Arcadia Shepherds v Glenwegians, Saturday 23rd November 2013. 1.30pm

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After seeing some top-tier football in World Cup stadiums it was time to watch something closer to the game’s grass roots. We’d driven past Caledonian Stadium in Pretoria on a couple of occasions and a bit of research revealed that Arcadia Shepherds played their division five ‘Superleague‘ fixtures at that ground.

The same research also revealed that Bobby Charlton had made a guest appearance for the Shepherds in the mid-seventies. I wonder how he feels nowadays about making the trip in that isolated apartheid era.

I saw Bobby Charlton play at Sunderland, around 1977, in a testimonial game for Billy Hughes. The Dad of one of my mates supported Sunderland and so he took us up to watch. It was a decent gesture from Charlton to play, as I’m sure his appearance will have added to the gate receipts. We showed our appreciation in the way that twelve year olds do by shouting “Baldy“ at him, whenever he came over to our side of the pitch. He stared at us and you could see that he was wondering why he had bothered turning out.

Arcadia Shepherds without Bobby Charlton.

Arcadia Shepherds without Bobby Charlton.

The game was a few minutes late in kicking off, probably due to the ref not seeming to arrive until twenty past one. At least he got there. The linesmen didn’t show up at all and the game was ten minutes old before anyone bothered to put the corner flags up.

For those interested, Arcadia were in a red, white and black kit whilst opponents Glenwegians wore white with green trim.

The view from the main stand.

The view from the main stand.

Midway through the first half the Glenwegian captain tapped home a loose ball to put his team ahead. I’d long realised by that time that the standard wasn’t up to much. It seemed like classic lower level Sunday League, with a mixture of keen young lads and older, out of condition, fat knackers.

The goalmouths were worn, school-style and I noticed the away team’s manager was smoking a fag in the dug-out. As were a couple of the subs.

One of the Arcadia players got a red card ten minutes before half-time. He was unlucky really as there were outrageous tackles going unpunished all over the pitch. His offence resulted in a punch-up close to the half-way line and as the ref rarely moved out of the centre circle it meant that, for once, he was handily placed.

Right on the spot.

Right on the spot.

As the kid trudged off he grabbed his car keys from one of the subs in the dugout. I was hoping that we might get a repeat of one of the highlights of my Sunday League career in which a player who had been sent off returned in his Cortina and scattered opponents, team mates and officials by driving across the centre of the pitch on his way home. No such luck on this occasion though.

There were about fifteen fans in the main stand to start with and another five peering through the fence despite it being free to get in. A few more filed in as the game went on with the total crowd perhaps peaking at forty.

I can't walk past a game without stopping to watch either.

I can’t walk past a game without stopping to watch either.

The half-time break was the shortest I’d experienced since primary school, with the combination of the late kick-off and another game scheduled for that afternoon resulting in the players getting to sit down for precisely eight minutes.

Ten minutes into the re-start, a long punt downfield bounced over the away keepers outstretched arms and an Arcadia player beat him to the ball to prod it into the empty net. One each. It was around this time when the players for the next game started appearing. They warmed up along the side of the pitch, just about doubling the crowd in the process.

Parity didn’t last long as the Arcadia persistence with long ball tactics paid off. The next hoof was chased by a fella who was at least three yards offside. The lack of linesmen, compounded by the lack of mobility of the ref, meant that he got away with it and he finished well, much to the fury of the visiting players.

The main stand.

The main stand.

The fun wasn’t over though. At least not for those of us watching. The Glenwegian captain had spent all afternoon complaining to anyone in earshot about life’s unfairness. He finally got something genuine to cry about when he took a blast to the nuts from close range. It looked as if all his team’s subs had already been used as well. Or perhaps one of them had just lit a fag up and was reluctant to leave the comfort of the dugout. Whatever the reasoning, Captain Marvel staggered around for a couple of minutes before deciding that his lack of mobility meant that he would have to go in goal.

He swapped shirts with the keeper and the game resumed. Or at least it did until the ref noticed the switch and ordered the former keeper off to swap his black goalie shorts for a white pair that matched those of his outfield teammates. I got the impression that Glenwegians didn’t have much spare kit as it took a while to find a pair. Apparently it would have taken even longer to find a pair that fitted and so the former goalie rejoined the game in shorts at least a couple of sizes too small. It wasn’t a problem for long though as the ref promptly waved him back off the pitch. This time to change his black socks for white ones.

A bit of the action.

A bit of the action.

Insisting on matching socks seemed a little excessive to me in a game that was taking place in front of forty fans and  without any linesmen. Although if I’d been on the end of the incessant Glenwegian yapping I might very well have done the same.

Overcoming his struggle to sit down in his too tight shorts, the fella eventually changed his socks and re-joined the game. He didn’t get long to make an impact though as the ref, who was obviously conscious of the late kick-off and the players for the next game loitering on the sidelines, blew for time a couple of minutes early, denying the visiting team the chance of a last gasp leveller.

Despite the standard of football being the lowest I’ve encountered since my own playing days, it was a very entertaining afternoon.

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