by John Stephens
Every Sunday afternoon men, young and old, the length and breadth of the country play in Amateur football leagues. Far removed from the Theatre of Dreams they are faced with the Theatre of Reality on a variety of different pitches, each one more worn out than the previous.
In recent weeks in high profile games we have seen a few robust challenges, most notably Nigel De Jong on Hatem Ben Arfa which resulted in the latter having to undergo surgery to repair his tibia and fibula. Of course these are commonplace as you descend further into the murky depths that football reaches.
Dr. Michael d’Hooghe of Fifa recently stated that ‘some players come on the field… to break a career’ and even labelled the acts as ‘disfiguring football at the highest level’ and ‘criminal’. On a game on Sunday that was played on Cavalry Park’s own Theatre of Reality, the only criminal acts were those of violent conduct and not of the beautiful game played in its somehow attractive brutal force with a real injection of venom in tackles.
In the Edinburgh And Districts Sunday Amateur Football Association (E.A.D.S.A.F.A) which prides itself on fair play the past few weeks have cast considerable doubt on the state of the discipline within the league.
Last Sunday a game between bottom of the table Pentland Thistle and mid-table Riverside United on the Cavalry Park pitches ended in a tense 3-2 victory for Pentland, however the abundance of red cards; six in total, overshadowed the game which was filled with unadulterated challenges throughout. Add in the fact that a fixture between fierce rivals East Craigs United and Newton Heath AFC had to be abandoned due to the late flurry of red cards and it could in fact lead to an unsettling trend of poor discipline in the league.
Mark Hermiston of Pentland Thistle states that ‘as far as Pentland go I like to think that we pride ourselves on our sportsmanship and sense of fair play. I think this generally comes from the fact that a lot of the team are in their late 30s and early 40s’.
Prior to the fixture against Riverside, Pentland Thistle had only collected a total of five yellow cards, leaving them fourth in the Fair Play table, which is generally the standard for the team as they narrowly missed out on clinching the coveted top spot in the Fair Play table. Of course the three red cards dished out will only see the team descend to the very pits of seemingly unsporting behaviour.
Hermiston was also keen to add that the team had in fact received plaudits from referees in the past due to their behaviour, and that striker Scott Melvin should be praised for not retaliating when he was struck by the Riverside goalie.
The trouble all seemed to stem from an inattentive challenge from Melvin, which resulted in a case of handbags in one corner of the pitch. There is always a fundamental difference between a robust tackle and a player taking out anger on another and showing a distinct lack of discipline, which was not evident in the display of Pentland, yet it was always a threat from the players of Riverside.
With the case of ill discipline still up for debate within the league as 51 red cards have been dished out in the opening six fixtures in the league and a rather handsome figure of 206 yellows brandished it is looking like it could be a rather long season in store as the adipose figure looks set to rise.
Despite the mounting card count, Hermiston believes that ‘as far as the league disciplinary record goes, well it’s pretty much as expected too. The majority of teams are fine, a lot of yellows probably coming from dissent’.
As a club Pentland have been around for over a decade and have no real reason to fear being thrown out of the league, or leaving the league system of the E.A.D.S.A.F.A. due to bad disciplinary records from any teams, whether it is for a strong challenge or dissent. The league already imposes heavy fines at £5 for a yellow card and £10 for a red and seemingly clamp down on the worst offending teams by throwing them out of the league.
And evidently these fines do not offer any rest bite from the traditional aspect of the game, a strong challenge, as Melvin proved and many others have proven in the past.
With the art of a strong challenge coming under scrutiny Craig Graham, Chairman of Spartans FC stated ‘There is nothing wrong with a strong well timed challenge, they get the crowd going and they get the players going. Its just when the players go over the top that the problems arise. As long as a strong tackle is within the laws of the game there is no problem with the challenge’.