An evening out at the Victoria Ground in Hartlepool would provide Ed Parkinson with an opportunity to see the new ten yard dissent rule in action. Or so he thought...
As a lifelong Hartlepool United supporter I had made a solemn pledge never to throw good money after bad by attending the dire clutch of virtual friendlies which masquerade as Auto Windscreens Shield matches. This single wise move saves me an average of £60 per season, including petrol.
Unfortunately my resolve to resist the bogus competition was finally broken by the northern section quarter-final against Carlisle. As I live in Hexham the Cumbrians offer my nearest Pools match of the season and this geographical quirk, combined with the opportunity to revisit the ancient steward who herds you into the away end by muttering “Come by lads, come by”, tempted me most sorely.
The match was postponed several times, however, until eventually, in an outrageous capitulation to the very west coast rains that tourist boards desperately deny, it was relocated to Hartlepool and a night when I could get there. Prices were even reduced.
It was clear that I was fated to break my pledge but I tried to resist until, in the midst of the Man Utd dissent controversy, I realised that I could view the new ten yard rule now, a full seven months before the Premiership-obsessed Geordies I work with. I could finish arguments by delivering an informed analysis, based on real life experience, before anyone else had seen a single example that did not involve egg chasers. I could enjoy an exclusive preview of the refereeing weapon alleged to be potent enough to subdue Roy Keane.
The match yielded a disappointing result, but what did it reveal about the new law? The referee, Mr Boyd, ensured that both sides were given the opportunities needed to show dissent if desired: a wild body check resulted in Pools’ talented young central defender Micky Barron being stretchered off and he awarded a Carlisle throw.
He also made a series of quite bizarre foul throw decisions which left both sides nonplussed and set about booking players for innocuous tackles when far rougher play had gone on earlier in the match. He also consistently overruled and ignored linesmen no matter how close to alleged offences they were.
At one point my mate became so incensed by the official’s performance that he hurled a midget gem towards Mr Boyd and very nearly hit his left buttock. Of course no sane football supporter would condone this action, even though it was one of the softer modern midget gems, but it does serve to illustrate the level of frustration felt in the crowd.
Among the players there was no outward sign of similar feelings. Not one ball was slammed to the ground, none of the usual clearly audible profanities was uttered and nobody challenged a single decision. The ten yard rule was never called into use and, if the zeal with which he en-forces the throw-in laws is anything to go by, Mr Boyd would have loved to try it out given even the slightest opportunity.
To supporters of the new law it would appear that the mere threat of its use ensures sportsmanlike behaviour. However, a word of caution may be wise. Carlisle cared so little about this tie that they happily agreed to give up home advantage and yet the key factor in their success was probably greater determination. I suspect there was no dissent because my original instincts were right and, when it comes to the Auto Windscreens Shield, no one can really be bothered to argue. Perhaps FIFA should try the experiment again when we play Darlington at Wembley with promotion at stake.
From WSC 158 April 2000. What was happening this month