Flint's Off on One

I don’t know about you lot, but I personally find sign language a simultaneously beautiful and beguiling thing. Watching people communicate by a means wholly removed from speech or text is intriguing to say the least, and I fully admire anyone who learns the skill itself. English people have for a long time, in my opinion, been rather insular as a nation when it comes to speaking foreign languages, in whatever form they come.

On the football pitch, if anything we often see players trying to avoid being understood. At least by the public anyway; cupped hands over lips, hunched over – you know what I mean. With the depths to which ghastly tabloids will sink nowadays to dig up any dirt possible, lip-readers can (apparently) pick up whatever the megastars in front of us are saying, so I actually understand that wariness.

Understanding is vital in any walk of life, but particularly so in football for obvious reasons. My grandfather used to love teaching my life lessons, and one was simple. “Communication will solve 95% of all problems,” he once told me. In that case, Dejan Lovren must be a mute. Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Not all heftily-proportioned centre-backs are useless at communicating though – take Altrincham FC’s left-footed defender from a few years back, Greg Young. I was watching a game in which he played about four years ago, and almost every ball was hoofed long. It was aimless garbage that schoolboys would’ve been embarrassed to serve up. After one hoof too many, I unleashed my searing frustration. “What the fuck was that Greg?!” It was one of those perfectly scripted moments; the instant my first syllable had left my mouth, the entire crowd just happened to drop silent in perfect time to frame my poetic protestation.

He was actually a very capable ball-player, which made the poor quality all the harder to accept. His response was priceless though; “Because the fuckin’ boss told me to!” Fair enough I guess. At least he was communicating, even if he (and I) used agricultural language at best.

Where’s the rant, I hear you say? Well, it is a very specific form of communication that has pissed me off no end this time. It bears little resemblance to any other medium of conversing, and makes whatever message being conveyed impossible to decipher. I am referring to the bizarre process by which substitutes race onto the pitch with a few seconds to go, and proceed to wave their hands and fingers in some sort of mad frenzied flurry.

What could they be trying to say – some mathematical breakthrough? Have they cracked some impossible algebra problem? Or in fact, are they simply showing their teammates who should play in what position? Hmm, it’s an utter mystery.

OK, we get it, you’re happy to actually see some grass having been cooped up on the subs’ bench. But for buggering Hell’s sake, could you not just open your gob instead and tell your teammates about whatever tactical tweaks are to be understood? Instead, almost to a man, they perform acrobatics with their fingers that even the brightest minds would struggle to interpret.

Where to begin? Well, for starters this breed of language is so unintelligible it defeats the whole purpose of communicating at all. Then there’s the puffed out chest and chin, as the offending players try to show that they deservedly rule the world. This, of course, stems from a sense of being special by having specific instructions from the manager, and bears no relation whatsoever to their playing ability.

In fact that’s not quite true; the less significant the player entering the fray, and the later in the game it seems, the more frantic and bizarre their hand signals become. Get on the bloody pitch and do your job, stop fannying around. Honestly, some of these idiots seem to prepare the most ridiculous contortion of hands when a quick word or two would have sufficed. Anybody would think they care more about their image than matters solely concerned with the ball – now who’d have thought that, eh?