David Preece: New year, new me - and goodbye to the raging Mackem after rule changes
It’s amazing how easily we adapt to our environment.
Over here in Östersund, we’re at the point in the year when temperatures fluctuate between -5 and -15 and in the last 24 hours we’ve had around a foot of snow. It’s actually been pretty mild here up to now, with the real snow coming a few weeks later than usual but when it arrives it really arrives.
Twelve months on from my own arrival here, the novelty has worn off though. Whether it’s the annoyance at the “warm” days (anything above zero) which melts the snow and freezes it to leave every walkway an ice rink or the days when anything less than a knee length boot results in wet feet, I’m only ever irked if it affects whether we can train outside or not. Up to now, we’ve managed to be out on the pitch and whatever I once regarded as cold is now my normal. If it doesn’t end up freezing my beard then there’s no need for gloves.
We’re four weeks away from the start of the Allsvenkan, a season long program that didn’t even include is initially, so it feels much longer than than the four months since the end of the last one. Yet here we are, and I whisper this quietly, looking in decent shape despite the media circus that has surrounded the club.
Pre-season in Sweden means Svenska Cup, the FA Cup equivalent that actually began last season in August. Allsvenskan sides play one qualifying round against lower league opposition and then the next phase is a four team group stage, which in our case includes another Allsvenskan side Häcken, a second tier Superettan side GAIS and Eskilsminne from third tier Division 1 which has so far resulted in 5-0 win away to Eskilminne and a 4-0 win at home to GAIS.
As with any cup, there are always the shock results but after losing 2-1 to Karlstad of Division 1 last season, we were determined it wasn’t going to be us this time around. So job done in that respect.
Sunday now sees us take a superior goal difference away to Häcken to decide who progresses to the last eight. Given our two 1-1 draws with them last year and their experienced starting 11, it’s a game that will provide a more accurate assessment of where we are at. So we’re all looking forward to that.
With the league season in sight, it also means an annual visit from the lovely chaps at the referees association to discuss any new directives or changes in the laws that we need to adapt to and just as we’ve seen in the Premier League this season, it looks like we’re in for an interesting time here too. Although it doesn’t look like Sweden will come in to line with the Europe’s top leagues by introducing VAR until at least 2022, it’s clear the new interpretation of the handball rule is going to cause problems.
Even from the examples shown to us that were used by UEFA, it’s clear that decisions are going to differ between each referee, particularly when penalty decisions are concerned. Leaving us with the main takeaway being that it isn’t worth losing your head over the inconsistency because the referees themselves aren’t 100% sure in their thinking.
Not that I’ll be losing my head this year. My personal aim is to make sure I’m not on the receiving end of the newly introduced yellow cards to warn coaches about their behaviour.
As much as everyone in the office rolls their eyes when I tell them this, the truth is it doesn’t help your case to express emotions towards Swedish referees from the bench. Especially with the fourth officials who are generally inexperienced newbies looking to get through games without having to deal with a raging Mackem in their ear.
You usually see people declaring “New year, new me” at the beginning of January but here I am in March vowing the same thing. More than anything, I can’t be doing with the 10,000 kroner fine every time I throw my hands up in the air in frustration.
That said, if the fourth official can’t identify who was the source of the exuberant protests, it’s the manager that gets ejected anyway. I might just get myself a baseball cap and a Groucho Marx disguise to deflect any attention I might get from the Swedish officials.