With the return of league football comes the return of that stalwart of urban socialisation, five-a-side football. Or, if you're as unlucky as I am, the ruddy five-a-side season finishes one week and starts the next in a never ending cycle of pain. This is particularly upsetting during those wintery seasons when the teams that are worse than you have all dropped out and it's just mauling after thrashing.
The time, setting and ability levels may vary in the leagues around the country, but I'm pretty certain the people don't. See if you recognise these from your own league:
The Uninitiated- Rabbits in the headlights. These are the poor chaps who have never played Sunday league football and have turned up for a bit of fun with their mates. Think again. They think they're reasonable footballers but they're about to learn that five-a-side is not just playing football. Especially if their first game happens to be against this next breed.
The Thugs- It took me about 2 minutes of my first match before uttering something along the lines of 'steady on now, fellow'. And then I spent the next 43 minutes trying to be subbed as frequently as possible. It turns out, despite seeing all the play acting in televised football, that the game is indeed a contact sport. Now, if you happen to be playing a team of this category then it's less of a contact sport and more of a brawl. There's surely a team in every league who have little intention of playing football and take any opportunity to physically abuse the opposition. They have daddy issues and as it's a school night they can't work through them outside of Wetherspoons, so it's your turn to help out.
The Ringer- We all want one but few manage to get one. Luckily for me we have. A guy who's been around the block and used to play semi-professionally, before the dream of playing at Wembley was replaced with a patchy AstroTurf on an industrial park in Croydon. No one knows the exact reason why they're even here. They're so much better than everyone else that it can't be fun for them. If the refs don't know your name then sorry, you are not one of these.
The Pot-Heads- Perhaps every league doesn't have one of these but I hope it's not just us. Some nights whilst playing the fog of war overwhelms you, only sometimes you suddenly realise it isn't war but cannabis. You look around and yes, it's the team you expected it to be (the one with the guy who wears a baseball cap at a not-convincingly-jaunty angle) slumbering just beyond the cage and talking very slowly yet with a bemusing intensity. I find this a touch endearing in some romanticised notion of youth but that quickly transcends into outrage when they get up, eventually discover in wonderment that they have found the gate to the pitch and somehow wipe the floor with you. It's then I realise that perhaps the authorities are right and weed should be considered a performance enhancing drug despite appearing to be a hindrance.
The Kids- These also do my head in. They're too young- I'm not old but these make me feel old. They can run. At full speed. For the whole match. They don't even have subs! It makes you pine for your own former glory. Until you see them all piling into their mums' cars for a lift home.
The Old Timers- They know their way around a five-a-side pitch. They know when to run and when not to. How to suppress those who are more nimble and avoid the blows raining down from the more violent. They probably also moan a lot and have their socks pulled up the correct distance.
The Serious- Talking of moaning, these are the ones who have the most arguments. This is their Premier League. They spend the week researching the opposition, have matching kits and most bizarrely actually warm up. Although sometimes there are whole teams of these, I bet there is one in your team. They usually play in midfield and shout instructions as though they are Napoleon whilst the rest of you mutter to yourselves that they are in fact clueless. If we all agree do you think we can force him out?
The Crazy- More often or not these are goalkeepers. And there's nothing more amusing, and sometimes effective, than an eccentric goalkeeper. These are the ones who rush to take throw-ins just as you're trying to protect a two goal lead with two minutes to go. These are lovable rogues until it all goes wrong and you curse their very existence.
The Girl- 'Have you seen that team? They've got a bloody girl!!' A phrase which is often replied to with a wholly inappropriate follow up comment involving a member of your team and what the best marking policy would be. When you stride out to play this team you have an element of curiosity and think 'good on her' for risking the physical abuse you've suffered on these evenings. Until you realise that actually A: She's better than you and B: She plays like Ronda Rousey. Often at the end of these matches, the misogynist in the team is left wondering what's just happened.
The Refs- A necessary evil given all of the above. Some are well meaning, supportive even, they get you. And some are complete ass-hats who just want a little bit of power. You look at them expectantly after being on the end of a poorly disguised haymaker of a sliding tackle and they just say 'play to the whistle'. The thing you wonder most about them is- how much do they get paid? Surely not much, but then you see them getting into a Merc at the end and it just doesn't add up. Probably selling the marijuana to the pot-heads, you reason.
The Everyman- This is me. Well, actually we all think this is us. We're the normal ones. The thugs smash us, the ringers run rings around us and the refs hate on us. But we turn up week in and week out. Granted sometimes we spend the whole day praying the opposition don't turn up and try to convince the organisers to swap us out of the graveyard that is the 9 pm kick off. But it's all worth it when that 'backs against the wall' win comes in. Come rain or shine, loss or victory, we're in it for the camaraderie. Not that crap plastic trophy they give out four times a year.