No predictions this week. This is mainly becuase it is International Friendly Weekend, and predicting the results of friendly matches might as well involve a random number generator.
It is also partly becuase I am two weeks behind totting up the last lot - for anyone who doesnt partake in my ordinary real life blog this is largely becuase I agreed to sign up to the National Novel Writing Month escapade, which involves writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.
This is taking up quite a bit of time as you may imagine, hence the paucity of biting football analysis (ahem) over here as well.
A few years back, through the Manchester FA, I went on the Referees Training Course and qualified to be an authorised football ref. At that time I had a cunning plan to write a book about my exploits on the playing fields of Lancashire, and, for the first time in the public domain, here's the first couple of chapters of my never-finished masterpiece entitled "The B*stard In The Black". It's really not that great, but in the spirit of all things novel-related, I thought I would share it with you.
Saturday 24 March 2001
And so it begins. Certificate framed, exams passed, registration card safely tucked away in the “important documents” section of the filing cabinet. The first step on a football road that will see me leading the teams out in the Maracana stadium in the World Cup Final. Or perhaps striding out followed by Real Madrid and Ajax in the European Super League decider in the Nou Camp. Well…..you have to start somewhere, surely?…
It is 3pm on a wet Saturday afternoon in March. Up and down the country thousands of players take their respective fields battling promotion, relegation and mid-table mediocrity. My referreing career begins not at the San Siro, not at Anfield, not even at Gresty Road, Crewe. I am standing in the rain on Bolton Street, Bury trying to find a free parking meter in the Saturday afternoon shopping mayhem. Having queued in a bus lane for twenty five minutes I eventually pull into a Pay and Display, deposit my sixty pence and make my way to Bury Sports.
Bury Sports is the Grace Brothers of sports equipment. Rapidly overtaken by brightly lit and massive out of town sports emporia, classifying sports equipment as Manchester United toasters and luminescent leiderhosen, it harks back to those heady days of my childhood when sports shops sold squash rackets and ping-pong balls. In fact, Bury Sports still sells all these things, stored meticulously in wooden drawers behind the long wooden counter. This, I am reliably informed, is the main stockist for referee kit and acoutrements in the North West, and, true to form, everything I request is instantly located and laid out on the counter for me. Shirt, shorts and socks. White turn overs or black and white stripes? My first referring decision. I plump for plain white, and wait for the angry reaction of supporters of the black and white stripes claiming bias. When none was forthcoming, I felt great comfort. Perhaps people will accept my decisions without argument? Perhaps I have an inherent decisive yet fair nature? Perhaps it is only socks and not twenty two beery big blokes?
I part with my seventy quid and walk up kitted up and ready for action. I am particularly pleased with my silver whistle, the famous Acme Thunderer, which I blow repeatedly in my living room all evening, much to the disgruntlement of my wife and nervously dispositioned cats…
Sunday 25 March 2001
Westbury Sports 4 – 3 Victoria
Close Park 6, Radcliffe
At 9.30am, the realisation dawns. This is it. I felt like a 17 year old who has scored top marks in the Driving Theory Test before waking up on the morning of their practical exam having never actually sat behind the wheel of a car before. I successfully negotiate the changing facilities and find the referees room, and notice with glee what looks like an excellent lock on the door. I change, double and triple check my pockets for the necessaries and make my way to the field. Nets checked (I congratulate myself on this as I am sure that was never mentioned during the training), and I then await the arrival of the away team. They eventually appear, swaggering up the touchline, fags in hand and take their place in their obviously cleverly worked out formation. The system they adopt seems to relate to the distance they have to walk, so there are lots of takers for strikers and left sided midfielders, and the last one out of the dressing room seems to be lumbered with playing right back, which necessitates a jog as I am now fed up with waiting.
Whistle goes, and a relatively eventful first half ends 4-1 to Westbury. I have also awarded my first penalty kick. Westbury’s number 7 skips past the full back on the edge of the penalty area down the right wing, and is blatantly tripped from behind as he prepares to cross. I immediately blow the whistle and award a penalty, to which I receive some grief from the defender who also rather comically places the ball outside the penalty area claiming it is a free kick. It takes the intervention of the defenders team mate shouting “Just give them the ball – it’s a f******g penalty, you daft b******d” for the shamed culprit to hand over the ball and watch in awe as his goalkeeping colleague pulls off a fine save low to his left.
The second half is more fraught, and I am guilty of not stopping the game and administering the odd talking to on several occasions for full-blooded challenges and the odd bout of verbal shenanigans. Victoria to their credit pull the score back to 4-3, and in the 88th minute their striker races through on goal and tumbles over sliding tackle from the defending player. The ball carries on in the same direction and so I conclude that no contact has been made with the ball, and award a second penalty kick. I am then the recipient of another verbal assault, rendered unnecessary by the keeper pulling off another fantastic save and me blowing the whistle as soon as the ball went out to stop the game.
Back in the changing room I benefit from the advice of two colleagues, both advocating the use of copious cautions and sendings off and vow to be stricter next week. So there. I bag my first match fee, stick the kit in the wash and vow never, never, never to put myself through that again….