive. I’m now sat on a rock looking upwards, probably in Hawaii, basically the universe operates according to certain number of ratios.
I’m now on a beach in Indonesia walking in the surf looking very deep and brooding. Ratios are important; some of the work I’ve been involved with at CERN has developed these. One of them is known as the evening-park-football ratio. I’m better than Hawking aren’t I, though you respect him you are uncomfortable with him, he has that thousand yard chair stare. I have 90s Britpop hair and a mellow voice.
This is an expensive café in downtown LA, look at these who different sized muffins. They are both attracted to each other, though the attraction is minimal. All objects have this relationship. The law of evening-park-football states that you must stay in ratio with the players around you. If, for example, you turn up and the guys are pretty basic, then you play at a comfortable level. Being competitive but not going over the top. Failure to do so leads to Newton’s third Law of Twatness”
Car-park footballers are probably best exemplified by what they wear. Often this is straight out of whatever they’ve seen Rooney wear in training. Long (knee length) shorts ,tick, an ‘official’ training top, tick. Trainers or boots that do up at the sides and look like sex-toy slippers, tick. Finally, short socks that go just above the ankle.
They also have ineptitude at assessing the fundamental ratio. As such this lot enjoyed trying to beat the team singlehandedly, ensuring that whoops of glee were met by any mistake or trick. This was akin to playing tag with beached whales, with my lot puffing and watching and waiting to explode. The pinnacle was a crashing volley from 6 yards out against a guy playing in goal who would have looked in place on the set of Bugsy Malone.
Yours truly nutmegged one of them, which infuriated him, and kicked another. They didn’t like me much, mainly because they knew I’d sussed them. You see car-park footballers are a known breed to anyone who has played. They can do all the tricks, the stepovers and whatever they’ve seen on tv that week but lack the ability to play, to make a square pass, to exploit space or to read the game on any level. In training they are all Messi but in a real match, just a mess.
The real problem here is just how skills are a true reading of a player. Grab a championship player and he’ll impress if you gave him a ball. He could probably do all the tricks. Now get Messi. He’d undoubtedly be better, but perhaps not by as much as you’d think. Watch Skill School, or whatever it is on Soccer AM. Of course in a real match the gulf between Messi and said championship player is almost immeasurable. This is because tricks and such are only so good, you need intelligence and the ability to read space and runs to bring them to any effective conclusion.
More evening football will see more of these socially footballing inepts. Like wasps at a barbecue you can’t do much about them, but just be relieved that others know exactly what you are thinking. You can play mind games with them, mention a Beckham calendar/aftershave they haven’t got, or point out that the £50 training top is soooo last season.
“Don’t retire from something, have something to retire to”
Harry Emerson Fosdick
The biggest storm starts with a mild breeze and that breeze was a text from my manager along the lines of I’ve managed to scratch 11 players, are you available?. Being a token sub long after other players have been chased down is inglorious to say the least, it also made me realise that perhaps Sunday mornings would be best used up elsewhere.
It’s annoying that I haven’t got the legs anymore, more annoying is that what I do have wasn’t utilised. I was one of the few players who had any idea of positioning, knowing where runs would be made and who dared to pass the ball sideways and didn’t consider it a crime to simply hold onto the ball rather than lash it forward. Instead most games looked like the movements the line of pawns make on a chessboard, forward or (if you are lucky) diagonally forward.
I’ve played football for a long time and I can predict that we’ll never win the World Cup. We’ll never win it because the culture of football is all about fast running and over-the-top-of-the-trenches mentality. We might have bought into the notion that eating correctly can help (though this generally means turning up to the match with a red bull, at least the thought is there though). The basic players, the fans and people who point to screens in pubs still think that the game is about multicoloured expensive boots (ironic given that they are mainly used to run in and usually only ever kicked with one boot).
I’m chewing over managing or coaching, though I’m wary that way lies extreme frustration and dealing with people who will argue with you but don’t know what a ‘channel’ is.
Till then I’ll be popping up with the odd article so hopefully there’ll be something to read.
“If I owe you a pound, I have a problem; but if I owe you a million, the problem is yours” - John Maynard Keynes
Imagine a Family Fortunes scenario in which the word given is “Xmas”. Needless to say the words offered up would include turkey, tree and presents. What would not creep from anyone’s mouth would be the one word people associate but never speak. A sort of Voldermort to Santa. The word would be debt.
So it’s with this festive no-go area that we look to enjoy the fun of debt. A sane mane might ask “what? Why debt?”. Well – it all started from a text I received last week from the manager.
The text was a general one, it made the normal plea to be kept informed as to whether you were available but also included the line “if you owe money please pay up, I am sick of chasing for money”. Of course it wasn’t exactly this erudite – I left out a few expletives and some ‘textspeak’.
This reminded me of the ridiculous situation that many teams end up in. For once I am not going to point back in time to when the situation was vastly different. In truth I played for teams that would simply not play you if you owed subs, but the problem was still there.
If you have been reading this blog you are probably aware of the situation I find myself in. Desperate to play, but in reality unlikely to do so. Teams prefer nifty 20-something forwards, I’m avoiding sounding like someone off The Apprentice but I can offer more than that. Honest, Lordsugaa!
I’ve always paid my subs on time and thought this might be something to my advantage, but sadly not. One of the biggest culprits is Mr Greedy, the greediest forward ever. Apparently Brian Cowen calls him up occasionally to mock how much he owes.
Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. This forms the landscape to this situation aptly. Erm, don’t play him, stand up to him and say not to bother? Of course managers don’t and the better players have always got away with owing money to the club whereas fringe players find this the reason that they are benched or left out. There’s also the argument that if you tell a player he is out he’ll just walk – whereas if he’s playing and enjoying it he might just find the cash.
From the viewpoint of a player managing a club is horrific. Way too many egos and people bailing on you on Sunday morning. An interesting stat would be the players available on a nice September morning when the new season has started versus the grey stripping cold of a January morn. Perhaps it’s part of the managerial experience?
“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”
- Oprah Winfrey
Forgive me as I might wander into pub philosophy in this offering. This topic all sprung from a game I saw on Saturday afternoon.
The match was Burnley v Derby and early on Luke Moore hit a scorcher into the top corner. Brilliant goal, it dipped and left the keeper waving a white flag. I have often thought a brilliant photo collection would be the photographing of keepers at the moment they realise the shot is headed beyond a diving save, or even one for the sake of looking like you tried. Keepers generally know when they are beat. Often keepers do a weird shuffle with their feet, as if the brain is telling them they should do something.
Except I take that back. Replays show that Moore hit it close to the Burnley defender and it deflected in. The trajectory was not generated by a brilliant technique but by a mix of physics and laws of motion. Sometimes deflections occur several yards from where the ball is hit but this happened a yard or so, making it difficult to realise.
And this is what got me thinking. Moore span away from the goal with the look of someone who was taking full credit, did he know? I’d be surprised if he didn’t. I am not saying he shouldn’t claim credit for it, but reading past entries you’ll witness my discomfort with claiming a goal which had bounced off me.
The point I am getting at is to what extent do people claim goals which were down mainly to luck? The specific example I can conjure up is the diagonal shot on the run which goes through the legs of the defender as it flies back across goal. Not a planned nutmeg but one which if hit a fifth of a second later would not have the open gait of the trailing defender to pass through.
True, the scorer has done his job, but the goal has relied on more than simply the ability of the forward. The trajectory of the shot relied on chance (the defender) not having a different position. What I am after is a purity wherein a goal is 100% resultant of the scorer, no other variables make a difference.
We can look at penalties to get a clearer idea of this. Some penalties are unstoppable, even if the keeper knew where they were going he’d have no chance. Then there are penalties that are still scored but lucky. The ones I am thinking of are ones where the goalie has gone the wrong way and a ball rolls in the middle third of the goal. The point being the goalie’s choice facilitated the goal. Had he dived the right way he’d have made a comfortable save.
In this way luck can really change not only the outcome of a game, but the fortune of a footballer. I have always believed that scoring a couple of goals in a match somehow makes you more likely to score others. Not only because you might be doing something right (which earned the earlier goals) but mis-hits and other variables seem to go your way. Encountering the same situation without a goal in the game will see the opposing result, the unlucky bounce or fluke save denying you.
I’ve suffered these fluke goals and while I celebrated them was never wholly happy with them. Perhaps the flukiest was scored shortly after the turn of the millennium. I wanted to be the first to score for my club in the 21st century. The sort of stat to go on a wooden panel in a yet unbuilt club boardroom.
A counter from defending a corner saw me stood idly on the half way line. A clearance and successive through ball (and the clever idea of leaving me with the slowest of defenders) meant I was soon on my way. The ball a little ahead of me, bouncing, but nothing to worry about. In front the keeper stood on the edge of the box, then moved forward and then started jogging back. I was thinking over my preferred finish when it happened.
The pitch was a council one so wasn’t the flattest but out of nowhere a divot appeared and I stumbled in full sprint. My right leg shot out as I impersonated bambi on ice and met the bouncing ball. The ball flew up in the air, over the keeper and down the back of the net. Actors are told that fluffed lines are only made known by the actor, as the audience has no idea what the script it. Likewise my stumble wasn’t that obvious and my team celebrated a great finish, albeit one which was perhaps a bit showy given the risk.
Luck plays a big role in football in all parts of the game, whilst we should not defer to it completely it would be good to consider that it exists. The next time Andy Gray describes a finish as World Class have a look and see if Madame Chance had a hand.
Super Frank...Super deflections!
The master of the rant, Stan Collymore. Is he right that Sunday League football is really to blame for the lack of technical, English players?
'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. What a great song. It really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday, doesn't it? You wake up in the morning, you've got to read all the Sunday papers, the kids are running round, you've got to mow the lawn, wash the car, and you think "Sunday, bloody Sunday!".
Due to commitments I wasn’t available last weekend and bearing in mind I only get 10 mins when we are thrashing a team I find myself in that horrible situation. I have become the point-fodder-player.
Let me explain; this player is the type you’ll give a run out to when you are playing Argentina or a team you know will trounce you. Other boys don’t fancy it much, too cold and too much like a cricket score on the horizon. Run out the point-fodder-players and you can at least say “we did give you a chance”….
Normally the quotation refers to my point and it’s to that I’ll turn. The role of Sunday football, or pub football, has changed massively. Recently I’ve heard it mentioned in really anachronistic terms by Stan Collymore and in reference to the World Cup Bid.
Back in the days of Kes, with only black boots and easy to employ offside laws, Sunday football might have been a recruiting pool for players. The urban myth of “my mate played on a Sunday with X and he was spotted by a scout walking his dog” was at least believable. In short players who were outstanding in a Sunday team might end up making it.
Now Premiership scouts haunt maternity wards, prenatal scans are used for tip offs and you can qualify for a testimonial at a club before your voice breaks. This has had many effects, one of them is to utterly make redundant the small relevance Sunday football once had to the higher echelons of the game. As such I was amused to hear a Collymore rant about how one of the reasons for the lack of technical ability etc in modern football are the hordes of lump-it players he sees playing on a Sunday.
Collymore’s an interesting guy and I like listening to his opinion, as such I was disappointed to hear this view. It’s so irrelevant as to be laughable. You might as well blame Springwatch for the dearth of English left footers in the Prem. If you are of a pro standard and of the age to play pub football then you’ll be at an academy. Occasionally the media tries to sell the pub footballer made it good line. Often players sold on this aren’t really that at all upon closer inspection. Take Steve Morison (Millwall) and Charlie Austin (Swindon). Both have been referred to as coming from the lower leagues and while this is true both are former academy players (Morison at Northampton) and Austin at Reading). Even the often cited Kevin Phillips started at Southampton.
I am of the opinion that football is desperate to retain what links it has with the guy plodding it in the park every Sunday. The boys own story is a great way of facilitating this, though it doesn’t really occur, even when it looks like it does. The only player I know who could be a candidate was Chris Waddle, he played for a number of park teams before stepping up. I don’t think that it is coincidental that this happened prior to the appearance of nursery-hungry academies.
The other context I heard pub football mentioned was how the word cup bid will apparently invigorate the Pub football lot apparently? Really? Conditions haven’t improved since I started playing. We accept pitches as they are, are happily surprised if the showers work and wonder what we’ve done if there’s any hot water in them. We’ve been doing this for years and will continue. The world cup over here will make little difference.
The Nuremberg Rally. Was our referee really here?
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow! Your cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples”
William Shakespeare, King Lear.
Got the text on Friday, I was in but looking at the names knew I’d be sub. Sub was the relevant term as it was hacking it down (hence the above quotation). So I stood on the sidelines and shouted a lot.
The team we were playing defended high and had a defence slower than ours (possible??). This allowed greedy forward to score three by half time. They were awful and we weren’t much better, the difference being that we had a slow defence and knew it.
The Shakespeare quotation has relevance elsewhere. Lear was a mad official, likewise I was told that this ref was the worst ref ever. The way the players went on about him prior to the game I expected a photo to be handed round of him at Nuremberg. So-called awful refs are rarely that bad, they simply either believe every dive and cheat or none of them. The idea of simply not cheating and the like has yet to be registered. On this theme I was told that swearing would get you a yellow card. My reply was “Well – don’t swear?” It’s possible to play football without swearing.
The ref wasn’t that bad, the opposition had a linesman who didn’t know the offside law and never put his flag up. This was embarrassing but not as much the opposition’s lack of knowledge about the offside law. Our winger was much faster than their aged full back so when they pushed up a diagonal ball to space behind the panting chap was eagerly dealt with. “Offside!!” they all screamed. Only it wasn’t. I had a debate with one of their players when we scored from a ball cut back from the by-line. “Offside” he howled. Then berating the linesman. I quietly reminded him that you cannot be offside from a ball passed backwards, and then told him to stop being a whiney bitch and read the rules of the game.
We won by about nine goals to nil. I came on and had half a chance a ball squared to me outside the box which got stuck under my feet in the mud so the shot was a dull chip and not the curler into the top corner. Greedy forward got another two and failed to square to me twice for a tap in. So no surprises there.
In the last minute of the game the opposition made another offside plea to a ball which was plainly onside by yen yards. The goalie told the ref “To make a fcuking decision” and got sent off. Suddenly all hell broke loose as the players acted as if a bus full of nuns had just torched an orphanage. Really? You tell a ref you know who is hard on swearing to “make a fcuking decision” and are astounded that he sends you off. Really?
I wondered about revealing the secretive religion of the Pope to them, but I thought I’d let them find out in their own way.
'Vot's my religion, schweinhund?!' says the Pope to the opposition defence before explaining the bears woods thing. By the way, he was also, definitely not, in any way possible present at the Nuremberg Rally along with today's referee.
Jurgen doing what he does best. But is he to blame?
“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way... you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.”
“Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four”
Apologies, I’ve not had much to write lately, mainly due to the ‘am I, aren’t I?” which has gripped the nation ahead of X-Factor, rioting students and the like. Thought I’d pen a piece about diving in Sunday League football so here we go.
Whenever a discussion like this comes up, the sane man offers the following point “it’s always happened, it didn’t appear with foreigners”. This is then quickly ignored as the discussion devolves into a playground debate. The point itself isn’t a really hard-hitting one; it invites another discussion and perhaps some awkward home truths. Best leave it eh?
I’ve seen it from my first forays in Sunday football. I see it now. There is a difference and I’m going to use an analogy to try and explain it.
Recently Halloween saw the usual painful choice of fancy-dress. The topic came up and one person mentioned how the ‘saucy school-girl’ outfit was absent from most fancy dress stores. Chewing it over I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone wearing the outfit. I know School Disco run events where you do, but as a singular choice of fancy dress it really has dropped out of the pantheon of obvious choices. It’s not hard to explain why, if you’d asked someone in the early 90s what paedophilia was they’d probably guess at a new band. Or toothpaste. Now there’s a far more urgent reaction. Films which include ‘cheeky schoolgirls’ (most 60s films and there must be a ‘Carry On’ as well) now make uncomfortable viewing.
Anyway, imagine a graph which indicated this movement from the ‘saucy schoolgirl as something which was deemed ok by the public to how it’s seen now. The vertical (going up) line denoting ‘social approval’ and horizontal (going across) denoting ‘time’. It would start from high up and as you passed the 1990s it would dip, it would soon plunge off and below the graph setting off alarms at the Daily Mail as it went.
Now diving (we were talking about that weren’t we?) is this graph in reverse. Diving in pub football back in the day would earn you a good kick from an opposition marker with the ref turning a blind eye, or joining in. It wasn’t that illegal, but neither is handing photos of yourself dressed as Santa to kids leaving a primary school. It’s just a very bad idea. Think back to the graph, as time has gone on acceptance of diving has desensitised, in footballing terms a player diving these days on a Sunday is akin to Robin Askwith falling through a window in a Convent school for girls. It’s ok, just what happens and no harm done.
Coming to a Covent School near you, 70s British sex comedy star, Robin Askwith
(Err...Isn't that Oliver Kahn? - Ed)
I wouldn’t say diving has improved, but the idiots who make large rolls on a Sunday invariably do so with the arms already out. As if Andy Gray is suddenly going to jump out of the ether with definitive proof that they were maliciously chopped down.
This is then backed up with the response best copied from class 101 of “Be a rebel in a film”. The world’s against him, he wont’ give up and will fight for the truth (Eminem will release a song about you). In stark contrast the reaction from someone who dived back in the day was that of the desperate man, the chap who’d nick a charity tin, probably to feed his starving family, but uncomfortable all the same (actually what happened to the large guide-dog ones you used to get outside shops??). His team mates would be uncomfortable around him and the opposition would have a hate/pity reaction to him.
So, acceptance of diving and the behaviour around it has changed. But the practise of it has largely stayed the same.
"I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a concrete elephant!!"
Queen Elizabeth 1st, "Queenie" Blackadder II
Our players' 5-a-side team-mates ready for action
I realise apologies might be in order – nothing from me for a short while and so a short sorry from me.
Firstly there was training this week, on Astroturf. Astroturf wrecks me generally and I felt like someone had beaten my lower back and calf muscles the next morning. Training involved a simple 5-a-side match; a new bunch of players had turned up, all very young. So the team I was on resembled One Direction! With me bringing up the average age to just above shaving age.
(For those of you reading this in the far and distant future One Direction was a pointless, wannabe boy-band, ascended from X-Factor's fires of hell–Ed)
It was a good session, plenty of fresh legs to order round whilst I tried to foster the idea that passes can go sideways and backwards.
In any case I went home feeling positive about the weekend. Cue Friday night’s team text and the fact that I wasn’t in the squad. Annoyed? Definitely, working out who was who in the list of names there was one player who was on the bench and can’t really play anywhere. Nice chap but awful, couldn’t trap sand and his first touch is his second. I may be old and not as mobile, but I can do at least that.
Still. This left the weekend free and forced me to re-think whether my boots should go on ebay. If I couldn’t make this team I was a lot worse than I thought. It doesn’t help having a nice guy managing who doesn’t want to manage at all. It also doesn’t help that the currency of Sunday League football is being able to run a lot and (in my position) be a lot younger and nippier. Looking inwards I am sure that there are guys my age playing, they are just better. Perhaps if I had worked harder I could have made it harder for him to drop me. That said playing alongside the greediest forward ever doesn’t help.
Sorrows were drowned.
On the upside I belong to a fitness club and it does free up classes on a Sunday morning. Then I got the text. It was Saturday evening and from the manager. It could only mean one thing. I’ll paraphrase but it went along the lines of me playing.
Now, I had two very obvious choices. I’d made plans to go to my class and resented the probable outcome of saving his skin and turning up only to find I was benched. He is that disorganised I expected this was the real scenario. I also resented the fact that texts have gone out over the past few weeks imploring people to not let him down and blah blah….so why was he still picking these guys? I’ve played for clubs where that behaviour will see a few choice words, a warning or a gesture towards an imaginary door.
I didn’t play. I replied saying I’d made arrangements (true). Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and perhaps this will force him to rethink how he picks players and perhaps even dropping those.
Of course – it could have been that a mini-bug devastated the team and that had I turned up I’d have scored a hat-trick. Don’t think I haven’t wound myself up with that exact scenario several times over.
Still – will try and make training this week. Don’t hold out much hope though so perhaps this blog might not last till Xmas.
Don't look too sad, he'll be back.....maybe.
Our Sunday player didn't play this weekend and so he tells us that there will not be a report this week.
Is this the last we'll see of him? Watch this space!