Russell Cowper enjoys a charity game that acts as a timely reminder that football can sometimes be wonderful.
A damp miserable Manchester morning, a pitch reminiscent of the mud baths of yesteryear and forty lads who have £20 each to play , turn up in varying states of hungover, sobriety and sick for the hedonistic pleasure of running around a field full of dog detritus.
The reason for this turnout is to raise money for the famous Manchester based Christies hospital. Christies is a wonderful place, the best of humanity and it touches many Mancunians lives and it is at the forefront of the battle against the dreadful affliction we know as Cancer.
There is something tremendously uplifting that forty lads, friends, family and supporters turn out is such numbers to watch a game of football in order to raise money for charity.
The game itself I have loosely christened as being between the Crown Inn Cheadle and the flying whippets. Both sides had around twenty players and an informal sub rotation was agreed so everyone got to play. Bibs were worn to identify each side and off they went. Some guy had been press-ganged into refereeing and did a reasonable Mike Dean impression, both teams lined up in what can only be described as a fluid 0-10-0 formation, familiar to those who played at dinner time on the school playground.
The action started slowly, men who hadn’t kicked a ball for twenty years tried to do their best impressions of Cantona and Kompany, McQueen and Kinsey. The big lads at the back hulked around looking menacing without actually moving. A classical take on zonal marking as they indeed marked their zone and ignored the players. Big Sam and Tony Pulis would have loved the no nonsense defensive approach as the defenders hoofed it forwards with the panache of Louis Van Gaal’s United side. It was not pretty, but it was fun.
The first ten minutes reminded me of a game between Wimbledon and Wimbledon reserves, both sides were fully committed, old fashioned crunching tackles, crazy headed clearances and last ditch defending were the order of the day. The ball was treated like a proverbial hot potato. It was magical stuff. This was proper football as witnessed on local parks every Sunday morning across the land. The Substitutions started early. I clocked the first at four minutes as the red faced player came off for a quick fag. From then a continuous conveyor belt of players left the pitch, red faced, breathless, dehydrated, sick, hungover, sore gagging for a smoke etc etc. They leant on wives, girlfriends and supporters like the heroic wounded of past battles. Luckily a few blasts on a ciggy and a quick slurp of lager and back to the fray they went.
The goals were raining in by now, a mixture of Liverpoolesque defending, lack of marking, inept refereeing and a keeper without gloves made for highly entertaining viewing. A whippets forward scored a goal he will dine out on for years as he shinned a ten yarder in off the post. By next weekend he will be saying it was like Rivaldo in full flow. It was real end to end action. Controversy arose when 13 year old Jack Miller took out 75 year old Billy Meredith lookalike Graham Slater with a challenge that would have been the subject of endless debates on Sky Sports. For me it was a straight red, but the ref missed it claiming his bobble hat had slipped down obscuring his view. Ex estate agent Slater limped off the pitch to howls of laughter from the watching throng. Young Miller then took out enormous Irish Shinty playing legend Gary Costello with another cynical challenge. A very brave boy is Miller.
As the game progressed, Crown centre back Bradders known as the triangular headed Ryan Shawcross was attempting to marshal his troops to no avail. Whippets passed through the defence with ease and it was only the heroics of the muddied Martin Mckay that prevented a rout. In an attempt to chase the game the Crown introduced the flying barmaid Rach, all poise, and pace with a touch reminiscent of Samir Nasri . Andy Mac was running the midfield in the style of Tony Grealish and on came Jaime Dixon resplendent in pink to give a two minute impression of Franco Baresi. VAT Nick was as solid as you would expect from an employee of her Majesty and young Layton deserves a special mention for having the skill level of a cactus plant.
There were many more to mention, and thoughts and wishes go the injured Whippets keeper. In time honoured tradition a bottle of whisky is on his way to ease the pain.
This is the real beauty of football. Everyone enjoyed it, there will be lads aching in places they never knew existed, yet back in the pub a few beers and a bowl of hot pot, chats and laughs about the game made it all worthwhile.
It was fun, refreshing, and enjoyable to watch and most importantly added to the money raised for Christies. The total is approaching £3,000 and everyone, players, supporters and organisers should be very proud of their efforts.
If you wish to help please donate to www.justgiving.com/lisacoomer
My thanks to everyone involved for a fabulous Sunday mornings entertainment and for renewing my faith in humanity. My dad was a patient at Christies before he passed away but the care he received was exemplary. Football brings communities together; it inspired the lads on Sunday to do daring deeds. Football is not just about the superstars earning millions, it is the people’s game and it belongs as much to the lads who paid £20 to play for charity as anyone.
Football really is the peoples beautiful game.