In recent months I’ve developed an affinity for Linesmen. I know that I should really be calling them ‘Referee’s Assistants’ and that there are now a few young ladies carrying the coloured flags in men’s football, but I still prefer the old terminology.
The affinity stems from the fact that I habitually volunteer to run the line at my lad’s Sunday morning matches. I’m the oldest dad there but when the ref comes looking for his ‘assistants’ I’m the only one who pretends he’s not doing something else. We play in a Derby league and so I always make sure I’m wearing my Forest top, just to reassure the opposing parents that I’m not frightened of confrontation. One or two of the mums like to give me a hard time but the blokes seem to appreciate where I’m coming from. A propensity not to cheat also helps.
So when I’m watching the big boy matches, I always have half an eye on the nearest lino, just to see how he copes with the stick he’s getting from the punters lining the rails. It can often be more entertaining than the game itself.
Today I’m once again on familiar turf, making another visit to the Wigston Road ground of Midland Football Alliance outfit, Oadby Town. A return trip because I spent many a Saturday afternoon here in the 1980s while living up the road in Leicester, but somehow failed to get a programme. Come to think of it, I doubt that they issued one in those days, and I also seem to recall that entry to the ground was free.
It’s £5 nowadays as I pays my cash at the improvised turnstile to an old chap who was playing the Jobsworth role in the car park a minute or two earlier, taking time out to check that I wasn’t blocking an access road (I wasn’t). The newly titled ‘Greene King Park’ – named after a small local brewery (!) – hasn’t changed much in 30 years. The only covered spectator accommodation is a shallow seated stand of dubious vintage straddling the half way line. Everywhere else it’s flat standing. Behind one goal is a sizeable clubhouse complex which sadly has nothing – not even the normally ubiquitous Greene King IPA – for the cask ale drinker, nor anything in bottle. Food is restricted to a hot meat pie tray and a basket of cobs. The Cheese & Onion specimen is tasty but overpriced at £1.50 for sure.
Oadby are in the lower reaches of the table whilst visiting Kirby Muxloe are much higher up and have a habit of scoring a goal or two, mainly from No9 Nick Pollard. He’s a cheeky chappy who enjoys a bit of banter with the linesman. The closest one is a chunky fellow who looks older than me, and a lot less mobile. Clearly this is his one exercise session of the week, the other six days spent shovelling pies down his gullet. At least, that’s MY prognosis. He’s letting a few close offside calls go, and the three centre halves being employed by Oadby are giving him grief. “Lino, don’t be swayed…” shouts the mischievous ‘Polly’ ably supported by the bank of Kirby fans standing alongside me. It’s the only entertainment of a drab first half which has me struggling to recall anything else of merit.
Everything changes 10 minutes after the break. Town seemed to have abandoned their three stopper system in favour a flat back four playing a high line, and they live to regret it. Muxloe breach the rearguard again and again and score five times in the next 20 minutes, the afore-mentioned Mr Pollard netting twice and going close to a matching the hat-trick already bagged by his strike partner Aaron Preston. “Don’t let the game die,” is the plaintive wail of Town manager Ross Blockley and his boys do have the distinction of scoring the last goal of the game, a late penalty.
But what of my favourite lino, gainfully unemployed and out of the firing line for much of the second half. Well for the last ten minutes, he gets to be referee, as the ‘man in the middle’ sportingly develops an injury and gives way to the pie man. And sadly that’s where me and him must differ. I may be daft enough to run up and down the touchline in front of antagonistic parents, but I would steadfastly refuse to take the whistle and run the gauntlet of 22 hostile kids.
Programme: £1 on the gate. A little thin in terms of bulk and content.
Parakeets: a flock of noisy tits provide some activity during a poor first half
Toilets: In the bar
Tannoy music: None
Club Shop: Nothing apparant
Player with the quirkiest name: Kirby’s Tom ‘The Soap’ Holyoak