As your typical college rugby player usually does, I was queuing for lunch ten minutes early, since getting through the line is my priority both on and off the pitch. However, on this particular day, my eagerness was about to cost me my afternoon. As I sat on the dining table adjacent to the doors, pining for a piping hot meal, I was accosted by the college football captain. Apparently I was not allowed to rescind on my forgotten, inebriated promise the night before, and the next thing you know I was drafted up to play for the understaffed first team. Having not played with a round ball for months, I was well and truly thrown in at the deep end, with my legs metaphorically set in concrete…
This article is not going to continue as you might imagine. I did not make too much of a fool of myself – despite a slightly hair-raising moment in front of goal – and miraculously I held my own at right back. The match was no El Classico, but I certainly did not let the side down to the biblical extent that I had anticipated.
The reason I have chosen to clog the columns of this distinguished newspaper with a seemingly innocuous article about my college football debut, is because of a certain cliché that engulfs the footballing world, but I believe deserves mention in this context: respect.
Having played rugby for nigh on 9 years of my life, I am completely indoctrinated into calling the match officials ‘Sir’ and being chastised for answering back to any decisions made. It is severely frowned upon to comment on a referee’s call, and not only will it more often than not result in a penalty against you, but the perpetrator will receive temporary animosity from the rest of his teammates. A lack of respect for the adjudicator is simply not tolerated, and this has remained so during my time in the Oxford collegiate rugby system.
My rather lacklustre performance in the college football match allowed me to witness the unbelievably disparate scenes. Although every rugby player and footballer I have encountered here are linked by attendance at the same, prestigious university, it quickly became apparent that, for some baffling reason, the design of the lines on the pitch; the change in the shape of the posts at either end of the field; and the use of feet rather than hands; lead to the complete loss of any sort of sportsmanlike respect.
I was scoffed at for addressing the referee as ‘Sir’. I witnessed a small, pale man incensed to almost violent rage about a foul decision that did not even turn out to be costly. Like a pack of savages, the entire opposition circled the poor official at one point about a penalty call: images not too dissimilar to the Lord of the Flies. In fact I would go as far as saying that contesting decisions and acting thuggish, despite your size or frame, was an inherent part of the modern game.
Of course, I already knew this to be the case. Week in, week out, whatever league you choose, the case is always the same: grown men transforming into puerile troglodytes in some sort of attempt at manly intimidation. I thought more, however, of the students that I associate myself with. To go from one pitch to another, and notice such an obvious polarisation of respect and sportsmanship was quite frankly disgusting.
I am acutely aware as I write this article that it has all been said before, and I assume it is likely that Cherwell has published something similar in the past. Why, then, does behaviour like this continue to contaminate the beautiful game? I simply cannot comprehend how football, especially at an institution where there is supposed to be a certain degree of intelligence, remains impervious to change in this regard. Perhaps I merely found myself partaking in an unrepresentative match, but I seriously do hope that the next time I stand useless in the back right corner, I do not have to bear witness to such embarrassing sights.