Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk
Wrexham weren’t thrilled when they arrived at Welling last Saturday and caught first sight of the wettest pitch since Roger Clemens’ spitball. I know because I got into the ground first and got to relish an empty, cold wet ground for a bit before the team arrived.
The first player to see it was Mark Carrington, who immediately planted his tongue firmly in his cheek and asked Andy Morrell if he could play in the middle when he caught sight of the soaking wing he’d be expected to plough up and down.
Of course, professionals are right to want good conditions, and football should be a game which rewards talent, not fortune. Odd conditions make the game a lottery, and nobody in the game wants that. The technical excellence of Bayern Munich, the subtle passing rhythm of Barcelona, the elegant thrust of the Classic Argentinian enganche, slicing a defence open with a cruelly accurate killer pass: such aesthetically pleasing moments are what make football so special.
But where’s the fun in all that? Am I alone in thinking that while players and coaches want an even playing field, fans love freak conditions?
A storming goal is great, a glorious victory for the better side is fulfilling, a swift passing exchange can be exhilarating. But be honest: doesn’t the thought of a twelve man punch-up, followed by a game of eight versus eight once the ref has finishing spraying red cards around, sound a lot more fun?
But then perhaps I’m a little out of step with everyone else. When I was playing I managed to get into the Wrexham Schoolboys side as a goalkeeper, but I have to admit that my path there was a little unorthodox. I was spotted playing a match in which I made a number of brave saves at strikers’ feet. Time and again I threw myself in where you could get hurt to deny the other side, and afterwards I was told it was one of the most heroic performances the scout had seen.
It was all very flattering, but I fear I’d given a bit of a false impression: my bravura efforts had nothing to do with bravery (although I’ll confess to a dash of reckless stupidity!) and everything to do with the fact that I absolutely loved playing in freak conditions! I wasn’t bent on keeping a clean sheet so much as loving every second of hurling myself into the mud! The wetter I got the happier I was, as my shirt got heavier and heavier and I revelled in the lunacy of it all. And that elation stayed with me, right up until the point where my mum saw the state of me and exiled me from anywhere with carpets until every speck of mud was eradicated!
Anyway, Wrexham emerged unscathed from the mud. The wind swirled, the pitch held up remarkably well to the constant rain, and nothing unusual happened (apart from Johnny Hunt managing to score from outside the box with his right foot, an event slightly less likely than Elvis being named as a judge in the next series of X Factor or Nigella Lawson being given a contract to ride the Tour de France for Team Sky.) There wasn’t even a shot through the net to keep us occupied. I left the ground feeling pleased, but yet a little bit disappointed.