The Hoofer | Peter Conchie

Oi, lino! You haven't got a clue
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The Independent Online

And so to Wandsworth Common in my increasingly desperate search for a game of football. On the short drive south on a sunny autumn morning, life is as bright as the red and yellow leaves on Clapham Common. Sadly, I return downtrodden as I record a dubious first in my footballing career.

The team I hope to play for, Clapham Rovers, are fully manned and I am cast in a minor role as second substitute. I make the acquaintance of my prospective colleagues and warm up as idle chat dwells on hangovers, their unbeaten home record and the fact that no one seems to know the identity of the opposing team.

It feels strange to be left behind as play gets under way. "Come on Dogs!" shouts a member of the opposition. I attempt to identify a man who might fit the description. A frankly enormous midfielder is the obvious candidate, a man whose girth barely fits within the centre circle and who might happily feature in the "before" photograph if Weight Watchers ever aim an ad campaign at the Sunday league market.

Half-time arrives with no injuries. As the second half starts and our first substitute takes the field, I slip on my shin pads in anticipation. Instead, a garish flag is thrust into my hand as I am recast as linesman. It starts badly as I run the wrong half of the pitch for the first few minutes before being corrected by the referee.

Being linesman is harder than it looks, not least because the job is so boring. In total I flag for offside four times. Oddly, this is the same number of times that I am ignored by the referee. I could have put the flag up on another couple of occasions, but I get chatting to a couple on the halfway line and rather lose touch with the run of play as they explain the other side are called Battersea Dogs.

On the first occasion I wave the flag towards the 18-yard box with a decisive flourish in the manner of an eager cheerleader. But to no effect. Not only does the referee allow play to continue, he appears not to see me. A few minutes later I try again. Again the referee strolls away without even a cursory acknowledgment. When he ignores me for a third time, I begin to despair.

There is one occasion on which we concur. Battersea's left-winger is indisputably several yards ahead of the last defender and I hoist my flag with confidence. However, this is hardly a meeting of minds. The referee is two feet in front of me with his back turned and has just blown his whistle.

As full-time approaches it begins to sink in. I'm not getting a game. I consider ripping the shirt from my back and throwing it to the floor. Unfortunately, I wasn't given a shirt, and might risk soiling a perfectly good jumper.

The only evidence of my tangential involvement is a circular mudstain to the left of my navel caused when the ball struck me in the stomach during the warm-up.

Next week I return to the bosom of Oxygen FC, where I have been promised a match against Wandle. If I don't play soon I might just hang up my boots – not that anyone would notice if this season is anything to go by.

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