Different type of bravery on the football field

A couple of Sunday’s ago on BBC’s Match of the Day 2, the pundits were discussing Swansea City’s win against Arsenal and they praised the bravery of Brendon Roger’s players. There were, they said, different types of bravery in football. There those players who would get stuck in and battle for every ball and then there were those like the Swansea players who would stick to their passing game, despite all provocation to do otherwise. Perhaps ‘commendable’ would be a better word than brave as I never rate footballers with bravery when compared with people like firemen who risk their very lives entering burning buildings or the troops in Afghanistan who never know whether they will return from their next patrol or with all their limbs still intact. But I accept that there are different types of bravery and my mind went back to the games that I had been refereeing earlier that day. I had been asked by Berks & Bucks FA, to referee a tournament for people with mental health problems. I had done a couple of these before at the Madejski Dome where teams had come from across the South, as far east as Southend and as far west as Swansea. But this turned out to be different; there was not one tournament but six in various age groups, including women’s teams. But it was when I took to the pitch, marked out alongside the sacred square at Marlow Cricket Club that I was in for a shock. Not only did the players taking part have mental health problems but many also had severe physical disabilities. So much so that I asked myself, are they really going to be able to play football? But there they were all decked out in their teams’ kit from Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire and ready to play. This was typified by one young man, who seemingly had no control over any of his limbs or his head, all of which, twitched constantly and vigorously. But did he enjoy himself. He moved best he could into open spaces and was looking all the time to play the ball, and although he couldn’t kick it too well he had numerous attempts at goal. There were others who had difficulty in walking, dragging their feet as they did so and others who could walk but couldn’t run and could only kick the ball when it came near enough. Having said that, no quarter was given or asked and tackles went in hard. Sometimes, when they went crashing to the ground I was worried for their often frail bodies but they got up and got on with it. No diving or feigning injury here. As a referee, of course I had to make certain concessions; the whole purpose of the day was to give the players the joy of playing football. The young man I mentioned for instance handled the ball on one occasion but I couldn’t give a free kick for deliberate handball when it was just part of his involuntary movements. Throw-ins were roll-ins, that happens sometimes in other competitions but in this case it was a necessity as some of the players had only one good arm. To me there were a lot of brave people out on that particular football field. We often knock the Football Association and our County FA’s and sometimes rightly so, but here is some work that most people never see or hear about. Spending time, money and recourses to ensure the inclusion of those less fortunate than ourselves, in the game that we all love but take for granted. And of course their staff have to give up their Sundays to organise the events along with dedicated volunteers. Here of course we are not talking about bravery – but commendable seems too inadequate a word.

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