Sports active: THE HOOFER: The ref's with us - at centre-half

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The Independent Online
According to received wisdom, football is a simple game. Twenty- three men, typically at least one of them short-sighted, all running in the general direction of a single sphere.

On one level this observation may be true. There is nothing in the laws of association football to compare with some of the more antiquated rules of golf or the bizarre Duckworth-Lewis calculation used to decide some one-day cricket matches.

It's in terms of administration that complications arise, not least in Inter Vyagra's neck of the woods. With our official manager, Dave, absent on an extended gap year, day-to-day responsibilities have been shared. In the style of guest presenters on Have I Got News For You, last week's top-dog duties were scheduled to be shared between Craig (otherwise known as Hotel, his surname being Hilton) and Russ (otherwise known as Rusty, in tribute to his technique).

On Thursday, Craig received a call from Roger, our sexagenarian occasional caretaker-player-manager, offering his services for the day. Despite having put in the legwork - booking the pitch and the referee and finding out who in the squad was available - Craig nobly conceded managerial responsibility.

Thus on Sunday, Roger stood on the sidelines, muttering and twiddling distractedly with the hairs of his goatee. He was keen to make his mark, and only wise counsel from our substitute Matt prevented a needless change after 10 minutes. We conceded a sloppy goal just before the interval, but the game was still there for the taking.

At half-time, Roger showed uncharacteristic restraint in making just one change as he brought himself on in right- midfield. Indeed, for Roger it was a substitution that bucked his usual trend, in that some good came from it. A neat interchange with Russ saw Roger flying down the wing as he overlapped with the speed of a Stannah stairlift. When a defender breathed on the breathless Roger in the area, he collapsed to the floor, and Russ put away the penalty to bring us level.

At 1-1, the momentum had shifted. We could feel a warm mist of spittle from the straining jaws of victory. Roger then decided that it was time for substitutions. Off came Russ - naturally, as he had scored the goal that brought us level - and, clearly still intoxicated after earning a penalty, Roger promoted himself to the role of out-and-out striker. At the same time, our two best players, Raynaldo and Craig, were also withdrawn, and a newcomer arrived at centre-half.

The sense of disorientation deepened as we realised that this was no ordinary centre-half. The man in question was in fact our usual match referee, a genial chap from Turkey who had been double-booked in the administrative maelstrom of the week before. In compensation, he had been offered a cameo in Inter's colours.

Naturally, in the time it took him to settle into position, we conceded two goals, and in the aftermath of defeat, words were exchanged. Between you, me and the goalpost, the troops may be revolting.

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