Red card controversy is flavour of the month at the moment (or not if you’re on the other side of the Irish Sea) but there was a time when red and yellows didn’t exist. Well they existed as colours, obviously – but not in the context of cards – except red for Valentines – oh yeah and yellow for Easter I suppose. But not for anything else – what? Oh alright – Ruby Anniversaries and possibly Australia Day – but nothing more – okay?
Anyway, this is all beside the point – I mean what did Clinton Cards ever do for us eh?
Right, now we’ve got that out of the way we can get on with it – when I played back in 19 hundred and stupid the ref didn’t hand out cards – you were either ‘sent off’ or you were ‘let off’’ (usually with a stern warning from the fat bloke with the whistle). During this reprimand you tried to stifle a giggle whilst your mates pulled faces behind the ref and the opposition enjoined helpfully with phrases like “for f***s sake ref the b*****d nearly killed Nigel – the psycho has to go!” This last description wasn’t terribly helpful to their cause as a number of our players took it as a compliment. The boys from St Jo’s and one in particular from St Mary’s know who I mean – as do the Aske nutters! First year out of school at Askeans and we could have filled the local lunatic asylum with head cases. These maniacs with angel faces were brilliant and certainly helped us to win matches through some imaginative intimidation – of the ref as well as the opposition.
Sending offs weren’t that frequent luckily, and for a lot of refs there had to be a significant loss of blood or displaced limbs (sometimes both) before he reached for his damp notebook and leaky biro. The idea being he took your name for reporting to the County – in practice however the pencil broke or the wet made the ink run and after the game the name was simply a splodge. This smudged ink spot would later be interpreted for him in the bar as the fact that, deep down, he wanted to sleep with his father and auntie – possibly at the same time. This may explain why some of them refused to ref for us again – and, indeed why a few were actually very keen to come back – with relatives!
During the game the ref was also supposed to write down each score – although mostly you had to do this yourself as they were not renowned for their powers of recall. If you were lucky he’d remember which side won.
If the bloke in the middle had followed the letter of the law (fat chance as most had never read the rules) – most games would have ended up as 5 a side matches, with the rest of the blokes getting an ‘early bath’ whilst the water was still hot and clean. I knew several front rows who deliberately tried to get sent off with about ten minutes to go, for just this purpose.
There were places we played (yes – West Country and Wales – again) where it was almost impossible for the opposition to be sent off. Short of taking out your half your lineout with a shotgun (and I did actually see one once on the back of a tractor in the car park) – no ref was going to risk his own life and limb by sending off a local turnip picker. He’d far rather risk yours!
I suppose the yellow card system works well in cleaning up the game – but it was a good job they didn’t have them when we played – we were lucky to get 15 to turn up at all, we couldn’t afford anyone going off for a fag just because they thumped someone.