Paying the Penalty


The penalty conceded by Paul Pogba that gave Liverpool the lead at Old Trafford yesterday, for almost an hour, was the most stupid, wasteful, needless and ridiculous I have seen in many a year. In fact, the last time I saw so a penalty so idiotic, I was still at school in the Sixth Form.

I should know. I conceded it.

We were on the bottom pitch, the three-quarter size one immediately in front of the school, defending the left hand end as observed from the Headmaster’s study (not that he was observing, at least, I hope not). The ball was crossed in from the right, and it was coming towards me.

What I was doing in my own penalty area was a mystery. You were far more likely to find me in or near the opposition’s penalty area, sniffing for a chance, alert for an opportunity or, as we called it then, goalhanging.

The other reason it was unusual for me to be where I was was that I was useless. I couldn’t head the ball, I couldn’t trap it, tackle anyone who had it, or muscle anyone out of making contact. I was stood there, in the middle of the box, in space, with the ball coming just above my head and to my left.

So I jumped up and slapped it down with my left hand.

Why did I do that? Sheer devilment. I had never given away a penalty before, I had never given away a deliberate handball, I was incapable of doing anything constructive, so in order to find out what it was like, I did it.

I paid for it almost immediately. My side were disgusted with me, which was nothing new on the pitch. My mate Zak was in goal and, picking up the ball, drop-kicked it upfield. It nearly hit me in the face, but I jerked my head aside, my mouth falling open as the ball whistled past.

Unfortunately, Zak’s violent hoof was violent enough to detach a lump of pitch from the sole of his football boot, at a slightly different trajectory to the ball, one that took it straight into my face. No, not my face: my mouth. The lump of mud and dirt flew into my open mouth without touching the sides, and burst against the roof of my mouth. It tasted exactly like you’re imagining it to taste.

Coughing, spluttering, digging in my fingers to hook out what was hook-outable and being very unsuccessful, I stumbled from the field and raced off to the nearest toilets where I could stick my gob under the tap and wash myself out.

Then back to the field, where the penalty had been duly converted as I stumbled bog-wards, and where I was the subject of much adverse comment, not for giving away the penalty but because I’d abandoned the field of play to wash my face, just because I had gotten mud on it.

In vain, I pointed out that it wasn’t on my face but in my mouth, but such niceties were unimportant at an all boys school. I was called all sorts of names, most of which would, not all that long afterwards, be subsumed in the general title of ‘wimp’, once we’d learned it.

So my stupid, wasteful, idiotic and needless penalty carried with it an instant karma. Only the goal accompanied Pogba’s penalty, but then his karma already has a severe load to bear. I mean, did you look at his hair? At least I’ve never committed an atrocity like that, which makes me infinitely superior.

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