Joleon jogs with his new team-mates past the over-sized goal being installed.

by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

Every time San Marino pop up on the radar the inevitable cries of why should they be allowed to play with the top teams crop up. I don’t follow the school of thought that these teams shouldn’t be allowed to mix it with the big boys.  I guess the players, coaches, officials and administrators in that country work hard to keep the game alive there, and not only do the financial rewards of a game against England come in handy, but also being able to step out on the Wembley pitch must be a dream come true for the accountants, barmen, and removal men of the San Marino team.   If football really is the global game that it likes to think of itself as, then it is only fair that all countries, regardless of population size and level of skill, should get a shot at the world cup.  The idea of a preliminary round for the minnows has some merit but it’s difficult to see how it could be fitted into an already full international schedule.  It seems that for the immediate future the minnows are going to continue to mix it with the game’s giants.

So how do we make it fairer on them? It must be disheartening to start off every game you play knowing you’re going to not just lose, but lose heavily.  One possible idea would be to give them a three-goal lead.  This would mean that their qualifying group in the last tournament Euro 2012 they would have won two games and finished second from bottom in their group with seven points.  Having said that, this wouldn’t be fair on Moldova who would have finished bottom instead despite beating San Marino 2-0 away and 4-0 in Moldova.

Giving someone a head start is a reminder of the football games played by children so might there be a solution amongst the rules used there.  As a child in “jumpers for goalpost” games down the local park one rule we often used was that of “fly keeper” whereby whoever was closest to the goal could handle the ball.  The drawback of this is that is that it inevitably leads to arguments as to whether the player who touched the ball was the last man.  In the modern professional game full of prima-donna players and under fire managers who think nothing of criticising every decision, it would just be another thing to complain about.

Another idea from these informal kids’ football matches that could be used is the one that allows the better team to lend a few players from their team to the weaker team.   So maybe San Marino’s defence could have been beefed up with Lescott and Shawcross with Milner in the middle and Andy Carrol up front adding a bit of strength to the centre of the team.  Naturally this would be in addition to the staring eleven, as equal numbers aren’t a prerequisite in kids’ football.  This could work out in one of two ways. The English players on the San Marino team could take the chance to show Hodgson how good they are, or they could feel uncomfortable playing against fellow countrymen and ease off.  Either way the main disadvantage of this idea is that it would send the football bureaucrats into meltdown.  The rules about ineligible players would possibly see San Marino facing a punishment for fielding non-San Marino players, which kind of defeats the point of the exercise.  Furthermore, the English players who played for San Marino could possibly find themselves cup tied, and no longer able to play for England during the rest of the world cup.

Another way of trying to solve the problem of leveling the playing field could also help the other problem with these games, the lack of entertainment.  Such mismatched games as that between England and San Marino can often turn into nothing more than glorified training sessions that even a large number of goals cannot lighten up. The solution I propose is influenced from that other great international sporting tournament, “Its A Knockout.”  Tying the England players to their own goal with long pieces of really strong elastic would certainly curb their attacking freedom.  I was also thinking about suggesting the greasing of the England half of the pitch to add a further hazard for them to overcome, but I figured that the 15 minute break at half-time wouldn’t be long enough for the ground staff to remove all the grease from one half of the pitch, and then re-grease the other half in readiness for the half-time turn around.  Instead England could be shod in gigantic foam clown shoes, although admittedly some times it does seem that they already play in these.  An added hindrance could be that the San Marino substitutes could throw soaking wet sponges at the England players while they try to negotiate the grease, clown shoes and elastic to get into the San Marino half.

I still think England would win the game under these conditions, but they would have had to work hard to get the victory answering those critics who would like to see San Marino banished into a footballing wilderness of endless games against the likes of Andorra.  Added to this would be the satisfaction of knowing that the crowd would have been thoroughly entertained, and I suspect that the television viewing figures would go through the roof.