A THROW TOO FAR
There were 10 minutes left in the vital match between Mudcastle City and Sanderhoe United. These two mighty Premier League teams had both been tipped for the Championship this season, but had not met in the league until this crunching, pulsating, bone-tingling encounter.
The stadium rang with the massed cheering of both sides. The Mudcastle fans were unable to believe that their heroes would not go marching on undefeated till the end of the season. The Sanderhoe supporters waved flags and banners, like members of an all-conquering army who know that no foe on earth can prevail against them.
Yet on the pitch it was nil-nil with 10 minutes to go. There had been several narrow escapes at both ends. Joe Adagio, Mudcastle's brilliant Italian-born goalkeeper, had had to dive right at the feet of Sanderhoe's young international, Billy Kyle, in order to stop him scoring and had received a blow on the head which had knocked him out for a minute, but much to the relief of the fans he had elected to play on. At the other end, a header from Jim MacMuckle, City's £10bn bargain buy from Scotland, had crashed against the woodwork, frightening many of the woodworm sleeping the winter away in the crossbar, but had bounced straight off again.
Now, with only 10, no, make that nine, minutes left, the scoresheet was still clean. The referee was already preparing for a first look at his watch when a roar broke from the crowd as Billy Kyle cleverly evaded a tackle from Mudcastle's veteran captain John Scholar OBE (he had received the OBE not for his football exploits but for jumping in the crowd at an away game and rescuing a small child from a mad, runaway, drug-crazed foreign footballer - see issue No 48) and broke free of the offside trap, finding only one defender and the goalie between him and the open goal.
The defender in question was the redoubtable Charlie Grayson, who had a fierce tackle in either foot. However, he also had a couple of recent sendings-off to worry about, so it was a comparatively restrained Grayson who scythed tentatively at Billy Kyle's kneecaps - and missed!
Now he had only the goalie to beat. He saw Joe Adagio coming towards him. He saw that he only had to go round him to score. He also saw, to his amazement, Joe's arms go round his knees in a rugby tackle and felt himself fall headlong.
The referee, bespectacled customs official Herbert Trapp, pointed to the spot and turned away in the traditional manner to avoid the furious protests of the other Mudcastle players.
Billy Kyle was chosen to take the penalty kick.
Joe Adagio faced him tensely, standing on his muddy goal-line.
Joe had a problem.
It wasn't the problem of facing the penalty kick. It was the fact that he was due to receive £20,000 from a gambling syndicate if Mudcastle lost this game, and this might be his last chance to give a goal away. He just had to let the ball in.
Billy Kyle placed the ball carefully and looked up at the goal. He also had a problem. He was due to receive £25,000 if he arranged it for Sanderhoe to lose. He just had to miss this penalty. It would be fatal if they went ahead now.
The whistle blew. Kyle ran up and blasted the ball wide. Unfortunately he had instinctively put a bit of curl on it, and it drifted back in and caught the post on the inside, bouncing thence into the goal.
Kyle, horror-struck, was surrounded by delirious team-mates. Adagio, ecstatic, was comforted by his fellow defenders.
Kyle stood to lose £25,000, which he badly needed to pay off gambling debts. Adagio stood to gain £20,000, which he needed for an expensive weekend in London.
Then they both stood thunderstruck as the referee blew the whistle and pointed back to the spot. He wanted the penalty taken again!
"Why?" demanded Scholar OBE, the Mudcastle captain. "Goalkeeper moved before the ball was kicked," said the ref.
In vain did the Sanderhoe side plead. The referee insisted that the kick be taken again. But it took so long for the teams to line up again that before the penalty could be retaken it was full-time and the ref blew for the end of the game, and a nil-nil result.
The referee came in for much criticism later, but he knew exactly what he was doing. After all, he had this game down on his pools coupon for a no-score draw.