One of the arguments football fans have to periodically have with non-football fans concerns the more unsavoury, tribal aspects of the sport. True, on the surface football is very partisan, and rivalries do occasionally cross the line and will continue to do so. However, in my experience the communal aspect of the game is far stronger.
Essentially, you can break all football lovers down into “fans” and “supporters.” Football fans are just that, fans of the game above and beyond any team they follow. They are Arsenal followers who wish they had Jan Vertonghen in their defence (Me, I wish we had Jan Vertonghen in our defence) and Manchester United followers who marvel at the tenacity and technique of Yaya Toure. Football supporters are the ones who give the rest of us a bad name.
That said, most fans do have a preference, so with that in mind I’ve attempted to break down the best bits of the game into a list on which everyone can agree. Here goes...
1) A “Yeboah” Goal
...We all call it this right? When someone twats the ball and it bounces off the underside of the bar and in? I had a video entitled “Race For The Title,” season highlights of the...95/96 season maybe? Rioch’s last year at Arsenal. Anyway, I must have rewound Tony Yeboah’s goal for Leeds against Wimbledon hundreds of times. To this day whenever I see a similar goal I recall that one, and pangs of delight are sent throughout the crowd.
2)In-Direct Free Kicks
There is no greater jeopardy in the game than a free-kick inside the box, brought on by an errant backpass usually (Come to think of it, is there any other way this can be awarded?). There’s that split second between the ref blowing his whistle and the ball being struck by some galumphing striker when the defensive wall charges like soldiers going over the trenches. Defending the in-direct free kick is not a time for Nasri-style back turning or responsibility shirking, it’s a time for getting whatever you can in the way to prevent a certain goal. No style, no finesse, just pure chaos. Brilliant.
3) Rush Goalie
Definitely the best sight in football, a keeper charging into the box at the death to provide an extra man. Nobody knows what to expect! Will force of habit cause him to catch the ball? Will he display some dazzling technique nobody knew he had and win the game? Perhaps he’ll just spontaneously combust?! There’s no way of knowing. Each time is more exciting than the last – especially if sod all happens and the keeper has to leg it all the way back to prevent a half-way line smash ‘n’ grab. Heart in the mouth stuff.
4) Outfield Players In Goal
On a similar thread, outfield players going in goal is brilliant too, the longer the better. I don’t know if he still does it, but I remember Neil Warnock used to never have a substitute keeper, so props to him for increasing the chances of this actually happening. I love it because it causes that playground “who goes in goal” panic, as if being in goal is something of a punishment. Also, it usually sets forth an onslaught of audacious efforts from the opposite team, which is good for a laugh too.
5) Pitch Invaders
Ah, the great footballing leveller. The moment when well paid, athletic, footballing celebrities are reduced to the level of every hungover Sunday league team across the land who’ve had to stop play because a dog’s bounded on the pitch and pissed against the corner flag. Nothing funnier than seeing a footballer try to shepherd a dog off the pitch. A streaker, even better.
6) Correct Numbering
Fairly adamant on this one. Everyone know that the number 2,3,5 and 6 are for defenders; 4,7,8 and 11 are midfielders and 9 and 10 are your strikers. There’s some leeway – 7,8 and 11 can all play up front, 10 could be a midfielder, but Clint Dempsey and Arouna Kone – get your fucking shit together, wing backs you are not. A correctly numbered starting XI is a thing of absolute beauty.
7) Strikers scoring own goals
...well not when it’s your own striker of course, but there’s still something funny when a striker sticks it past his own keeper, if only because you know there’s a part of his brain that’s thinking “YES!” like he just forgot what he was doing for a second and fell back on old habits. God love you Jon Walters. You give us all cause to dream.
8) Defenders scoring blinders
Again, things like this shock and delight in equal measure, triggering that bit in your brain that thinks: “Well, if Djimi Traore can do that then I definitely can.” For Arsenal fans, replaced Djimi Traore with Nigel Winterburn vs. Chelsea, or Tony Adams vs. Everton for that matter. Right place, right time, stick your boot through it, done – no so hard this football lark after all, is it?
...see, now that the season’s over everyone can relax and come together celebrating the bits of football we all love, the little idiosyncrasies of the game that we all get a kick out of. Enjoy it now, normal service will resume come August.