Flint's Off on One

This may surprise you, given its vast expanse of northern Siberia, but Russia is amazing at beach football. Usually one imagines the Brazilians, Italians and Portuguese when considering the powerhouses of the sport, and why wouldn’t you? Russia sits in fourth place in the official rankings though, and unlike their futsal team have no naturalised Latin Americans.

Speaking of futsal, they’re not too shabby at that either. Argentina edged them out in the final of the 2016 World Cup 5-4, while they ended runners-up to Spain in the Euros last year too. This is a little easier to explain. Being an indoor sport, futsal has obvious appeal to a country where the outdoor 11-a-side game is out of bounds for a large portion of the year, and I can assure you from personal experience they are insanely good at it, right down to casual kickabouts between mates.

They do have one infuriatingly pathetic habit though. Russian men are all chest-thumping, bear-shooting, vodka-swilling beasts, right? Well, perhaps some of that is true, but they have a character streak at odds with this stereotype. When the ball goes out of play, it is accepted that the taker must request opposition stand five yards back. One question lads: why? Is there any situation where I would want you to stop me taking it quickly? No shit I want you to piss off out of the way!

Now a much bigger issue is how this habit transcends into the full-size version of the sport. There are many wonderful sights in the game, but also many abominable ones too. One such sight is the utter farce of two or three defending players racing to crowd around the ball as if it will actually stop a quick free kick. Attacking teams usually takes a short while to set up their ingenious routine anyway, so the joke’s on you.

The IFAB laws state that obstructions must be punished by a yellow card – quite bloody right. How often is this implemented though? I cannot see how it is not classified as obstruction to stand idly in front of the ball. Closer inspection of the latest guidelines, however, explain it is possible for the attacking team to play the ball intentionally against an opponent standing inside the permitted 10 yards without malice, and to resume possession of the ball. I more of this please, if referees are incapable of stamping this disease out themselves.

Then there’s the infuriating habit these morons have of turning round as if in deep tactical discussion with teammates. For some reason I find this particularly insulting. It feels like they are assuming we will forgive them on the grounds that it has some thoughtful outcome in mind. You’re not pulling the wool over our eyes though; what are you trying to make us believe you’re saying? Chatting about tonight’s soap on the box? Discussing what favourite shades of nail varnish? Because it sure as hell can’t be about the tactics of standing in front of a ball – there are none.

When did it become remotely acceptable for players to do all this? I can’t pinpoint the precise moment, but it has seeped irrevocably into football like a sly snake. Yes, I get that the tactic is to slow down the opposition and niggle them while doing so. This doesn’t in any way justify it though. I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say it goes against the spirit of the game, but it strikes me as rude. “Make me move” – I would do given the chance.

What pisses me off more than the perpetrators is how this all seems to be accepted. Ludicrous lines like “everyone does it” and “it’s part of the game” are the laziest, most feeble excuses imaginable. I vote for a new law to stamp this out. Let’s return to the cut-throat world of playground football (before ‘ealth & safety) for inspiration; remember the game “donkey”? The one where you all do keepie-ups, accumulating letters for each mistake? Let’s make prats who stand in front of free kicks face a ‘firing squad’ and see how their arse likes it. I’m pretty sure they’d quickly remember what ten yards feels like.