“Get stuck in!”
Not cries from Mansfield fans urging their team to do something untoward to the incurably obnoxious Louis Suarez or an instruction to Ryan Giggs and Robin Van Persie at the Boleyn Ground just after 7pm on Saturday.
No, this Sunday morning among what the FA’s youth football development people like to call the ‘Grass Roots’ of the game.
It was the Rosehill Press Sheffield And District Junior Sunday League under 12s and the above instructions, bellowed one by a parent and the other a coach at hangover-clearing volume, at first seemed like an echo from the dark ages.
A few of us had turned from the adult match on a neighbouring pitch where everyone was indeed launching it at every opporunity and getting stuck in so hard it made you wince.
So ‘stuck-in’ were they getting that one lad ended up with a grotesquely shattered ankle following a particularly aggressive tackle from behind and had to wait half hour to be taken in an ambulance to hospital for surgery to put his mis-shapen limb back together. Best of luck to him for a full recovery.
Thankfully I missed the incident by a couple of minutes but there were plenty of vivid accounts to be had on the touchline.
It wasn’t a deliberately vicious tackle, apparently, just a 14-stone bloke getting ‘stuck-in’ on a Sunday morning.
The ball took almost as fearful a battering as the poor lad’s ankle as the teams clattered the plastic-coated leather sphere from one end to the other in search of a bit of skill, inspiration or dumb luck to convert the heaving and sweating into something creative.
And of course there were moments of inspiration, as there are in every game, no matter how poor.
That’s why the world loves playing as much as it loves watching.
All of us have surprised ourselves at some stage when a trick, trap or turn actually comes off.
When, for one fleeting, ecstatic moment all those teachers, coaches and guffawing mates are proved wrong as you finally release your inner Iniesta.
But not for long.
So it was on this occasion and the tempting tika-taka style of the juniors on the next pitch soon caught the eye.
Lads large and small were chasing the ball with varying degrees of success and all trying to make short passes and move for a return.
It wasn’t too succesful and you couldn’t help thinking that a couple of hopeful 30-yarders might have improved the game.
There’s the rub.
There’s nothing wrong with long passes, even the old heave-ho now and again, ask Xavi Alonso, David Silva, Pirlo, Scholes or Lampard.
They just have to be good and played at the right time.
When parents see their kids desperately trying to tip-tap their way out of their own half and failing at every turn they are going to want the odd hoof upfield to actually see some progress.
And in a way they are right.
We don’t need to set up opposing ’long ball bad, short ball good’ political positions.
Long balls work, short balls work, as does getting ‘stuck in’. It’s the knowing when and how that we need to get right if we want to progress.
Just ask the lad in the oxygen mask in the back of the ambulance.