The start of a new semester signals the start of a new season of 6-a-side, and a new opportunity to create an average team of lads with an equally average pun-tastic name. Indeed, the prevalence of self-deprecation and poor puns inherent in the naming of teams is perhaps indicative of the average quality of the six-a-side leagues themselves. But, with the exciting prospect of a free Rascal’s meal, and St Andrew’s sports stardom for the winning team, complete with a picture, there are once again a plethora of teams and players signing up for the weekday afternoon astro fixtures. I, of course, with my motley crew of part time kickers, signed up for a third year in a row, in the hopes of improving on last year’s third in the league.
The greatness of six-a-side however, is not often found in the quality of football. Of course, every league often has a first rate team who are intent on clinching first place, and enjoying their Rascal’s meal. Good quality of football though is rarely on display, but is replaced by a number of phenomena that are unique to 6-a-side, and which I will individually explore.
Firstly, haphazard or non-existent goal-keeping. It is fair to assume that one of the keys to success in 6-a-side is to have an alright keeper. If he played for the C-team at school, and has a sweaty pair of gloves that he’s worn since the age of eleven, then he’s good enough. But it is a role that is not to be envied. You’ll be vilified for every strike that goes in, mocked for throwing the ball over-arm, and be forced to sacrifice your face (and dignity) to stop a ball which your flailing hands cannot reach. As a result, proper keepers are hard to come by. Instead, there is often a pre-established system of rotation in and out of goal by the outfield players, a flawed system that sees some truly woeful goal-keeping displays. These outfield players, so intent on finding the net in forty minutes, will often find themselves racking up an almost impressive tally of assist own-goals. Such is the abhorrence of playing in goal for certain players that they will contrive to put in a poor display so as to not be selected as keeper again.
Secondly, the throw-in. Foul throws are part and parcel of six-a-side and are effectively permitted, as apparently no one was told how to throw a ball at school. In fact, a legal throw is a rare phenomenon, a mythical chimera that is sighted every blue moon. But much like haphazard goal-keeping, the foul throw augments the sense of magic that is embedded in the six-a-side game. It essentially represents the laissez-faire, anything goes, attitude that both teams and captains adopt to allow the game to flow.
This attitude is engendered even further in the refereeing decisions. There is admittedly no referee, and both captains are expected to judge fairly all decisions that are made. St Andrew’s students are strikingly impartial for the majority of the game, and are often more interested in allowing the game to flow rather than intervening at any available moment. Teams are also in general, very well-behaved, and the no slide tackling rule is abided by all, apart from the token lunatic that every team possesses (you know who you are!)
The inconsistency of kit selection is also a unique aspect of six-a-side, and one that divides many a team. The ‘Should we get a kit?’ conversation is something that the captain has to endure with every single player on numerous occasions. If you opt for the no kit approach then prepare for absolute mayhem within the team ranks. Even after you explicitly posted on facebook, personally messaged everyone, and even knocked on a few doors to remind the team that today you are wearing red, the same as every week, inevitably one joker will turn up in blue, and be bloody chuffed about it. This joker is, more often than not, the selfsame lunatic who slide tackles and who, you suspect, has anger management issues, so be easy with him.
Indeed, the one week that everyone does turn up in red, luck would have it that the other team are all Man U fans, and are also wearing red. Thus begins a stand-off between both teams, neither team prepared to lose face this early on in the fixture, nor willing to be aerodynamically disadvantaged by a bib’s impressive wind resistance. So you all end up playing in the same colour, and everyone has a great laugh, apart from the kid who forgot to wear his contact lenses.
So if you have signed up for 6-a-side this season, and are preparing your team to face another witty, self-disparaging team, be aware that the name may be more accurate than ironic. And also find yourself a goalkeeper.