Peter Corrigan: This is the season for giving - and giving back

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Normally, Santa's workshop and distribution centre would be occupied by an eerie silence on Boxing Day morning. The frenzied activity leading up to Christmas gave way to a stillness than many would find disquieting; but to Father Christmas it was heaven.

This used to be his favourite day of the year. It would be late in the previous evening when he returned from delivering the last load of presents and, after he had hosed down the reindeer, he would rummage around in the bottom of the sleigh and invariably discover that a jar of luxury bath salts, a fancy box of chocolates and a bottle of the finest brandy had managed not to reach their destinations. Few know that it was he who invented the Christmas bonus.

Then, while the rest of the world was buzzing around on Boxing Day activities, old Santa would spend all day wallowing in the suds, nibbling the chocolates and sipping the brandy... but not any more.

Boxing Day was now complaints day, and for Santa and his little helpers it was just as busy as pre-Christmas. From dawn onwards, Santa's workshop was transformed into a gift-return centre. Those dissatisfied with their gifts could arrange to swap them - and Father Christmas would have to go around picking up and delivering all over again.

"It's consumerism gone mad," stormed Santa as the phone calls and emails flooded in. "They used take what they were given and be grateful for it. Nowadays, no one is satisfied. Marks & Spencer have a lot to answer for."

What upset him most was that the world of sport was his biggest bugbear; after all he'd done for it. No one has ever appreciated his contribution to the growth of sport.

Through the eras, you could trace the development of various sports by the gifts that he'd spread among the young. From way back in the mist of time, whether it was a pig's bladder, a whip and top or a skipping rope, Father Christmas's gifts had inspired healthy activity. And when he came to handing out football and rugby balls and boots, cricket bats, tennis rackets and the like, he single-handedly spawned the growth in organised sport.

First to moan were the British, but was it his fault that the rest of the world took control of the sports the Brits had invented? And why should he get the blame for all the kids being fat? He couldn't force them to use the balls, the skates and bikes he gave them if they insisted in slobbing out in front of the PlayStation all day. They used to be happy with an apple and orange in the foot of their stockings, but now they wolf down a selection box before they get out of bed on Christmas morning.

Sometimes he shuddered at the effect his gifts might have had on young, impressionable minds. Could an extra handful of gold-covered chocolate coins set a boy off on the road to becoming a grasping Premiership chairman? Could an otherwise inoffensive lad be lured into becoming a referee by the presence of an Acme Thunderer in his stocking?

All these doubts he could bear, but not the freedom people had to change what he had given them. He put a lot of thought into his gifts, and took modern technology into consideration.

Take football, for instance. This is a game struggling with its own governance and desperately in need of help to cleanse its image.

So Santa enlisted the best scientific assistance to provide the following aids to better and less controversial football matches, and delivered them to the football authorities on Christmas Eve...

Foolproof length-of-play timer: A sophisticated chronometer that can be operated to ensure two halves of actual play of precisely 45 minutes' duration. Specially calibrated to avoid interference from Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger.

Goal-line crossing adjudicator: A simple electronic contraption that judges infallibly whether the whole of the ball has crossed the line for a goal, as required by the laws of the game. Specially adapted not to apply to England during extra time in a World Cup final against Germany.

Anti-dithering machine: To be installed immediately at Fifa headquarters so that the above can be proceeded with at football's top levels by next season.

Dive-spotting device: The world's best electronic technicians have worked out a way of establishing whether a tumbling player has been brought down illegally or whether he is taking a dive aimed at fooling the referee. Culprits will be exposed by a "Dive, Dive, Dive" call developed from submarines.

Spitting evaluation device: An interesting new development from the Physics Laboratory at Eccles, Greater Manchester (Phlegm) enables authorities to decide between an innocent clearing of the back of the throat and a full-blooded gob at an opponent. A technician in the stand operating spittle-sensitive machinery would be able to detect whenever a player spat and judge it for direction, velocity, trajectory, density, what he had for lunch and whether it was directed at anyone on purpose. The Listerine mouthwash firm have offered to sponsor a Spit of the Match award.

Shirt-pulling sensors: Sensitive wiring would light up warning signals on a screen in the stand if anyone grabbed a fistful of an opponent's shirt while jostling for the ball. Immediate identification of the culprit by the machine would result in the "Shirt-alert, Shirt-alert" alarm sounding in the referee's earpiece. This device would also cover the removal of a shirt during goal celebrations.

Thought was also given to the annoying grandstanding habit of a player kissing the club badge after scoring. This would be dealt with by removing the badge from the front of the shirt and placing it on the back of the shorts. It would be entirely up to the player if he still wanted to kiss it.

Fake-injury diagnoser: Equipment developed from hospital body-scanners can be zeroed on to a fallen player by laser beam and immediately diagnose the seriousness of an injury. This information can be flashed to medical staff in a second. The signal "SAWWH" will tell the referee that there's Sod All Wrong With Him.

Long-distance lie detector: Confusion is often sown in the minds of a referee and his assistants when players of both sides shout "Our ball!" when a ball goes behind or crosses the touchline. One of them is lying and most probably knows it. By administering a dose of Sodium Pentothal, the truth drug, to every player before the game, an off-field lie detector would be able to pinpoint which voices were lying. Experiments have been mooted to formulate a stronger truth drug that would force players to be frank and honest at all times.

"Sorry, ref, I handled the ball."

"That shouldn't be a goal, ref, I was yards offside."

"Oops, clumsy me. I tripped over my own feet."

But the experiments are being delayed because they would sour relations between players and their managers.

Of all the Boxing Day complaints he had received, Father Christmas was saddened most of all by the response to these attempts to use his powers for the benefit of football. To a man, the football authorities had said: "Thanks Santa, but could you exchange all these for more lucrative television contracts?"

Comments