Game 29, 2016-17
It's just before midday and 45 minutes before kick-off. I'm waiting outside the locked changing rooms with players from both teams, and nobody seems to know who's got the key. "We had our Christmas party last night," a bleary-looking player from the home team tells me apologetically. "It went on until 5.30." A couple of his team-mates manage a tired, knowing smile. They're almost bottom of the table, with 14 points. The visitors are top, with 46. No one's expecting any shocks today.
|Almost clean sheet - players too|
hungover to argue?
The home team represents Sunday football in all its glory - hopelessly disorganized and severely affected by last night's alcohol. Late arrivals dribble in looking pale and fragile, then once out on the pitch chug around like dysfunctional steam trains clanking between randomly programmed lower gears. The ball seems to be permanently just out of their control, as though it's being manipulated remotely by a snickering deity with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than taunt hangover-prone amateur sportsmen. Somehow they hold out for 20 minutes until the league leaders finally go one-nil up.
The hosts do have one good player, though - a grey-haired but slim number 10 who controls their game, distributes the ball, turns up wherever the play is, and is pretty much doing the running for all ten outfield players. Improbably, he scores the equaliser just before the half hour mark, but that's it. He can't carry his rapidly fading team for the whole afternoon and eventually they bring him down to their level.
The number 10 is a talker too, but he doesn't know the local language - he chivvies his team-mates