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What I've Learned From Being a Sunday League Football Manager

There are things about life you can only learn when you've been scythed to the ground by a Johnny Vegas lookalike in neon pink boots.
16 January 2015, 4:00pm

Artwork by Dan Evans

Professional football isn't the beautiful game. Real football – Sunday league football – is like a game of Russian Roulette: unpredictable, dangerous and definitely the most fun you'll have all week.

Being a player-manger of a Sunday league team is exactly like managing a professional team, except all your players are shit and nobody listens to a single word you say. But there are things about life you can only learn when you've been scythed to the ground by a Johnny Vegas lookalike in neon pink boots. For example, how the solution to all of life's problems is invariably going full-on Bruce Lee toward the bloke's shins, severing his knee ligaments and getting sent off.

During my five-year reign as a player-manager I've gained some pretty profound insights into my fellow man. Sunday league football is a boiling hot shot of truth, stuffed right down your gullet, seven days a week. You don't need to watch your mate pursuing a completely unobtainable one-night stand across London with bright orange Doritos dust around his mouth to realise that his life is spiralling out of control. No. You just need to see him get beaten to a header by a tiny man.

Here are my coaching tips.

DEATH IS INEVITABLE
Nothing sums up the futility of existence better than defending a 0-0 balls-to-the-wall draw for 90 minutes, only for the lad who thinks he's Lionel Messi but plays like Emile Heskey to nutmeg your keeper in the last minute and run to the corner flag to dance the Egyptian. Nothing says, "God doesn't exist" better than the Egyptian. Absolutely nothing on this earth.

YOUR GOALKEEPER HAS GOT YOU, BABE
Look. I know I just said he got nutmegged to lose us a game and also, in the interest of full disclosure, he can't kick the ball further than my gran. But I don't care about that because he has paid actual real money to stand on a freezing cold pitch for 90 minutes every week without us having to torture him or threaten to kill his family. I just know that if I'm ever in a hostage situation, he'd Liam Neeson me the fuck out of there. Respect the person who guards your goal – they may save your life. Even if they can't kick a ball for fucking toffee.

ABSOLUTELY NOBODY WANTS TO BE YOU
Being the manager of a Sunday league football team is about as glamorous as sneaking off to a particularly pissy pub bog to do a key – the kind where urinal cakes bounce across the floor like lost ping-pong balls. When your teammates say they think you're the best man for the job, what they really mean is: you're a jobless prick who spends 99 percent of his time mentally wanking off to the Brazilian wunderkind you've just signed on Football Manager. So, when they vote for you as player of the season, don't for one second think it wasn't because a) they feel sorry for you or b) they think you're cripplingly lonely.

YOU'VE GOT NO FANS
All you want to do, all the time, is talk about how your two centre midfielders play like they've got one eye on a halftime fag and the other on your sister. Or that your fifteen games in hand means you're definitely going to win the league. But here's the thing: nobody's interested. Your girlfriend or boyfriend doesn't care what you get up to on Sunday afternoon, just so long as you don't come home with a compound fracture or a tattoo on the shaft of your penis declaring your undying love for Olivier Giroud.

Everyone you know – your mum, your bin man, your cat – is sick to death of hearing about how you almost scored a golazo five weekends ago and that your teammates really don't hate each other as much as they sound like they do. Your team's Twitter account has ten followers and they're all your own players. So stop asking if anyone fancies brunch to catch up. No one does. Brunch is for twats.

SPEND MORE THAN A NANOSECOND PICKING YOUR GROUND
If you are filled with such self-loathing that your home ground requires three separate journeys on public transport to get to then you may as well just fucking retire and let someone capable do your job. Seriously. Resign this second.

NEVER LET RINGERS PLAY
If anyone in your team has "a mate" or "knows somebody" who is apparently "very good" then I can tell you right fucking now that, unless they're best mates with Cristiano Ronaldo, they won't be. You may as well play your 15-year-old dog as a false nine, because they're bound to be better than whichever malcoordinated numpty you're thinking of inviting.

YOU PLAYING 4-4-FUCKING-2 AND THAT'S THAT
British people cannot play any other formation. It's never going to happen, so stop trying to implement a 3-5-2 system with a deep-lying trequartista and a couple of overflowing wingbacks.

STUPID FOOTBALL YOU SPEAK MAKE
If there's one surefire thing football does, it's turn you into a gabbling idiot on a weekly basis whose dialect seems to have been ripped straight from the first draft of Alan Shearer's autobiography. Over Christmas I found myself shouting "no pen!" at my mum as she poured me some wine and she almost knocked the glass over. I tell my mates to "get stuck in" on the dance-floor. Recently, I found myself shouting my own name like a fucking Pokémon as I ran past an old woman to the final seat on the tube. Football lingo is infecting my real life, _Contagion_-style.

No pen. Get stuck in. Blue head. No pen. Get back. Benched. The absolute state of my dialect.

JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN'T HEAR, DOESN'T MEAN THEY'RE NOT BETTER THAN YOU
When you're shit at football, like I am, the prospect of playing against a team that can't hear is terrifying. Because, in my experience, they're both very good and very violent. Their striker showed me the fuck up – I was running around the pitch like I was chasing a silent, muscular tornado. He was twice the footballer I am. If not 2.5 times, really.

WARM-UPS ARE A COMPLETE FARCE
They basically involve shooting and missing at an open goal. Over and over. This is a post-modern metaphor for the decline of Western ideology.

EVEN WHEN YOU LOSE 9-0, YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY THE BETTER TEAM
When this happened to us recently, we huddled together in the goal and our captain looked us each in the eye and said, "Lads, those blokes were fuckin' shite." And he was right. No team has ever, or will ever, beat you objectively. Blame it on the weather, blame it on the ref, but whatever you do, never, ever, ever blame it on your team.

YOUR BEST PLAYER IS ALWAYS – WITHOUT FAIL – HUNGOVER
I think this has something to do with psychology. If you let someone know they're the best, they immediately start acting like they've just been awarded a lifetime achievement award for being great. Well, I've got news for you, mate. You're only slightly better than ten other lads who've sunk eight pints each the night before and weigh, collectively, more than an a couple of elephants. Congrats.

Never let anyone know they're important or they'll wind up spending every Saturday night in Soho, doing lines off someone's cock. My best advice would be tell your finest player he's shit at all opportunities. Constantly bench him and habitually get him to put up the nets because there are few things more soul destroying than having your mate's nut-sack squished against the back of your neck as he tries to peg it up. Break him down until he can never play football again. And then make him captain. Only someone who has known true despair can lead you to comfortable mid-table obscurity in the London Football League Division 7.

AN AWAY FIXTURE AT YOUR HOME GROUND IS THE BEST THING EVER
Because you don't have to put up the fucking nets.

EVERYONE IS A WANKER AND THAT'S FINE
Ultimately, if there is one thing I would like to pass on as gospel, it's that being too nice in this world gets you nowhere – look at Kim Jong-un. The man's too jolly, if anything. Sometimes, you've got to launch a nuke to get people to listen to you. My managerial motto is: show me a team that doesn't despise their opposition and I'll show you a bunch of reprehensible twats. What, their team hangs out at an old people's home on Wednesday evenings helping lonely grans knit their own tea-sets? Twats. Oh, they're actually really nice guys and have invited you out for a drink to talk about your recent break-up? Twats.

At the twilight of the day, when the final whistle blows, we're all just somebody else's twat. But they're yours, too. Remember that.

@MrDavidWhelan

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