David Preece: Smashed iPads, red cards and fears over Östersund future - why I love my Swedish chaos
If I was to give these past nine months a name in a book I will eventually complete, the most appropriate one I can think of right now is simply “Chapter 10 - Chaos”.
Football is chaos. Random actions and decisions affected by 22 players, two benches of coaches and to a certain extent the atmosphere created by the watching fans.
Tactics and philosophies are employed in an attempt to harness this chaos, yet despite the sometimes decades of thought that goes into them, there is still one contributing factor that can negate them all: the officials.
On Monday night, I was sent off for the fourth time in my career and unlike the previous occasions there were no excuses to be made. There are no excuses from me for what I said or the way I acted towards the officials but there isn’t an ounce of regret from me either. Not one.
We operate in a no-blame culture here in Östersund so therefore I don’t blame anyone else for words I have never heard either of my parents ever utter to come from my mouth, but there is context to be added.
I could begin this next part much earlier than 10 days before Monday’s game but for the sake of my word count, I won’t.
A week last Thursday we were called into a meeting with our new chief executive to be told that the club needed to raise 10 million SEK, around £800,000, before the end of the month or the club would cease to exist. This is no secret and was quite rightly big news in Sweden.
We were told everyone behind the scenes was working extremely hard to rectify the situation but the reality was there was a possibility that we wouldn’t be paid on time, if at all. Not brilliant preparation mentally for a group of mostly young players and staff alike before a crucial match against a side who were chasing our tails towards survival against relegation.
Not a situation I’m unfamiliar with as it was an almost identical one we faced when I was at Darlington, the only exception being that our game against Brentford that day was it was first facing second in League Two.
Of course, the ramifications go beyond football and the loss of three points. On a human level, not being able to pay mortgages and bills come the end of the month add pressures that lie heavier than any athletic performance.
But this is life and life isn’t simple, nor is it ever easy no matter the platform it’s being played out on. Neither is it ever solely dependant on the bad fortune I spoke about in last week’s column.
We have befallen that same self-fulfilling prophecy I spoke about, of fortune favouring the brave and those riding high and misfortune burying those already down on their knees. Right now, we find ourselves in the grip of the latter, two points ahead of those below us with four games to go.
Whilst we don’t require the snookers others do, the cue ball ball is definitely against the cushion and reds are together, tightly packed.
So when when we found ourselves outplaying the top side in the league, Djurgården, and 21 seconds over the allotted two minutes of injury time, the inevitable happened.
A corner was allowed to be taken, two phases of play allowed to continue – which included a clear handball as one of their players controlled the ball with his forearm mere yards in front of the referee – it became difficult to take.
They say refereeing decisions even themselves out over the course of a season, well I’m here to tell you they don’t. I know VAR has caused much consternation in England but if there was ever a strong case for VAR to be persevered with, it’s that of the Allsvenskan this season.
Not just because we have been on the end of some the worst decisions but every game seems to be littered with game-changing errors.
Even in my pre-match analysis of the opposition, I see teams scoring from corners where the ball is almost a foot outside the designated area it should be taken.
A small advantage you might think, but huge in terms of giving the taker of an inswinging corner more room within to manoeuvre and allow easier delivery. The ire is not only mine.
So when you throw an iPad to the floor and use expletives to shout at the fourth official and the assistant referee that their incompetence costs us every week, then you’re always going to be banished to the stands.
The correct response from me should have been to keep quiet and say nothing but that isn’t me, and it never will be.
From the moment I was told at 13 I didn’t have what it takes, that I wasn’t tough enough to become a professional footballer, it was determination, fight and resilience that made sure I proved that person wrong every day for 22 years – and it’s that same attitude that will spill over from time to time because I care and because it hurts.
When that feeling goes, I know it’s the time I’m done. It hasn’t though, and I’m not.
“It never rains, it pours” they say, but it’s worse here in Sweden. It never rains, it snows.
And as I walked back home and the snow came down, I went through the full spectrum from of emotion, doing a self-audit of how I coach and questioning my methods. Whether my presence was having a positive effect, or worse still, a negative one. No doubts as such, it’s just a process that for me has to be gone through before coming out the other side and stronger for it.
After tough nights at the office, I always have the image of Al Pacino as Tony D’Amato in Any Given Sunday, propping up the bar in the hope that he’ll find the answers to his problems at the bottom of a whisky bottle.
In my case, the reality isn’t as dramatic as that or even worthy of a scene in a film for that matter.
Let’s face it, who wants to pay to watch a 43-year-old man lying alone on a couch, demolishing two family packs of Doritos and three bars of Snickers ice cream? Yeah, me neither.
The speech made by D’Amato in the film is probably one I should revisit, to get some inspiration. Yes, we’re in hell right now, but not for long. Time to get those inches.