Pitch Battle

By Paul Flower on Apr 22, 09 03:03 PM

Brouhaha is a great word, one that unfortunately seems better when vocalised than it looks in print. I almost never say it because I have a tendency to miss out one of the ha's, and I suspect it would make me sound like some poncey media-luvvy, which is quite possibly the case.

Brouhaha is a great way of describing the attention given to the less-than-perfect pitch at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-finals at the weekend, particularly as the brouhaha over the pitch was used to divert attention from the other matters having a more direct influence upon the results.

There is a sporting phrase often used in business-speak which talks of a 'level playing field', in the case of Wembley at the weekend it could be argued that it was particularly relevant. As all the teams had to play on the same pitch it was therefore an equal hindrance to both. Certain managers, like Sir Alex Ferguson, moaning loudly about it could be seeking a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that they picked an inadequate team, resting key players for matches obviously deemed of more import. The state of the pitch could not be blamed entirely for the fact that Man U and Arsenal fans were short-changed by team selection errors, nor could it be blamed for Berbatov's pitifully weak and none-too-clever penalty miss.

We are now reaching the end of what seems to have been a very long football season; I refrain from calling it the pinnacle for reasons which will become obvious. This time around I have managed to double my misery. Not only did I have a season ticket to watch West Brom (often viewed through the fingers of one hand attempting to obscure my view of the defending) but I was also co-managing my son's under-10's team in the John Bryan Coventry Minor League, division C. For once I was unable to complain that I could do a better job than the manager, I couldn't.

I'm not sure to what extent I can compare the under-10's to their professional counterparts. There are probably as many tantrums and an equal number of fall-outs between team-mates, but I'm not sure how many of the pro's miss training or matches because they're on holiday or one or other parent couldn't get them to the ground on time or - as happened at least once - couldn't actually find the away team's ground.

I also didn't see the likes of Petr Cech or Brad Friedl perform brilliantly for half-a-season between the sticks and then decide they wanted to play outfield, or leave to join a rugby team, as happened to us. I will have to reserve judgement over whether it might have been preferable for Scott Carson to have done that at the Hawthorns.

One thing I can be certain of is that Alex Ferguson didn't have to referee home matches and take abuse from the opposing team's parents. Also that Tony Mowbray and Martin O'Neill never spent the ten minutes before kick-off patrolling the pitch looking to put sand and earth into the holes created by moles and rabbits in the period since the last match. This was an essential function to prevent multiple injuries and an imbalance in playing quality; maybe it'll earn me a job as part of the Wembley Stadium ground staff.

Thus we come back to the common ground. Football is a simple game at grass roots or otherwise - it's all about playing to your best ability and scoring more goals than the opposition. Consistency over the length of the season can also be a crucial factor and one that'll see Westwood Utd (my co-managed team) finish fifth and West Brom (my supported team) finish bottom. Everyone can play well sometimes, keeping it going in all conditions is key.

Maybe there are too many games, too many competitions. One of the more amusing comments made about the state of the Wembley pitch came from the mouth of Frank Lampard, who moaned about the number of extra events taking place at the stadium. Perhaps he meant extra events like FA Cup semi-finals which used to be staged at neutral provincial grounds but only recently moved to the national stadium. I wonder if Frank knows what brouhaha means.

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