Dave Gardner

The Right Stuff

Jul 19, 2014 3:19 AM EST

And now for something completely different, as Monty Python used to say.
This blog is not about multi-millionaire sportsmen more worried about the color of their next Ferrari than the next result. It’s not about playing in front of a huge crowd of expectant fans in a stadium selling dreams and overpriced beer.
It’s about the joy of playing football for its own sake.
I play two pick-up games a week and spend the rest of the week recuperating. We referee ourselves and there’s rarely a problem. With scores like 9-7 and 12-10 there’s really not too much point in questioning a call – by the time you’ve finished arguing another two goals have gone in!
When I failed to admit the ball went off my leg for a corner a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t sleep the next night I felt so guilty. Offsides are usually too tough to call so we prefer to shame the habitual offenders into more conservative positions.
As a much younger man I played in a much tougher league in England where disagreements on the pitch were often resolved in the parking lot afterwards.
The tackles would often fly in thick and fast and a friend who took his refereeing course quit after his first league game when he was attacked with the corner flag.
These players were certainly not role models and some of them probably should have been behind bars. No doubt a few of them probably are.
But there was a certain code everyone played under. You went for the ball, even if some of the older guys were 30-minutes late by the time they reached it. You might add a little extra relish to the first tackle to let the opposition know you were there but then you kept it hard but clean. Sliding tackles were applauded.
You certainly didn’t linger on the ground unless you’d broken something and you didn’t cheat unless you were fast enough to make a dash to your car at the final whistle.
I remember one game in a bleak field east of London against opponents notorious in the region for intimidating their opponents. They had a flighty young winger who fell just outside the box claiming a penalty that was duly given by the unsighted referee.
Their captain, a brute of a man, went over to his own winger, grabbed him by the shirt and literally pulled him over to the ref to explain that he must have been mistaken and he did, in fact, fall outside the penalty box.
“Book him then,” the captain told the referee, “the lying little toad.”
It has always stuck with me. Fairness was more important than the result.
Watching the World Cup pretty much from start to finish I can only honestly remember one moment of selfless honesty when Greece’s Georgios Samaras waved a finger at the ref after he fell in the box to tell him it WASN’T a penalty.
But then Samaras is pretty special. Check this out:
I can’t believe he is alone. But every time a pro player tries to claim a throw or a corner after the ball clearly cannoned off his foot I feel a little more disillusioned.
These are supremely gifted players living out all our dreams on the pitch and, whether they like it or not, they are role models for our sons and daughters.
I don’t doubt they love the game. - I just wish they would respect it a little more.