Live in Edinburgh This Week – 13th December 2009

nothing Baaaaaaart, help!  It appears that there is actually not one single musical event happening this week in Edinburgh which I personally would feel motivated to attened.  The only thing I’ve managed to find which I would actually like to go to is the Twilight Sad in-store performance at Avalanche Records tomorrow at one o’clock but erm, with it being one o’clock in the afternoon that might prove to be logistically challenging given I have a day job.

Generally when I write these listings, no matter how thorough I think I’ve been, ginger eagleweasel Bart pops up in the comments to set me straight about something wonderful which I have missed.  Maybe it’s my paranoia, but I always seem to read a slight smirk into his tone of voice too, the smug bastard.  In any case, come on Bart, if ever your truffle-snuffling spidey senses were needed it’s today.

Bruce Sprinsteen – 57 Channels (and Nothing On)

So, I thought I might tell you what I am doing this weekend.  I wouldn’t bother reading this if you don’t like football, but you might enjoy the heartwarming story anyway.  On Saturday is the Sporting ICAPB Burton-Barry Cup Final, and I will hopefully be dragging my blubbery carcass around a footbally pitch for at least half of that match.  After that there will be (shit) curry and drinking.

Amateur league football in Scotland has been the least enjoyable football I’ve ever played in my life.  The slightest mistake in training and people start shouting at one another, throwing their hands up in despair and shouting ‘Oh for fuck’s sake’ and dispensing other such pearls of wisdom.  As if people make mistakes on purpose. I have never found sport in general and football in particular, which I love playing with a passion, to be so utterly joyless in my life.

I remember doing shooting practise at one point and shanking a shot high and wide, only to be on the end of that exact same pantomime of dramatic sighs and gestures and general infantile melodrama and saying ‘Oh for fuck’s sake, it’s fucking training.’ only to be met with ‘Well if you don’t take it seriously at training how can we be sure you’ll take it seriously in a match?’ as if a grown fucking adult can’t tell the difference.

I’ve been playing amateur league football my whole life, and I have failed to get into teams in Scotland who the sides I’ve played for every week in places like England, Holland and Austria would have pummelled into oblivion, so I find this sort of shit incredibly frustrating.  It got to the stage when I thought I was going to just have to pack it in and then I found Sporting ICAPB, because my friend Max was the coach.

Everything about the way Max ran the club was totally different and, certainly in Scotland at least, totally and utterly unique.  He focussed on one thing and one thing only: making players better by making them confident and giving them clear-cut jobs.

His greatest achievement was the invention of the No Punting Rule, whereby you were forbidden from just clearing the ball up the park.  He basically said that you should always, always find a pass absolutely always, unless it was practically impossible.  Sometimes you would end up giving the ball away and we would concede a goal, but he was the coach, it was his decision and he would take responsibility, so it wasn’t your fault.  The results were fucking incredible.

Because you knew the person on the ball would always be looking for a pass it made the whole team work much harder to make themselves available, which made making that pass infinitely easier.  And because you knew you were under orders never to punt it, you became much more confident to actually have the ball, because you knew that being caught in possession wasn’t necessarily a crime.  It was amazing.  I have never in all my years played such good football.  I’ve never played so much football either.  As a centre-half your job is to win the ball and get rid of it, finding a pass if possible, but usually (especially in Scotland) just belting it a very long way up the pitch vaguely in the direction of your centre-forwards. As a consequence you tackle and win headers, but end up playing very little actual football.  Under this system that totally changed.

There were other things too.  Defensively, every role was simplified, and our fitness was massively improved.  The result?  Well, we starting beating teams comfortably who, man for man, were better than us in almost every position.  It was incredible.  I remember playing a side every single one of whom was better than every single one of us at football and we battered them 6-1.  I remember putting five past a side from one of the best known amateur clubs in Scotland, and with such a rag-tag collection of players: ageing amateurs like myself, a couple of talented randoms, a couple of lads who had never played before a few years ago, biology PhD students and all sorts of others.

It used to drive the other teams nuts too, because they knew they should be better than us. They knew we weren’t getting rid of the ball under pressure like we should do, they could see some of us were fucking rotten at even the most basic skills, they never once heard us shout ‘get in amongst them’ or ‘come on, give it 110%’ or ‘right from the start ICAPB’ or any of that other shit, and they couldn’t figure out how they weren’t giving us a right chasing – it was hilarious.

I moved up here at age twenty-nine and after a couple of bad experiences at awful clubs thought that was basically it and I was going to have to pack it in prematurely, until I bumped into Max and his ludicrous levels of devotion to such a part-time side, and his incredible courage in his convictions in how the game should be coached and played.  It’s been brilliant.  I’ve never felt like such a footballer and never enjoyed playing so much, so I (and everyone else at the club) owe Max an enormous debt of gratitude.

He’s since moved down to Oxford and doesn’t coach the team anymore, but he’ll be back up this weekend for the veterans vs current team challenge match which is the Burton-Barry cup, and we’ll be heading out on the town to get plastered afterwards.

And that is what I will be doing this week.  I take it you’re sorry you asked.