You know it’s July when the nation has its annual two weeks caring about tennis, the Americans “celebrate the independence of their nation by blowing up a small part of it” and football fans all over the country get excited by the prospect of a Cameroonian triallist they’ve never seen or heard of before.
In reality, of course, games like today’s against Blackburn are merely glorified fitness sessions. The players have hardly been in half a week to sweat off the after-effects of Magaluf, and neither they nor Blackburn will be playing as if anything’s at stake, because nothing is at stake. Just to put the top hat on it, we’ll probably get a complete turnaround of players at the break, many of whom will either be wearing the wrong shirt, a shirt with no number on it, or perhaps no shirt at all. Actually, I quite like that idea: in a tribute to “shirts v skins” triallists should be made to play with no top, marking them out as available to any watching scouts*.
It also means I’ll be digging the Supporters Association commentary kit out of the corner it’s been lying in since I threw it there when I got back from Wembley in May. Commentating is always a pleasure, but pre-season does threaten to push your patience a little. Quite apart from the problems which arise when players are hard to identify, as I outlined in the last paragraph, how about when they’re unknown to the club itself, or you’re under strict orders not to say who they are?
The latter scenario comes about fairly regularly. We’ll have a guy on trial but we don’t want anyone to know about it because it’ll alert them to his availability. So he’ll be listed on the team sheet as “A Triallist”, and even if we’re told who he is, we’re sworn to secrecy!!
That can lead to some awkward situations, as you try to seamlessly blend a guy whose identity you can’t reveal into the commentary. The ultimate anonymous player scenario occurred a couple of years ago at Vauxhall Motors though. We had a sixteen-year old keeper on the bench who had arrived that afternoon from Liverpool’s youth team. He’d had one training session and, in the absence of another goalie, was on the bench.
The thing was, nobody knew his name. And I mean nobody. Anyone with even the most cursory working knowledge of the people who have kept the club ticking over the past twenty years will understand when I say that neither Geraint Parry nor David Roberts had a clue who he was. That means NOBODY knew who he was.
We even managed to send a message to the bench during the game, to see if Michael Oakes knew who he was, but while he could confirm his bona fides as a Liverpool youth keeper and had taken the afore-mentioned training session with the lad, his name escaped him!
So what could we do? Well, obviously we could pray that he was just there for emergencies and wouldn’t come on.
He came on at half time.
So now what? Well, I had one other card hidden up my sleeve. My lad, who was eleven then, was a real Football Manager genius, wheeling and dealing nightly in the nether regions of the Conference to find wonderkids to add to the youth side of his latest obscure Bolivian Fourth Division side. His knowledge of football, even then, was encyclopaedic and he was on the away end so I went off and found him at the break. I described the player and he immediately threw a name back at me.
Now I had a dilemma. Could I take a punt on an eleven-year old’s intuition? Sure, he knew his stuff, but how confident could I be, on the scanty information I’d passed along to him, that he was right? And is Football Manager really that reliable? Discretion got the better of me, and I didn’t gamble on the name he gave me, opting instead to crack gags about how we didn’t have a clue who he was throughout the second half. Hopefully, I’ll be able to identify our players more successfully today, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Oh, and the next day we found out who the goalkeeper was. My lad was right, of course!
*I’m starting to think that last sentence sounds a bit sinister if you decide to take it the wrong way.