What makes a good match? What separates the mundane from those that can be classed as ‘fun’?Thu 26 Jan 17 by Steve Cook
When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad
Julie Andrews (in The Sound Of Music)
Norwich City has been making me feel sad for quite a while now.
But stepping out of Carrow Road last Saturday, my son and I unwittingly and simultaneously offered up exactly the same three word match summary:
“That was fun”.
Not the sort of punditry that would grace Match Of The Day but a fair assessment nevertheless.
Whilst Saturday’s match was by no means a classic, it was sprinkled with some of the things that can light up a football match. Small moments that we value as supporters because, after countless years and countless matches which blur and merge and fade in the memory, they provide a point of reference and something to talk about on the walk home beside managerial or boardroom incompetence.
Moments that remind us that football should be and occasionally is… fun!
For when it comes to football – and in the words of Mary Poppins – “these are a few of my favourite things”:
Long sliding tackles
If like me, your experience of ten-pin bowling is limited to the occasional team-building event with work colleagues, you’re probably equally as inept. So you may be familiar with that flutter of excitement on those rare occasions when the ball doesn’t go careering into the gutters but actually heads straight towards the pins.
I get the same feeling with a sliding tackle that’s launched from an unnatural and unhealthy distance. There’s a split second, where the brain has enough time to comprehend that something exciting is about to happen as you wait for the inevitable clattering of the pins – whether those pins are skittles or someone’s legs.
So it was with Robbie Brady’s 35-yard* slide (*estimate) that saw him miss absolutely everything and yet still manage to wipe-out the Wolves winger.
The fact that we won a throw-in just added to the merriment.
Hitting the woodwork
There is something oddly satisfying about a shot that hits the goal frame. So much so, it forms the basis of a half-time challenge. But I don’t mean ‘clipped’ or ‘brushed’ – that’s just not the same. I mean a full-blooded ‘smack’ that leaves the post or bar shuddering and sends the ball pinging back into play.
Both Jonny Howson and Cameron Jerome rattled the woodwork on Saturday and ‘our Jonny’ can also lay claim to my favourite bar-hitting experience since the pub crawl on my stag weekend.
I remember nothing of value about the match in question. I couldn’t tell you the score or even the opposition. All I remember was Jonny sending a screamer from well out-side the box towards the River End goal. It struck the bar with such venom and at an angle that launched the ball back a full five yards behind where he’s struck it from.
It was a thing of beauty and wonder.
The internal recognition that ‘he’s given a penno!’ as the referee points in the vague direction of the spot always sends a wave of anticipation and excitement – regardless of whether it’s been given to us or our opponents.
The award of a spot-kick creates a heightened sense of drama and a cocktail of nail-biting hope and fear. The inevitable delay before the kick is actually taken just serves to prolong and build that excitement.
Penalties are football’s tantric goals and on Saturday we had two!
Penalties are great. Penalties that result in an opponent being sent off are even better.
Despite Darwin’s theories, anyone who has been to a football match would struggle to accept the notion that mankind has evolved much since the days of Roman amphitheatres and their baying crowds that smelled blood – or ‘red’.
“Off, off, off, off” we shout – demanding a damning sentence to be delivered.
When the red card comes out it’s met with the same frenzied delight as an Emperor’s downward thumb all those centuries ago.
Outfield players in goal
Penalties are great. Penalties that result in an opponent being sent off are even better. Penalties that result in the goalkeeper being sent off when there are no more substitutions left, are the Holy Grail.
Since the change in rules to allow three substitutions, it’s a rare occurrence to see an outfield player having to put on the gloves. We must be grateful that there are still managers around who like to swap things round before the hour mark.
It’s wonderfully chaotic scene watching a team deal with the situation – vaguely reminiscent of the school playground where the last kid to lay claim to a hand injury is forced to go between the posts (or the jumpers). Standing with slumped shoulders and an expression that shows a genuine sense of grievance that they’re being constrained and not ‘playing football’ with the rest of them coupled with an underlying fear of getting hit by the ball.
With one flash of a red card, the self-assured, over-paid right-back with the sleeve-tattoo is forced to put on a shirt and gloves (that are usually way too big for him) and instantly regresses into his insecure and uncertain inner child. Whilst we the supporters shout ‘shoooooooooooot’ every time we sense a chance to fix him in our proverbial headlights.
So there they are – a ‘few of my favourite things’ that make football just that little bit more fun.
Some that didn’t feature on Saturday but deserve an honourable mention are…
- A horribly sliced goal-kick.
- A referee falling over.
- A defensive ‘hoof’ that clears the stand.
- A player gets sent sprawling over the advertising hoardings.
- A glaring miss from the opposition’s striker.
(NB: all of the above to be accompanied by a cry of ‘wheeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy’).
Anything I’ve missed?
Steve posts on Twitter @stevocook