Running late for last Saturday’s latest instalment of the Bristol Downs League, I hurriedly headed for the pitches under a sky of light-grey mediocrity. “At least it’s not raining” I thought, as I put my boots on and joined the rest of my teammates for the warm up.
[By warm up, I mean standing around the penalty area lumping rock-solid balls at whoever the unlucky chump between the sticks is. All of the other teams in the league (without exception) huddle together pre-game, applaud each others’ names as the team sheet is read out, and perform stretches that wouldn’t look out of place prior to an Olympic gymnastic floor routine. Cotswool FC, instead, have a long and proud history of what is technically known as “dicking around” before a game, followed by 2 minutes of the famous warm up routine ‘jogging back and forth almost in a group, but not quite’.]
A few minutes prior to the game, I headed for a few trees away from the pitches to empty the old bladder (to improve my speed, of course). On returning to the pitch, I was informed that this is an offence which – if seen by the referee – results in an immediate red card and a four-game ban. Apparently, this is part of the etiquette of the league and the respect for The Downs. This came as a bit of a shock, considering that it seems to be acceptable to commit GBH on an opponent during the match without even a yellow card, yet you can’t piss on a tree. Odd.
Anyway, the game got underway and in typical Cotswool fashion we were 2-0 down within 20 minutes to a couple of sloppy goals. Nevertheless, we dug in and kept the game competitive. Around 30 minutes into the game I realised that the skies had turned a darker shade of grey. The temperature started dropping and my testicles headed in the opposite direction. Then the rain came. I can’t think of a better description than to say it was absolutely c**ting it down. By half time (somehow still 2-0) we were all soaked through, not an inch of dry skin on any of us. A wry smile crept across my face as I realised I was the only idiot wearing Nike Pro under my shirt – which was a daft idea when I left the house and it was 8°c, but was now paying dividends.
After the usual pep talk at half time, we soldiered out for the second half. Almost immediately after kick off, I jumped for a header (which is reason enough to write a blog entry) and was promptly elbowed in the face, leaving me flat on my back in a puddle of muddy water and despair. With my cheekbone throbbing, I got up and got on with the game. The weather got worse and worse, as did the score line. 3-0 followed. Then 4-0. Brief respite at 4-1 was misleading and soon we were 5-1 down after 60 minutes. Bizarrely, a player who appeared to be Brazilian wonderkid Neymar appeared from the bench of the opposing team, did a few stepovers and promptly fell to the floor – almost in tears – with no one around. What at first seemed to be a peculiar fall was then explained to be a reoccurrence of a broken foot that he had only recently recovered from. In the true spirit of the Downs League, we offered to let them substitute him with another player, despite having used all three of their allocated substitutes. Whilst the referee wasn’t feeling the love and declined our offer, we applauded him as he was carried off the pitch and into the arms of the equally-miserable St John’s Ambulance crew. The compassion shown by both sets of players was a heart-warming moment in this otherwise utterly abysmal example of a football match.
Time dragged on and the referee was soon being asked “how long left, ref?” every time the ball went out of play (he soon resorted to replying with “too bloody long”). The downpour continued and soon the pitch had become a 50:50 concoction of mud and water, with no grass in sight. The ball was sticking in places – leaving players to perform amusing air-kicks – and skidding in others. The ground was so wet, players were starting a slide tackle in one box and finishing it in the other.
The final straw came when, in one of our rare ventures forward, we lofted a cross into the opposing box. After a few token bobbles and deflections, the skid of the ball eluded a defender who accidently clattered into our striker instead of the ball. The referee allowed us the time to convert the ensuing penalty, and then called a halt to the game on the grounds that the conditions were too dangerous. This left me pretty annoyed that all of our perseverance in the face of Mother Nature’s best attempt to ruin our game was for nothing. In his final act of the day, the referee announced that the result would stand, as any game abandoned after 2/3rd completion (62nd minute onward) is counted as a result. In all honestly, I was glad that the last 75 minutes had actually counted for something. If we had replayed on a dry, hot day, the score would likely have been much less flattering.
As we trudged off, the water sloshing around inside my boots reminded me of when you are a little kid, sitting in the bath, and you slide up and down the tub creating a wave effect which inevitably overflows onto the bathroom floor.
Feeling a bit miserable (par for the course), I began the walk home. The adrenaline started to wear off, and my nervous system reminded me that my right foot had been stamped on twice during the game. My right shoe started to feel tight under the swelling, and my cheekbone began to hurt even more. I must have looked like some kind of disabled hobbit limping down the street, covered in mud, face bruised like a gypsy’s wife, in a monsoon, with no jacket. I started to wonder what it would be like playing football in the lower leagues of Madrid or Lisbon.
Enough of the moaning; a few days have passed and the wounds are healing. Same again next week? Why not. Forecast for next Saturday: rain.