I have to admit that I had to work hard to keep my emotions in check while commentating on last Saturday’s match at Southport. It wasn’t the defeat which pushed me close to the edge: heck, if losing pressed my buttons I’d have cracked twenty years ago!
It was the contentious decisions of the referee which irked me, but I like to think that I kept the right side of the line and retained my impartiality while pointing out in a reasonable manner where I differed from his decisions.
In general I’m proud that I manage to stay as detached and even-handed as possible. (Although I won’t be held accountable if I flip and become a YouTube sensation with a livid wild-eyed celebratory rant after Dom Vose’s 99th minute penalty earns us a 9-8 win against Woking:
“Cardinal Wolsey! Susie Dent! Harry Hill! Bruce Foxton from The Jam! Can you hear me? Your boys took one hell of a beating!”)
But that’s one for in the future. Up until this point there’s only been one particular instance when I really lost my sang froid. It was a doozy though!
It came during out first season in The Conference. Crawley were our opponents, and it’s fair to say that I arrived at the match expecting to be outraged. My fury had been fed by weeks of reading what, thanks to our depressing demise from the Football League, had suddenly become my newspaper of choice: The Non League Paper. Every week they carried lurid tales of the misbehaviour of Crawley’s manager, Steve Evans.
Sometimes these stories took the form of news reports, telling us of the disciplinary problems Evans had brought upon himself. More tellingly, though, the letters pages were filled with fans’ complaints about his behaviour. Now of course a football fan is not necessarily the most dispassionate witness: we are often too bound up in the emotions and petty rivalries of the game, all too aware of the perceived slights our team has been dealt to be able to offer an unbiased view on matters. However, when fans complain about the same matter in such great numbers and with such great vehemence you’ve simply got to acknowledge there’s some grounds to their complaints.
What riled fans about Evans tended to be his behaviour on the touch line. Every week there’d be a complaint against one of his tirades, usually along the lines that he’d sworn loudly at the referee, linesmen, opponents and his own team throughout the match, usually to the horror of a small child attending their first match in the company of the letter’s author who turned, tears in his eyes, to weep “Why is the bad man hurting my ears with those horrible words Papa?” (I may be exaggerating that last bit. But not much.)
This got intertwining in my mind with the antipathy I felt towards Evans from our near miss two seasons earlier, when we’d narrowly evaded relegation to non-league football after a struggle with his Boston United team. The result was that I started the match on a hair trigger.
To be fair, that wasn’t what set me off. I was provoked. Crawley clearly set out to be as physical as possible with a Wrexham side which was rather callow. Dean Saunders had assembled a side which had a very youthful air to it as he’d leaned heavily on the loan system in his recruitment. Lads from Premier League clubs were imported en masse, adding a great deal of technique but little experience or brawn to the side. Crawley knew this, and knocked them about a bit.
I was seething from the outset and coming to the boil nicely when, early in the second half, Liverpool youngster Ryan Flynn was scythed in half by a shocking hack. I snapped. I was commentating, so I had to moderate my language, but I tore into the referee, Crawley, Evans and just about everything else in God’s earth.
The awful thing was that my explosion wasn’t just vocal. Sitting beside was a commentator from Crawley. He seemed a perfectly innocuous bloke, to be fair, Meek even, although to be fair that might have been because I was hardly a welcoming presence to the press box so he may have just been keeping himself to himself in the face of this volatile Welsh oaf he’d found himself stuck next to!
It was about to get worse for him: to accentuate my fury I punctuated my rant with regular thumps from my fist on the press box desk. Well, perhaps I’m not doing myself justice. I was aggressively hammering my fist dangerously close to the poor fellow’s commentary equipment. He jumped when I started doing it, even though he was in full flow.
I’m not proud of what I did, and hope I never do it again. But if we come across Crawley again, I can’t be held responsible for my actions!