CLASSICS FC - SCHOOL FOOTIE
"There's Ottmar Hitzfeld, the two year old Bayern Munich manager." - Mike Hill
RULES OF THE GAME
1. Playing Time
Matches shall be played over three unequal periods: two playtimes and a lunchtime. Each of these periods shall begin
shortly after the ringing of a bell, and although a bell is also rung towards the end of these periods, play may continue
for up to ten minutes afterwards, depending on the nihilism or "bottle" of the participants with regard to corporal
punishment met out to latecomers back to the classroom. In practice there is a sliding scale of nihilism, from those
who hasten to stand in line as soon as the bell rings, known as "poofs", through those who will hang on until the time
they estimate it takes the teachers to down the last of their gins and journey from the staffroom, known as "chancers",
and finally to those who will hang on until a teacher actually has to physically retrieve them, known as "barn-pots".
This sliding scale is intended to radically alter the logistics of a match in progress, often having dramatic effects on the
scoreline as the number of remaining participants drops. It is important, therefore, in picking the sides, to achieve a
fair balance of poofs, chancers and barn-pots in order that the scoreline achieved over a sustained period of play - a
lunchtime, for instance - is not totally nullified by a five-minute post-bell onslaught of five barn-pots against one. The
scoreline to be carried over from the previous period of the match is in the trust of the last barn-pots to leave the field
of play, and may be the matter of some debate. This must be resolved in one of the approved manners (see
(i) The object is to force the ball between two large, unkempt piles of jackets, in lieu of goalposts. These piles may
grow or shrink throughout the match, depending on the number of participants and the prevailing weather. As the
number of players increases, so shall the piles. Each jacket added to the pile by a new addition to a side should be
placed on the inside, nearest the goalkeeper, thus reducing the target area. It is also important that the sleeve of one of
the jackets should jut out across the goalmouth, as it will often be claimed that the ball went "over the post" and it can
henceforth be asserted that the outstretched sleeve denotes the innermost part of the pile and thus the inside of the
post. The on-going reduction of the size of the goal is the responsibility of any respectable defence and should be
undertaken conscientiously with resourcefulness and imagination.
(ii) In the absence of a crossbar, the upper limit of the target area is observed as being slightly above head height,
although when the height at which a ball passed between the jackets is in dispute, judgement shall lie with an arbitrary
adjudicator from one of the sides. He is known as the "best fighter"; his decision is final and may be enforced with
physical violence if anyone wants to stretch a point.
(iii) There are no pitch markings. Instead, physical objects denote the boundaries, ranging from the most common -
walls and buildings - to roads or piles of dirt. Corners and throw-ins are redundant where touchlines are denoted by a
two-storey building or a six-foot granite wall. Instead, a scrum should be instigated to decide possession. This should
begin with the ball trapped between the brickwork and two opposing players, and should escalate to include as many
team members as can get there before the now egg-shaped ball finally emerges, drunkenly and often with a
dismembered foot and shin attached. At this point, goalkeepers should look out for the player who takes possession of
the escaped ball and begins bearing down on goal, as most of those involved in the scrum will be unaware that the ball
is no longer amidst their feet. The goalkeeper should also try not to be distracted by the inevitable fighting that has by
this point broken out.
(iv) In games on large open spaces, the length of the pitch is obviously denoted by the jacket piles, but the width is a
variable. In the absence of roads, water hazards or "a big hole", the width is determined by how far out the attacking
winger has to meander before the pursuing defender gets fed up and lets him head back towards where the rest of the
players are waiting, often as far as quarter of a mile away.
(v) It is often observed that the playing area is "not a full-size pitch". This can be invoked verbally to justify placing a
wall of players eighteen inches from the ball at direct free kicks It is the formal response to "yards", which the
kick-taker will incant meaninglessly as he places the ball.
3. The Ball
There is a variety of types of ball approved for School Football. I shall describe three notable examples.
(i) The plastic balloon. An extremely lightweight model, used primarily in the early part of the season and seldom
after that due to having burst. Identifiable by the lack of blue pentagonal panelling and the names of that year's
Premier League sides printed all over it. Advantages: low sting factor, low burst-nose probability, cheap, discourages
a long-ball game. Disadvantages: over-susceptible to influence of the wind, difficult to control, almost magnetically
drawn to flat school roofs whence never to return.
(ii) The rough-finish Mitre. Half football, half Portuguese Man o' War. On the verge of a ban in the European Court of
Human Rights, this model is not for sale to children. Used exclusively by teachers during gym classes as a kind of
aversion therapy. Made from highly durable fibre-glass, stuffed with neutron star and coated with dead jellyfish.
Advantages: looks quite grown up, makes for high-scoring matches (keepers won't even attempt to catch it).
Disadvantages: scars or maims anything it touches.
(iii) The "Casey". Genuine leather ball, identifiable by brown all-over colouring. Was once black and white, before
ravages of games on concrete, but owners can never remember when. Adored by everybody, especially keepers.
Advantages: feels good, easily controlled, makes a satisfying "whump" noise when you kick it. Disadvantages: turns
into medicine ball when wet, smells like a dead dog.
There is no offside, for two reasons: one, "it's not a full-size pitch", and two, none of the players actually know what
offside is. The lack of an offside rule gives rise to a unique sub-division of strikers. These players hang around the
opposing goalmouth while play carries on at the other end, awaiting a long pass forward out of defence which they can
help past the keeper before running the entire length of the pitch with their arms in the air to greet utterly imaginary
adulation. These are known variously as "poachers", "gloryhunters" and "goal hogs". These players display a
remarkable degree of self-security, seemingly happy in their own appraisals of their achievements, and caring little
for their team-mates' failure to appreciate the contribution they have made. They know that it can be for nothing other
than their enviable goal tallies that they are so bitterly despised.
The absence of a referee means that disputes must be resolved between the opposing teams rather than decided by an
arbiter. There are two accepted ways of doing this.
(i) Compromise. An arrangement is devised that is found acceptable by both sides. Sway is usually given to an action
that is in accordance with the spirit of competition, ensuring that the game does not turn into "a free-for-all". For
example, in the event of a dispute as to whether the ball in fact crossed the line, or whether the ball has gone inside or
"over" the post, the attacking side may offer the ultimatum, "Penalty or goal." It is not recorded whether any side has
ever opted for the latter. It is on occasions that such arrangements or ultimata do not prove acceptable to both sides
that the second adjudicatory method comes into play.
(ii) Fighting. Those up on their ancient Hellenic politics will understand that the concept we know as "justice" rests in
these circumstances with the hand of the strong. What the winner says, goes, and what the winner says is just, for who
shall dispute him? It is by such noble philosophical principles that the supreme adjudicator, or Best Fighter, is
6. Team Selection
(i) To ensure a fair and balanced contest, teams are selected democratically in a turns-about picking process, with
either side beginning as a one-man selection committee and growing from there. The initial selectors are usually the
recognised two Best Players of the assembled group. Their first selections will be the two recognised Best Fighters, to
ensure a fair balance in the adjudication process, and to ensure that they don't have their own performances impaired
throughout the match by profusely bleeding noses. They will then proceed to pick team-mates in a roughly
meritocratic order, selecting on grounds of skill and tactical awareness, but not forgetting that while there is a sliding
scale of players' ability, there is also a sliding scale of players' brutality and propensities towards motiveless violence.
A selecting captain might baffle a talented striker by picking the less nimble Big Donkey ahead of him, and may
explain, perhaps in the words of Linden B. Johnson upon his retention of J. Edgar Hoover as the head of the FBI, that
he'd "rather have him inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in".
(ii) Special consideration is also given during the selection process to the owner of the ball. It is tactically
acknowledged to be "his gimmie", and he must be shown a degree of politeness for fear that he takes the huff at being
picked late and withdraws his favours and takes his ball home.
(iii) Another aspect of team selection that may confuse those only familiar with the game at senior level will be the
choice of goalkeepers, who will inevitably be the last players to be picked. Unlike in the senior game, where the
goalkeeper is often the tallest member of his team, in the playground, the goalkeeper is usually the smallest and fattest.
Senior aficionados must appreciate that playground selectors have a different agenda and are looking for altogether
different properties in a goalkeeper. These can be listed briefly as: compliance, poor fighting ability, meekness, fear
and anything else that makes it easier for their team-mates to banish the little bugger between the sticks while they go
off in search of personal glory up the other end.
Playground football tactics are best explained in terms of team formation. Whereas senior sides tend to choose -
according to circumstance - from among a number of standard options (eg 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 5-3-2), the playground side is
usually more rigid in sticking to the all-purpose 1-1-17 formation. This formation is a sturdy basis for the unique style
of play, ball-flow and territorial give-and-take that makes the playground game such a renowned and strategically
engrossing spectacle. The 1-1-17 formation gives rise to a style of play that is best described as "Nomadic". All but
perhaps four of the participants (see also Offside) migrate en masse from one area of the pitch to another, following
the ball, and it is tactically vital that every last one of them remains within a ten-yard radius of it at all times.
Much stoppage time in the senior game is down to injured players requiring treatment on the field of play. The
playground game flows freer having adopted the refereeing philosophy of "no Post-Mortem, no free-kick", and play
will continue around and even on top of a participant who has fallen in the course of his endeavours. However, the
playground game is nonetheless subject to other interruptions, and some examples are listed below.
(i) Ball on school roof or over school wall - The retrieval time itself is negligible in these cases. The stoppage is most
prolonged by the argument to decide which player must risk life, limb or four of the belt to scale the drainpipe or
negotiate the barbed wire in order to “fag it” and return the ball to play. Disputes usually arise between the player who
actually struck the ball and any others he claims it may have struck before disappearing into forbidden territory. In the
case of the Best Fighter having been adjudged responsible for such an incident, a volunteer is often required to go in
his stead or the game may be abandoned, as the Best Fighter is entitled to observe that: a) "You can’t make me"; or b)
"It's not my ball anyway".
(ii) Stray dog on pitch - An interruption of unpredictable duration. The dog does not have to make off with the ball, it
merely has to run around barking loudly, snarling and occasionally drooling or foaming at the mouth. This will ensure
a dramatic reduction in the number of playing staff as 27 of them simultaneously volunteer to go indoors and inform
the teacher of the threat. The length of the interruption can sometimes be gauged by the breed of dog. A deranged Irish
Setter could take ten minutes to tire itself of running in circles, for instance, while a Jack Russell may take up to
fifteen minutes to corner and force out through the gates. An Alsatian means instant abandonment.
(iii) Bigger boys steal ball - A highly irritating interruption, the length of which is determined by the players'
experience in dealing with this sort of thing. The intruders will seldom actually steal the ball, but will improvise their
own kickabout amongst themselves, occasionally inviting the younger players to attempt to tackle them. Standing
around looking bored and unimpressed usually results in a quick restart. Shows of frustration and engaging in attempts
to win back the ball can prolong the stoppage indefinitely. Informing the intruders that one of the players' older
brother is "Mad Matty" or some other noted local pugilist can also ensure minimum delay.
(iv) Menopausal old bag confiscates ball - More of a threat in the street or local green kickabout than within the
school walls. Sad, blue-rinsed, ill-tempered, Tory-voting cat-owner transfers her anger about the array of failures that
has been her life to nine-year-olds who have committed the heinous crime of letting their ball cross her privet ‘Line of
Death.’ Interruption (loss of ball) is predicted to last "until you learn how to play with it properly", but instruction on
how to achieve this without actually having the bloody thing is not usually forwarded. Tact is required in these
circumstances, even when the return of the ball seems highly unlikely, as further irritation of woman may result in the
more serious stoppage: Menopausal old bag calls police.
Goal-scorers are entitled to a maximum run of thirty yards with their hands in the air, making crowd noises and
saluting imaginary packed terraces. Congratulation by team-mates is in the measure appropriate to the importance of
the goal in view of the current scoreline (for instance, making it 34-12 does not entitle the player to drop to his knees
and make the sign of the cross), and the extent of the scorer's contribution. A fabulous solo dismantling of the defence
or 25-yard* rocket shot will elicit applause and back-pats from the entire team and the more magnanimous of the
opponents. However, a tap-in in the midst of a chaotic scramble will be heralded with the epithet "poachin' little
bastard" from the opposing defence amidst mild acknowledgment from team-mates. Applying an unnecessary final
touch when a ball is already rolling into the goal will elicit a burst nose from the original striker. Kneeling down to
head the ball over the line when defence and keeper are already beaten will elicit a thoroughly deserved kicking. As a
footnote, however, it should be stressed that any goal scored by the Best Fighter will be met with universal acclaim,
even if it falls into any of the latter three categories.
*Actually eight yards, but calculated as relative distance because "it's not a full-size pitch".
At senior level, each side often has one appointed penalty-taker, who will defer to a team-mate in special
circumstances, such as his requiring one more for a fourth hat-trick. The playground side has two appointed
penalty-takers: the Best Player and the Best Fighter. The arrangement is simple - the Best Player takes the penalties
when his side is a retrievable margin behind, and the Best Fighter at all other times. If the side is comfortably in front,
the ball-owner may be invited to take a penalty. Goalkeepers are often the subject of temporary substitutions at
penalties, forced to give up their position to the Best Player or Best Fighter, who recognise the kudos attached to the
heroic act of saving one of these kicks, and are buggered if Little Jimmy is going to steal any of it.
10. Close Season
This is known also as the summer holidays, which the players usually spend dabbling briefly in other sports: tennis for
a fortnight while Wimbledon is on the telly; pitch-and-putt for four days during the Open; and cricket for about an
hour and a half until they discover that it really is as boring to play as it is to watch.
Any additions to the rules or comments from personal memory would be appreciated.