Last weekend we saw Leo Messi score a cheeky winner for Barcelona at Atletico Madrid, craftily getting the go-ahead from the ref and curling the ball sublimely into the far side of the net as the keeper, Thibaut Courtois, stood on his near post, organising his wall. It was a goal which closed the circle of my weekend’s experiences, as before the Stockport match I’d spent an unexpected five minutes with a Wrexham legend who once tried such a stunt – and failed.
About twenty minutes before the game Steve, my co-commentator, and I popped down to the press room to follow up on a rumour of free pies (which proved to have substance…excellent, excellent substance!) On arrival, it’s fair to say I was surprised to immediately be offered a cup of coffee by Wrexham and Stockport hero Peter Ward! Perahps more unexpected though, was that Steve’s beverage preparer was none other than the Stockport manager Jim Gannon! They then hung around to chew the fat and an entertaining time was had by all until we had to go back to the press box, leaving the County boss to continue his relaxed build-up to the match.
Ward was, as one might expect, a welcoming host and good company as he explained that Brian Flynn brought him in with the instruction to share his experience with his youthful midfield colleagues to help bring them along. He took great pride in the fact that two of them, Bryan Hughes and Dave Brammer, were subsequently sold for a combined fee of around a million pounds.
Ward picked up possibly the oddest yelllow card I’ve ever seen a Wrexham player receive, back in 1999, over the taking of a quick free kick. Taking a quick free kick is often contentious for your opponents, but rarely provokes the ire of a referee; indeed, Ward’s Racecourse successor in the playmaker role, Darren Ferguson, made the manoeuvre something of a speciality, often taking – and scoring – from quick free kicks. Ward, no slouch himself from a set piece, didn’t have such a happy experience.
He wanted to take a quick one in the F.A. Cup Fourth Round tie against Huddersfield, so when the ref asked whether he wanted the wall back ten yards or to take it immediately, he asked for the latter. However, he soon realised that the opportunity had passed, and asked for the ref to get the wall back, only for the official to refuse!! I have no idea what grounds the referee could offer to support this decision, but he must have been pretty confident in his adjudication, as he booked Ward for disputing the call!
I’ve often come across people in the game who don’t know the rules, rather surprisingly. I once had to explain to two ex-Wrexham centre backs how you could make a tackle from behind and play the ball but still be penalised for going through the man first. The press are often at fault too, as they are often too interested in following an angle to investigate the facts!
Take, for example, Wrexham’s F.A. Cup tie at Wimbledon in 1998, which ended 0-0, the referee blowing for full time a split second before The Dons “scored”. The scene in the press room after the game was hilarious, as a range of reporters for the national papers argued furiously about whether the referee was allowed to do this. Of course, he was! Where’s the complication in the ref being the sole timekeeper? Whether he was wise to do it is a very different matter, but it was certainly within the rules.
Unfortunately for Ward, he fell foul not of a player or the press; he managed to come across a ref that wasn’t too clear of the rules!