There’s no use crying over spilt milk, they say.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a petulant strop like a Portuguese football manager after its splattered their shoes as it falls.
Football does strange things to us all. It isn’t just Jose Mourinho whose sense of reason is put through the prism of the game, only to come out the other side as damned foolishness. His request for the Manchester City players to “show some respect” isn’t so much the pot calling the kettle black, it’s the black pot calling another black pot a black pot.
He isn’t alone in his hypocrisy, we’re all guilty of it at times. We time waste when the scoreline is in our favour, yet bemoan it when the clock is against us. We take the good fortune of refereeing errors that come to us as “decisions evening themselves out over the course of the season”, yet show no understanding when they don’t.
Losing, more so than winning, skews our perspective. Some call it a red mist but it’s more of a heavy mental curtain that comes down and shuts off the part of your brain that curtails your emotional instincts to react. Without it, you become childlike, unaware of what’s sensible and decent and surrender to the adrenaline pumping through your veins.
When you see it taking hold of someone else, it looks comical. The same way you look at your toddler throwing a tantrum, legs and arms swinging wildly as they flail around on the floor. But when you’re the one having the tantrum, you’re blind to your own irrational behaviour until the curtain lifts once again and you’re filled with embarrassment.
Throughout my career I became victim to it on a daily basis. Forever apologising for stupid bust-ups that didn’t need to happen. You try and dress it up as the actions of a winner because you hated losing because being a bad loser means you’re a winner, right? Wrong. It’s only later, often too late, that you realise it’s emotional immaturity that makes you run to the cloakroom to cry after you’re beaten by Angela Gill at badminton when you’re 10 years old.
I didn’t change much from that kind of behaviour throughout my career. Whilst at Darlington, I took to smashing up bathrooms after defeats or decisions that went against my side. It wasn’t something I set out to do, but when I lost it, they became the target of my anger, with the added bonus of not having the ability to hit back.
At the Abbey Stadium, we lost 1-0 to Cambridge United because of a referee who deemed a slice clearance from a defender as a back pass and they scored from the resulting indirect free kick after I’d handled the ball. Cue me being restrained from confronting the referee, kicking the door to his dressing room to get at him, then booting the side of a bath in the changing rooms and putting my foot straight through the bottom of it.
After a game at Carlisle United, I pulled a sink unit from the wall after drawing 3-3 in a game where a Carlisle player fell to the floor holding his face as if I’d head-butted him as we confronted one another, resulting in a penalty being given and the ref showing me a yellow card.
My argument was if I had head-butted him, why wasn’t it a red? There was no red card but plenty of mist which stayed with me right through the game and afterwards. I was so incensed by what their player had done I marched over to their players as they did their warm-down and told them I hoped they went down. And I meant it. Luckily, I was dragged away. Mostly for my own safety.
In most of these cases, like the one at Old Trafford, it’s just theatre. Rarely is there anything sinister happening in tunnels or outside changing rooms. “Fights” are mostly scuffles. “Brawls” are rarely anything other than pushing matches. Acts of bravado. I mean, honestly, when was the last fight where the two main weapons used were pizza and milk?
My own indiscretions apart, I can count on one hand how many times situations have got out of hand away from the eyes of the crowd.
The last time was probably at Oakwell when Roy Keane was manager of Ipswich Town. Keane, standing in the doorway of the doorway of his sides dressing room waited for our centre half, Darren Moore, to pass before shouting “You do a lot of crying and whinging for a big man, don’t you?”. Not the most incendiary of remarks but enough for Mooro to turn round and ask him to repeat what he’d said. “You heard me.” said Keane. That’s when Mooro gave him “The Brow”.
“The Brow” isn’t a head butt as you might think, he wasn’t quite close enough for that. It was when Mooro was angry and he’d furrow his brow and stare you down. It was usually enough to warn off anyone daft enough to make the big man lose his temper. Which, if anyone knows him, takes a lot.
But this is football and as Mooro lurched in to grab Keane by the throat all hell broke loose. Well, “football bubble” hell where everyone gets involved but no-one actually gets hurt. More reminiscent of a school fight, with a few stragglers to the scene holding the coats at the back and shouting “Go on Mooro, kill him.”. Of course nobody gets killed and hurt and everyone gets back in the dressing room to tease Darren Moore about Roy Keane being smaller than him and tell him to stop bullying people.
For those watching on and those who desperate to know the details, it’s entertainment.
Maybe the one good thing to come from it is to see that people are still invested in the game emotionally and not just mercenaries turning up for their dollar. Unless it’s planned and premeditated to mask the performance or result of a game but who would do such a thing like that?