Adventures in football

by Steve Finan

All men should take part in team sports. It makes them better people. If you think back to your schooldays, or consider your workplace, there's always a strange, geeky male who finds it difficult to be friends with other blokes. He may be quite intelligent, but socially awkward and just a bit indefinably odd. He won't be a sought-after conversationalist at nights out. Every class in every school had one, most workplaces have one.

That strange bloke, all those strange blokes, never take part in team sports. They don't speak that language. Being immersed in the all-male dressing-room atmosphere erodes the awkward edges off a man, making him into a more rounded human being. A team sports guy will be able to give and take banter. There will always be the man-like jokes, the slaggings-off, the taking-the-piss. If, for instance, one guy walks into the dressing room with a new leather jacket, the others will say (no matter what they really think of the new attire) that it makes him look like a poof. Or ask, “What is your wife wearing today? Cos you've got her coat on.” The answer will come back, “Well, I tell ya, YOUR wife liked it. She said so last night. Or at least I think that's what she said, I couldn't quite tell as she had her mouth round my cock at the time.” All hilariously witty stuff, as you can see.

But the point is that this sort of banter gives a man the ability to take a joke, to laugh at himself, to not take offence and to laugh at others. It breaks down taboos, it demolishes barriers. It is a healthy male way of life. Footballers call this team spirit. The lads go drinking together, they chat up women together, they will even have sex simultaneously with the same girl. The other guys in the team are their diehard mates. The dressing room code means that tales are never told to wives or girlfriends. It is a form of omerta, the Italian word for the code of silence that demands that Mafia thugs never rat on each other. The now-dead former captain of Liverpool Football Club when they were in their glory years, Emlyn Hughes, used to tell a story describing what it was like to be a member of a team that knew what it was like to face hard games. These were team-mates who took the field against the hard-as-stone Leeds United of the 1970s led by Billy Bremner, and the likes of Chelsea's Chopper Harris and Arsenal's Frank McLintock. Hard bastards. Hughes would say that if a situation ever arose that meant he had to walk into a tough docklands pub, and things turned ugly, he wouldn't have to turn round to see if his team-mates were still behind him. He knew they would still be behind him.

Rugby players have the same sort of relationship within their teams, perhaps the whole thing will be more alcohol-soused as there is a widespread drinking culture surrounding that sport. Rugby is possibly the epitome of a team sport on the field of play, it requires the players to work in unison, often so close they can taste each other's sweat. They go in where it hurts. The notion of not piling in to a ruck to help out your team-mates is anathema. If you don't do it, you won't play again. I've never fully understood the rules of rugby, it's not my game, but I hugely admire the get-up-and-get-on-with-it attitude the players have. These are real men.

But all sports that can be played as a team will create this camaraderie. It is an extremely valuable thing. We drink together, fight together, womanise together, watch porno movies on the coach to away games together, win together, lose together and enjoy the experience of being together.

Football is my sport. I'm not bad, not the most skilful, not the fastest, not a natural goal-scorer. What I do is destroy. At amateur level in this country, adult males playing football is war with a ball. You have to win the battle before you can win the game. I patrol in front of our back four and if any wanker on the opposition team shows anything approaching game-winning fancy footwork, I do my best to dislocate his spine from his pelvis. I go in hard, I go over the ball, I go in studs-up and I sometimes win the ball, but that's not always an important part of a good tackle. If a game looks like it is going to get especially brutal, I get my retaliation in first. I'm the guy the opposition players complain to the ref about. If I can get away with it, I'll elbow guys in the throat off the ball. I know full well that they'll do it to me unless I do it to them first. Even if we lose the game, I'll feel OK if I've won my personal battle. I get sent off a few times each season, I get booked a lot. But the amateur game isn't like what you see on telly. There are no TV replays, there is only a referee to keep order and most of them can be intimidated. They are just ordinary guys who do it for the match fee they get at the end of the 90 minutes. Most will turn a blind eye to a bit of healthy violence. My favourite ploy is to go up for a high ball, but without any intention of winning the ball or even touching the ball. I don't even look at it. I jump up and attempt to head-butt the player I'm jumping against while his attention is on connecting with the ball. I've had great success with this over the years. One particularly satisfying outcome was when I managed to shatter some bastard's eye socket. That certainly fucked him up, I can tell you. And I didn't even get booked. It all looked like an accident. I play for a hard team. There are always a couple in every amateur league who are known for dishing it out. They are often named for the pub, always on some shit sink estate, who are the team “sponsor”, but who really just want us to go back and drink the bar dry after every game. Yeah, I enjoy the battle. It isn't “the beautiful game” at the level I play at. It is a game for mad fuckers. It's about the adrenaline rush of being a winner. I give it out and I take it when the opposition have a go at me. I don't go down easy though. If some hard man wants to come in and “do” me, he'd better put me down good, because if I can get up then I will, and when I do I will be swinging fists. I've been red-carded more often for the sin of “retaliation” than for crippling tackles. The rest of the team look to me to go for the on-field “leader” of the other team and sort him out. If you want to put down a marker, you put down the other lot's main man. The game might be played on mowed grass, but it's really a jungle.

I fucking well love football.

At my team's training session earlier in the evening of my birthday “event”, I'd told the lads that I knew a bitch who wanted her sexual fantasy to be acted out. She wanted to play the part of a “Comfort Woman”, that she'd read about. Comfort Women was the euphemism given to the Japanese Empire's practice in the Second World War of kidnapping women from territories they'd occupied and forcing them to become sex slaves to keep the soldier boys happy. This happened to hundreds of thousands of lucky girlies in China, Korea, Burma and anywhere else that had the good fortune to be visited by the war machine of the Rising Sun. The women were kept at military bases and fucked. A lot. There was nowhere to run to, no-one to appeal to and no choice. The soldiers would round up the best-looking young birds, take them away and put them to work on their backs.

An efficient people, the Japanese.