Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ref, Blow Your Whistle!

I have just been to an incredible football match. This was not because of the score, the quality of the play or the performances. All of these were high level, but what will be remembered and will be discussed is the incident which happened three minutes into injury time, when nothing any longer was at stake.

Sheffield FC were winning (and then won) 5-1 in a Northern Counties East Premier Division match at home to Arnold Town. On the 90th Minute of normal time Arnold Town scored their consolation goal - although the score could easily have been 7-4 by then.

The referee had played 5 Minutes of injury time at the end of the first half, delaying my half time visit to Sheffield FC’s pub at the Coach and Horses. But it was worth the wait as the pub has been refurbished and the Guinness supply has been installed.

At the end of the game the referee repeated his added march of time. No one understood why. There had been a bit of a delay over an injury, but it wasn’t an ill tempered game, nor had there been any time wasting.

It was three minutes into this final bout of added time that everything went crazy. In all it was now the 98th Minute. Two opposing players finished up fighting after one had had a go at the other. Then all hell broke loose.

Players dived in from all over the place. It was like a huge rugby scrum gone mad. The players who merely watched on were the exception and not the rule. It was open warfare.

The referee and his two young novice assistants strove to assert their authority. Two Sheffield FC defenders and an Arnold Town player were given red cards. Strictly speaking another ten or so should have been booked, but who was doing what to whom? If enough red cards had been issued, the game would have had to be abandoned.

The referee showed that he was as confused as the rest of us as he eventually did not give a free kick, but bounced the ball. Then instead of immediately blowing his whistle for time he left the two tribes to circle around each other for another minute or more.

The referee can’t, of course, be blamed for not foreseeing the incident. But if he had only blown his whistle earlier, it would have been the match itself which would have been memorable.

Up to the tomfoolery at the end, the match was a joy to behold. The weather conditions set the scene. It had rained the night before, so the grass was green and the pitch looked grand; although Sheffield FC’s Darren Holmes was heard to complain that the grass was too long.

The sun was shining, yet there was no oppressive heat. Everything was ideal for playing and watching. And so it was to prove for the first 98 Minutes.

It was a distinct contrast with the last game I saw at what I call “The Stadium of Bright.” On that occasion, rain drove across the pitch and the spectators huddled together under the sheltered area. It was a bleak goalless draw against Retford United, enlightened only be the efforts of Vill Powell, Retford’s striker.

Vill was now playing for Sheffield FC having been transferred. He made an impressive home debut, scoring a hat trick and setting up two fine assists for goals by Chris White and Chris Dolby.

Under the Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Football scheme, he would have received 15 points for his three goals and 6 for his assists. He would get 2 points for appearing in the starting IX , but as he was substituted before the punch up he would neatly have avoided the danger of finding himself in the free-for-all and losing a possible 5 points for a red card. Then he would undoubtedly have been awarded 3 points for being the Man of the Match.

That is a staggering 26 points, just one short of Thierry Henry’s League haul in last Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph, covering the first six weeks of the season.. Well OK, I know that Premiership Football is somewhat tougher than that in Step 5 of Non-League Football, but this is my fantasy after all.

For anyone who has not come across the fascinations of fantasy football, I will return to the topic in the future.

To be more succinct, Vill’s performance was the tops. Let us hope it is just the start. It wasn’t, however, just Vill who impressed. Arnold Town had the run of the early exchanges and although Sheffield finally edged the 50 minute first half, their 2-0 lead flattered them - and was all down to Vill.

In the second half Sheffield FC became increasingly dominant, although Arnold Town kept causing problems on the break. Finally, David Wilkins found the back of the net for them.

Sheffield had numbers of players other than Vill who were at the top of their form, including Chris White who had dominated the clash between these two teams in the President’s Cup match which I reported upon in “Shuffling the Pack”. He took his goal well, latching on to a defence splitting pass from you-know-who . Whilst substitute Chris Dolby scored with his first sight and Vill’s flight of the ball.

Amongst other Sheffield FC players, Gavin Smith and Darren Holmes as usual impressed. But the memory does fade as the scene of the melee takes over.

As two of Sheffield’s central defenders were sent off, the pack will once more need reshuffling for the coming games. Except there could be an appeal about the red cards. The Club believe that it was all a matter of mistaken identity.

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