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By Matthew Handley
Proposition: James Restall calls for more honesty from first team players in reserve teams
be humiliating for football’s top stars, but in college sport it is an easy way for goal-shy first eleven players to up their tallies for the season. The OUAFC reserve league system exists for students of all abilities to play the sport they love, yet too often competitive encounters are ruined by the inclusion of players with talents exceeding the level of their teammates.
It’s not as if our players can walk into the first team – and with good reason. As Lincoln firsts embarked on an enthralling march through cuppers to the semi-final, our second eleven were celebrating only conceding twelve against St Peter’s having let in fourteen Jesus goals the previous week. Dropping out of the league and losing every game 3-0 by default might have improved our shocking goal difference, but it would have meant forsaking the sport we enjoy playing – win lose or draw.
I am not blaming firsts players turning out for second and third teams for our appalling season. Our own general ineptitude caused as many defeats as opposition star players. Anyone would have thought we’d won the World Cup if they had seen us after our battling 5-3 defeat to Keble – it was an entertaining, end-to-end exhibition of Reserves Fourth Division footy. But on more than one occasion the sides were far from even.
I understand that firsts players sometimes have to be drafted in to make up the numbers in reserve league games, but there must have been a serious personnel crisis at LMH to warrant their first team captain lining up against Worcester thirds this season. Our sport editor’s side were thrashed 6-0 that day – it is incredibly demoralising when opponents arrive with a bench packed with top players ready to wreak havoc.
Essentially, this is a question of whether the winning or the taking part is more important. Seconds and thirds football is wholly the latter. The games themselves bring together students who play for the love of the game – not chasing league or cuppers glory. There is absolutely no way of regulating the numbers of first team footballers in the reserve leagues, save for the honesty of those taking part.
I am looking forward to next season regardless of who lines up against us, but in the interest of fair play and good spirited football, evenly-matched teams are essential.
Rebuttal: Charles Walmsley says call-ups to the first team are a necessary part of reserves football
Imagine the despair of the reserves football captain. His tactic folders are full with detailed plans of false number nines, 4-2-3-1 and the role of the libero in modern football, none of which will ever be enacted on the pitch despite that training routine he’s copied from Marcelo Bielsa. That subscription to Prozone has cost him his loan, whilst the obsession with Barcelona’s possession percentages in the Spanish Cup semi-final is crippling any friendships he once had. All this and the constant need to get enough players to even turn up. Give him a break.
Losing is never fun, losing 6-0 without a single shot on target is even worse. But at least we can have a kickaround.
Now, it’s obvious that if one side brings their first team this may happen, but equally a string of injuries and misplaced tutorials can leave a college football team relying on that guy who doesn’t really like sport but turns up to the crew dates regardless. And, let’s be honest, he’s not going to show just because you asked him in the college bar last night.
Playing first team players is sometimes the only option if the match is going to take place. We’re not professionals and have to balance other commitments with college sports.
It’s not ideal that teams are forced to do this, and often it creates a match where six or seven goals wills fly past the helpless individual who has the misfortune to own goalkeeping gloves, but the alternative is a string of postponed and cancelled games, which would be even less fun for everyone.
At Worcester, and probably several other colleges, there is a constant supply of willing players to fill the ranks of reserve football teams – there could probably be a fourth side without any commitment issues.
However not all colleges are blessed with our plethora of footballing, um, ‘talent’. Whilst losing to a first team is awful, at least we can play every week (unless the weather has its say) and compete in some evenly matched games.
So first team players are, sadly, a necessity in reserve football if the reserves footballer is not going to be completely swallowed by the despair of college sport. Whilst I dream of equal games every week, the reality of academic scheduling means we will always rely on the generosity of first team players looking to add a few goals to their OUAFC profiles.