Oh, how times are changing at this little Lancastrian club. It has been just over a year since Malky Mackay replaced Uwe Rosler as skipper of the overpopulated rowing boat with a large hole that was Wigan Athletic. But after the best part of 365 long, arduous days and countless men cast ruthlessly overboard, a makeshift Blue Peter vessel formed of leftover Sharpy’s fish and chip cartons is sailing peacefully through the calmer waters of League One.
However, from the murky depths of unclaimed ocean emerges the biggest test of Cap’n ‘Birdseye’ Caldwell’s navigational skills to date. Nope, not the avaricious mainstream media or hapless referees yanked from the pages of a particularly bad ‘Ball Boy’ comic strip, but the Great British weather. Like a carnivorous 6-foot mutant hedgehog, it wakes from its summer hibernation to skewer football managers for a light after dinner snack. And when it burps, one senses the unmistakable ‘4 second rule’ stench of a recently consumed Rosler.
License to dally, my dear wotsit
Caldwell is well prepared – such creatures are indigenous to his native Scotland. In other words, he knows that winter conditions are liable to arrive suddenly one week in November and feed heartily on the DW’s seaweed sweet marshy turf. He knows the real strategy is to play the football team and not the (historically variable) pitch… and to engage in 20ft mudslide tackles. Ahh, that great northern pastime!
Though it did show signs of mid-Autumn wear, the pitch was not to blame for a match that had so many delays you’d think you were watching a real life internet stream in Jerk-O-Vision on a BBC Micro with 52k dial up modem. But if that is the case, who *is* the perpetrator of this misdemeanour? Well, let’s look at the prime suspects.
Suspect #1: Darren Deadman
The amusingly named Deadman is clearly from the Arsene Wenger School of Refereeing, as he is a firm believer in the motto “though I saw the incident, I shall pretend it never happened if anyone asks”. Which admittedly isn’t very catchy, but whoever said officiating is about entertainment?
Anyway, Deadman’s distinctly League One style of refereeing granted both teams (but mostly Shrewsbury) free license to perform WWF chokeholds and stamps… except in this case, they certainly were not mutually choreographed with safety in mind. The ref barely flinched when a crunching challenge ripped Michael Jacobs’ foot from its socket, granting ‘Crackers’ a slow and painful hobble around half the pitch’s perimeter to the tunnel.
After half an hour had passed, Deadman fumbled around in his front pocket, pushing aside the half-sucked Werther’s Originals and two ounces of belly button fluff to finally grab his long-lost whistle. And when he did blow it, a yellow card normally followed – just ask the sulking McCann, Perkins, Grandison, Sadler and Vernon. They’re tonight’s starring act on The X Factor, incidentally.
Suspect #2: Shrewsbury Town
Look, who’s been duplicating the VHS tapes again? The Shrews obviously obtained a copy of that cinematic classic ‘The Damage of Vigouroux‘, a modern day masterclass in Mogadon football. But with video cameras largely banned at League One games, how on earth did they get hold of it?
OK, I’ll admit that nothing could match King Lawrence’s mastery of the stolen minute. However, not even he could dream up the incredible ‘trickiest bootlaces in the world’ stunt – when it takes over 60 seconds to tie them, it’s time to invest in some Velcro. Jussi looked on with great interest, ordering his ball boy to take notes in the Filofax he was given as a present for his first league appearance 34 years ago.
Suspect #3: Wigan Athletic
Oft times, the longest delays are after a team scores a goal. Granted, Alex Revell’s smart header through Jayson Leutwiler‘s fingers at the near post deserved a gentle pat on the head and chew bone. But when the entire team performs Call of Duty-style army crawls in unison, refs nicknamed ‘The Fastest Card in the West’ tend to get trigger happy. And as we all know, yellow cards = more delays than the next Gran Turismo release = five (five? Five!) minutes of stoppage time.
(Nobody *was* booked for that celebration, though they easily could have been. But only if it involved shirt tugging.)
Despite an elongated period of pseudo-pressure facilitated by Shrewsbury’s ‘what the fudge do we do now’ 8 man attack, the marginally below par Latics commanded their ball as usual. Thus, blame for any stoppages must lie squarely at the hosts’ feet… as opposed to 30 rows back, where the ball was often propelled.
The culprit revealed!
Come on, admit it – you jumped straight to this final section just as you would skip to the last few pages of an Agatha Christie novel. Which there is no point in doing, as the fun is in the challenge of working it all out. Hence, there is no real perpetrator of this ‘crime’ – in any instance, it seems the case’s investigators have ‘turned a Wenger eye’ in the interests of ‘letting things flow’.
Ahh, please don’t be disappointed by the lack of closure – you’ll have forgotten all about this game by Wednesday.