A couple of weeks ago I spent the evening in the Royal Albert, my second choice local, watching Manchester United in what used to be called the European Cup. Aside from getting me out of the house, I was there with my old friend Dafydd, a season ticket holder at Old Trafford since before sandwiches there came filled with prawns.
After 20 minutes we were joined by a very drunk Irishman who stood a bit too close behind us smoking heavily. During the first half our new friend gave a decent impression of a drunken Bob Wilson, stirring to bellow seemingly random comments towards the "giant" screen.
"Come on Robbie Scholes!" he exploded at one point, an amalgam, we supposed, of Paul Scholes who plays in midfield for United, and Robbie Keane who doesn't. Of course he meant Roy Keane, but neither Dafydd nor I were inclined to point out the mistake.
"Useless bastard!" he spat later in the half at no one in particular. Again, this was an ambiguous statement – given United's form in the last month it could apply to any one of 15. As the match progressed United's form stuttered and Clive Tyldesley's commentary did likewise, culminating in an ill-advised observation on the United back four.
"Laurent Blanc is looking solid at the back," he noted at one point. This observation sent our man over the edge. It was as if Tyldesley had just completed the punchline to a hilarious anecdote and he exploded. It took several minutes for the coughing to subside and shortly after the little man slipped off into the night.
The point is this: even drunk blokes in pubs have a nose for humiliation and the sad truth is that footballers are there to be laughed at as much as admired. I like to think it's a thesis I have been testing myself this season, with a sequence of comic own goals and conceded penalties.
However, humiliation doesn't always come on such a grand scale. During a 4-0 defeat I suffered the footballer's nightmare: I was nutmegged. Standing square to an attacker wide in the penalty box, I thought I had him covered. Unfortunately I didn't and he passed the ball between my legs and ran past me to collect it while his team-mates sniggered. I was so shocked I didn't have time to trip him up.
Others in the team have had their own moments. Up front Lee and Doug have formed a sort of Emile Heskey/Michael Owen combination – mainly in the sense that Doug is bigger than Lee – and occasionally they have swung at leather and connected with fresh air in front of goal this season.
Meanwhile at the back Del has had problems standing up which he ingeniously attributed to the length of his studs; goalkeeper Paul has had the ball chipped over his head from a position near the corner flag; and Jonner missed a penalty in early October and hasn't been seen since.
The trick is to remain undaunted by your own limitations. Denial is the only appropriate response in these situations for if you respond to the derision of others your career is heading only one way. The veterans league. That or a place in the United back four.Reuse content