[image via Flickr]
Sunday League, it seems, has taken on a lot more of a serious edge in recent years. Regional leagues have opened websites where results are tracked, league tables are updated minutes after the final whistles and match reports are written. Whenever I score a goal, I also ensure I read the report two days later to bask in my moment of glory. But on the pitch, not much has changed at all. Sure football boots have taken on a new ultra-modern, 1984-esque feel with Messi's Microchip tracking your every movement. Presumably, as a centre half, it's very static with the odd dart forward for a corner then a brisk jog back after the cross has sailed over my head. But the players wearing those boots are still like characters from some hyper-real story about Sunday League football. The pitches are still quagmires rather than manicured, lawns of green. You're more likely to find glass in the goal mouth than painted lines. These are the players you don't want to come across on a cold Sunday morning in January.
The Boy Who Had A Trial Somewhere.
Ah yes, the fabled 'he had a trial with Aston Villa but a knee injury put paid to any career he could have had.' More commonly seen wearing a knee-brace and wearing the best boots but from two seasons previously or Adidas World Cups. You can see he's got class; he's very much the figurehead of the team but go in for a 50/50 with him and he's fannying out. He wants to go for it, his mind is going for it but his baddy knee won't let him. Still, you slide in and he nicks it off your toes and curls in a 35 yarder, who's laughing then?
The Anarchic Goalkeeper.
The cliche is that goalkeepers at Sunday League level are mental. Fat and mental usually. Fat and agile, sometimes. The goalie I have the pleasure of playing in front of is a little bit mental, mainly very agile. A great goalie but has a habit of winding up the opposition with time wasting tactics that border on the suicidal. I've seen him do kick ups whilst we were two-one up prompting one spectator to shout 'NEXT TIME IT GOES NEAR HIM, BREAK HIS FUCKING LEG.' One keeper I played against came out to collect from a corner. One player dared to jump with him, not touching the keeper, before the keeper launched after him with a fist raised. His own players declared his buffoonery and just ignored him. He actually waited until all his team-mates were gone before confronting us all. That's eleven players. Plus substitutes. And a dog. He would have taken us all on. Madness.
The Little Man.
Now there are two types of little man. The tricksy winger, who will make you look a tit, or the the nutter, who will try and break your tits. I'll start with the tricksy winger. I'm a lumbering, 6'4“ tall bloke who is about as quick as an old lady getting off the bus. I visibly panic when faced with a 5'5“ winger wearing orange, Nike boots. He'll run at you, knock it past you then get round you and deal you a couple of step-overs before getting past you again whilst you nurse a stitch and a twisted neck. The more dangerous little man is the nutter. Not overtly skilful, usually shaven headed, sporting a tash that a thirteen year old boy would be proud of. One particular player comes to mind. In three games played against him, he has brutally kicked our goalie in the back, attempted to break mine and another players legs with knee high challenges as well as throwing elbows around as if listening to a Ludacris song. The kick on our keeper was even more brutal. Our keeper had scooped it up, and had held it for about two seconds, before this little munchkin rifled in with a massive boot to our keepers back.
The Fat Man.
Every team has one, or has used one in the past. They fulfill many needs. A battering ram. During one game of football, the opponents had employed a fat, golf-ball shaped man at centre-half. Players would ghost past him with ease, leaving him to employ the only tactic he had in his locker. Thrust. As the player would speed up the get past him, the fat-man would push out his ample body and pole-axe the attacker. I think at one point, he even winded him, such was the ferocity of his thrust. I've seen fat-men played in goals (CLICHE) and up front. Up front, they provide the danger of being wildly unpredictable. The ball could arrive at his feet and with one deft touch, he's turned and has slammed a volley home. Or, his touch will, more likely, be so heavy, it trundles away from him whilst he, visibly out of breath, chases after it. Either one of these means they are a nightmare to play against.
Luckily, it didn't spill over until the final minutes and then after the final whistle when one of their players got wind of a comment by a player of ours. After hearing the accusation of his roid-use, he officially, lost his shit. Uttering the immortal phrase, 'It really pisses me off when people insinuate I'm on Steroids. I literally want to kill you now.' What a man!
The Team of Hard-Men.
One hard-man is OK to deal with. Other players will attempt to calm him down or he will lose his rag so quickly, he gets sent off and then the game reverts to normality. Play against a team of hard-men, or nutters, and you are truly up shit creek. In my first ever cup-final, we came up against a team of nutters. Their name told us they were a team of labourers and they certainly had no regard for other players safety. By the end of the game, when they had already been reduced to nine men, their left back decided to take it upon himself to have a quiet word with the referee. It resulted in a six-month ban for the left-back and a swift-name change for that team. Recently, we played in the deepest, darkest Welsh Valleys. The signs were there when the changing room, with mangled metal covers over the windows, was separated only by a wall. It meant after we got changed, we had to walk through their changing room to get to the pitch. Our opponents were like a whose who of doormen. All massive, perhaps with the aid of steroids, and all on the verge of tipping over the edge. Luckily, it didn't spill over until the final minutes and then after the final whistle when one of their players got wind of a comment by a player of ours. After hearing the accusation of his roid-use, he officially, lost his shit. Uttering the immortal phrase, 'It really pisses me off when people insinuate I'm on Steroids. I literally want to kill you now.' What a man!
The Lumbering, Clumsy, Friendly Giant.
Our lumbering, friendly giant is committed to anything. If he went up for a header with a skyscraper, somehow he would win. He dives for headers when the ball is one inch off the ground. He runs through the back of players and fouls them without even meaning too. He's a cracking defender, no-one beats him in the air and no-one is stronger than him. But every now again, he commits a foul where he can only be described as clumsy. He oversteps the ball and steps on a toe. Or, when defending a cross, will catch you with a stray arm or push you out the way. It's just committment. He bloody loves headers.
This guy thinks he is playing the game fairly and nicely but somehow, every game, he ends up yellow-carded for a horrendous challenge and on the verge of a fight with someone. Or everyone. Unfortunately, that person tends to be me. I always thought of myself as a fair player, hard in the challenge, but generally a good guy to be on the pitch with. After three bookings, and five or six near fights, and several bad moods, I can only summise, it's me. Some games, I take it upon myself to cause the trouble. One player was visibly wound up after a foul, that wasn't given, so whilst they lined up for the corner, I just ruffled the back of his hair. The same game, I'd gone on in with my studs showing when going for the ball. Then to round it off, at the end of the game, when a player told me 'We should have beaten you, you were so shit.' I just replied with a 'Well you didn't' and tapped him on the cheek. He didn't react favourably. It's just my nature. Last season, I was threatened with 'being put in an ambulance' and to stoke the flames, I replied 'I like ambulances'. He wouldn't let it go easily.
But whatever bill you fit on this page, Sunday League is a wonderful melting-pot of people and cultures. Teams of graudates and PhD students face off against Pub-Run teams and Conservative Clubs and Call-Centres. It's where men are made. How many people would, on a freezing cold Sunday morning, put their thigh in front of a pile-driving shot? Not many. It takes a special breed.
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