Football: A plate of chips and a Cornish pasting

CHELSEA AGAINST Liverpool seemed an attractive prospect last weekend: the multi- national entertainers against the former greats struggling to make sense of their season.

However, choosing a match has been harder since I left the Football Association; arrangements are not so easily made, and other factors often intrude. On this occasion my new wife wanted to visit Cornwall to regale her relatives with the details of our nuptials.

The long drive from the edge of the Fens on a wet Friday evening is not improved by the Highways Agency's apologies for delay. There was not much left of the day when we finally arrived near St Austell, so on Saturday I did not relish travelling very far. The western-most fixture in the Screwfix Direct Western League appeared to be at Bideford.

Rather than seize the chance to quiz the gentlemen or ladies of Screwfix about their experience of sponsoring football, I decided we would find a match nearer our base.

The Jewson South Western League operates further west, so Wadebridge Town v Bodmin Town was ideal. Great nephew Jason, a nine-year-old long- distance Liverpool supporter, had, surprisingly, known that Bodmin played in yellow.

Thus when we arrived at Bodieve Park shortly after the 2.30pm kick off, we knew right away the early strike from the team in red was a home goal.

Wadebridge boasts "ample" cover on page 716 of the Non-League Directory. It may be ample for their average attendance, but the small terrace in question could not accommodate many of the 126 fans who enjoyed this Cornish derby.

Half-time came with the score at 2-0. We asked the groundsman whether Wadebridge would struggle to hold their lead with the wind and slope against them. He seemed to take umbrage at our unintended slur on his pitch. "It's the same for both teams," he gruffly replied.

Perhaps it was, but the visitors, Bodmin, never adapted to the unique contours. The Wadebridge striker, Mark Rapsey, scored a hat-trick, missed a penalty and strongly urged me to recommend him to Kevin Keegan as we chatted after the 4-0 home win.

The Cornish hospitality was as warm as usual, even to the extent that I was offered a guest appearance in the Wadebridge veterans team the following morning. My playing reputation had clearly preceded me.

So, early Sunday found us on the road again, following some very precise directions to a delightful little sailing and holiday spot, Mawnan Smith, near Falmouth. The hosts were cleaning mud out of the showers when I entered the tiny dressing-room.

Soon after, the bus carrying the Wadebridge team and supporters (six wives) wound its way down the narrow lane to the ground, the driver having lost his way twice.

Players of my vintage always vie for the shorts with the 34-inch waist. No one will admit to 36 or 38. After introductions I surreptitiously squeezed into the only 38 in the kitbag. It seemed to me that the much laundered No 12 shirt, allegedly a large, had somehow shrunk to become a small- medium. The playing kit thus rendered any sharp turns totally out the question.

As I went out to warm up (it only takes me two minutes nowadays, otherwise my game is badly affected), I realised that it was going to be a difficult match. The pitch was choppy, the breeze formidable and the slope, again, considerable.

However, all went well. I struck up an instant understanding with my new team-mates, who realised after their first through ball eluded my attempts to control it and rolled speedily towards the Channel that I wanted passes to feet. I am a deceptive footballer, slower than I look. We won 4-0 to complete a successful double for Wadebridge. After the obligatory group photograph and a plate of chips, we said our farewells and I settled down with the newspapers for the long journey home.

Robbie Fowler had reportedly made a disgusting gesture to Graeme Le Saux. Now while the Laws of the Game say that a player must be sent off if he is heard by the referee to use offensive, insulting or abusive language, there is insufficient punishment for obscene gestures. The offending player can be cautioned for unsporting behaviour, but this is not enough. There should be an offence of gross unsporting behaviour.

Nor can the referee be expected to hear the verbal exchanges that occur between opponents, whether the taunts are of a racist, sexist or merely abusive nature.

Sledging needs to be outlawed by a Professional Footballers' Association edict. If the Fowler-Le Saux bust up leads to the players (and the managers) agreeing to stamp out verbal wind-ups, then all the fuss will have been worthwhile.

But sadly the fresh air of Cornwall already seems a distant memory.

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