THE latest case to be heard in the court of the Football League is Rotherham United against League Two.
The allegation? There are no easy games in League Two. The club - in this funny-old-gam refused to give anthee world of football - are invited to both defend the phrase and prove it!
Counsel for Rotherham United opens up. Well, M’lud, I offer you exhibit No. 22, a game at AFC Wimbledon - a right old scrap, if M’lud will excuse the phrase.
I could call on 11 good men and true of Rotherham, they being somewhat battered and bruised from Saturday, but perhaps other evidence my suffice.
This game against a ‘small’ club who were non-league two years ago and have struggled to win at home might be considered a “piece of cake” - a footballing term, M’lud, suggesting it would be easy.
May I remind the court of similar pieces of cake placed in front of my client. Another ‘small’ club called Dagenham where they lost 5-0 and then a home game against a hopeless-looking shower at the bottom of the table called Wycombe. My clients contrived to lose even though they took the lead after 17 seconds.
A piece of cake then? Not on Your Honour’s nelly!
Those making such flippant remarks don’t take into account the vast amounts of energy and enthusiasm poured into onfield matters by the opposition. Or the physicality and determination they demonstrate in a bid to claim what, at this level, is regarded as a big fish.
You see, M’lud, Rotherham are a club who have signed some quality - I use the word advisedly - players at this level and are paying out, er, decent money in wages. Decent in footballing monetary terms meaning, in this case, Your Honour, very good.
This brings with it high expectations and extra pressure with the word ‘promotion’ bandied around every week and there are times when such expectations are not easy to meet.
Opponents may be a little envious of all this and they appear to raise their game and strive to make life as difficult as possible for their more, shall we say, illustrious opponents - if Your Honour would wish to term anything from Rotherham as “illustrious”, notwithstanding, of course, their smashing, spanking new stadium.
They do appear, and M’lud may be aware of the description, to be a ‘prize scalp’. What’s more, they have a leader - known as the manager or the gaffer - who seems to be universally disliked by opposing supporters and this seems to urge them on to extra vocal lengths in their desire to see that man’s team beaten.
So, you see, it is far from easy.
Now, my clients like to play offensively, M’lud, going on the attack. But no amount of possession guarantees anything. Only last week, M’lud, they ‘battered’ - if I may use the word - the league leaders almost from start to finish, yet still lost.
On Saturday, it was a different challenge - and there are many different types of challenge in League Two. Wimbledon look as if they may be adopting the style of the ‘old’ Wimbledon. They were fairly direct, put defenders under pressure, were, shall we term it, robust.
They also worked their socks off - a saying that M’lud should not take literally but does indicate the huge amount of effort Wimbledon players put in.
I could certainly offer up evidence that my clients were pulled and tugged and, in one instance, sent clattering rather painfully into a boundary board beyond the touchline yet this most blatant of fouls was not given.
Having said that, M’lud, my clients weren’t behind the door in standing up to it all and, it might be suggested in some quarters, dishing a bit out themselves.
To not have done so, M’lud, would have made what was a difficult game much harder.
There was, I may respectfully suggest, nothing remotely easy about it at all.
Wimbledon were, I can assure you, Your Honour, in their faces which - in footballing terms, M’lud - relates to something rather uncomfortable when you are trying to play your own game and impose your style on proceedings.
And when the opposition, mindful of some defensive frailties, have spent all week specifically working on making themselves stronger defensively and reinforcing their back four with extra numbers, then it certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
Then again, when you show the determination that my own defenders demonstrated then it does help ease the way..
Our midfield players had to fight and compete for everything and I might suggest that ‘easy’ was not a phrase I would conjure up for my attacking players, particularly Mr Revell, who took a, er, bashing at times. And it’s not easy when there isn’t a great deal of protection from the referee.
Yes, I acknowledge that if the shooting from Mr O’Connor, on two occasions from around 18 yards, and one from Mr Pringle that was saved, had been better, then it could have been easier.
But my goalkeeper, Mr Warrington, had two or three anxious moments in the first half. Thankfully, the home side’s shooting was wayward.
But Mr Sharps - and it isn’t easy playing after having your nose smashed in a week earlier - Mr Arnason and Mr Mullins all did some sterling work in defence.
At half-time, my client’s manager - a Mr Evans - had words with his players. It isn’t unknown for him to, er, get in the faces of some individuals during the half-time break. Perhaps with the liberal sprinkling of some, shall we call it, fruity language.
The fact my clients spent a great proportion of the second half attacking wholeheartedly and striving for a goal should in no way suggest it was easy.
It may have been ‘easier’ had Mr Nardiello not half-vollied wide when it seemed he must hit the target. Then again, it would have been a jolly darned sight harder, M’lud, had Wimbledon’s major opportunity two minutes afterwards been finished off by some unknown called Ajala. Messrs Sharps and Mullins contrived to perform a last-ditch rescue act.
A change of system early in the second half helped my clients and it only got harder for their opponents.
Sometimes, the introduction of substitutes can improve matters and make life a little easier. In this respect the arrival of young Mr Agard proved extremely beneficial to my clients.
It’s certainly far from easy to score with a header from outside the penalty area but, rising to meet a centre from the other young substitute, Master Cameron, Mr Agard’s header looped goalwards, just evading the lurking Mr Nardiello. The opposing goalkeeper, a veteran by the name of Sullivan who had been fortunate on two previous occasions, got across a shade late and the ball hit the post and appeared to rebound in off Mr Sullivan’s glove or arm.
I would urge Your Honour to confirm the goal as Mr Agard’s. And Your Honour may smile at, whilst not condoning, Mr Agard’s reaction, because he ran into the crowd to hug family members.
My clients then had a lucky escape at the other end in a goalmouth scramble and, in the final act, the home side had a corner and, to great roars, even goalkeeper Sullivan ran up to join the rest.
Let me say, it’s not easy on the old ticker when a last-gasp corner comes swinging in to a crowded penalty area.
I hope, M’lud, I have made out a case that, as they may say in Rotherham, “there’s nowt easy abaht gooin’ to places like that”. I respectfully suggest, Your Honour, that you will find in our favour and that there are no easy games.
The judge leaves to consider the evidence and returns shortly to give his verdict. “I have listened intently and it would appear that there was nothing remotely easy about your client’s Saturday afternoon.
“It may be there are some Saturday afternoons easier than others - I am reminded of a recent visit by your club to Aldershot. And, by your own collective will and effort, you can make some encounters jolly well easier than others
“But in view of all the evidence, it would appear there are no easy games and I find your case proven. As compensation, I grant you three points from your trip to AFC Wimbledon.”