Fitba’ – the beautiful, but crazy game

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My knowledge of football is scanty. But that’s an improvement because for many years it was practically non-existent.

Rugby was my sport. I knew, of course, the ball was round and not oval; that it was played by teams of 11 and not 15; and that the winner was the outfit that put the round ball into what looked like a fish net more often than the other.

The offside rule – I know it’s rules and not laws in this game they brand beautiful – totally bamboozled me and, to an extent, it still does.

Passes went forward – but that was allowed, I quickly learned. I wasn’t that daft not to know that the only player who handled the ball was the goalkeeper. But they changed the rules and sometimes even the goalie can’t touch it with his hands – something about pass-backs, I believe.

What players are allowed to do in tackles – and what they seem to get away with – remains a mystery of alien proportions.

I read of how players are bought through windows. Now that seems really strange – what are doors for? And what if the club’s windows are several stories up? Pretty risky when you’ve just stumped up several million quid for a star striker or dandy defender.

I did kick a football about for a while on balmy evenings in the Scott Park in Galashiels, with jerseys as goal posts and every player was a referee.

And every lad of a certain age will remember the Co-opie Fives, played over several nights in the Public Park. Teams were scratched together from all over the place. That’s when I learned corners counted. If, after the time allotted for play had expired, the team that won the most (or was it the team that conceded the fewest) was declared the victor.

Despite my continued ignorance of most of the rules, I have actually refereed a full-blown game of football.

When working with the BBC, I was called upon as a neutral to take the whistle in a challenge match between The Southern Reporter and Border Telegraph. It was played on a soggy back pitch at Netherdale on a dampish Sunday morning.

Memories are slightly vague, but I do remember the quality of my refereeing being rather forcibly questioned by the Southern’s then sports editor, one Greig Oliver. He delighted in informing that, unlike rugby, on the line wasn’t over the line.

This Mansfield rugby star also lectured me on the offside rule. He lectured me so much that I cancelled offside and played the rest of the match without it. I seem to recall Greig taking full advantage of that decision and, yes, I’m sure The Southern won.

Dundee United didn’t win on Saturday. I know, cos I was there to see Tayside rivals St Johnstone lift the Scottish Cup – their first major silverware in their entire history.

I was there because my son, Matthew, and his fiancee, Grace, are United fans. I wore a loud tangerine top, tried to shout the correct shouts at the correct time, and watched the pair sink into abject despair when it became clear there would be no glory for the men from Tannadice.

I was genuinely sorry for them and for all the lads on our minibus. I tried to say the right things, but it came out wrong, so I slipped into silent mode.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t say it was only a game of football.