The names Yarnton Blues and Abingdon Town don’t mean much to most football fans, but to anyone associated with Cumnor Minors under-18s, the team I have represented for four years, they stir bitterness, hatred and memories of more sustained bruises than a rodeo after a bull-fight gone wrong.
Youth football boasts many plus-sides, from offering kids the chance to improve fitness to helping to discover the next England international, but when it is goes wrong it can turn farcical. Most teams treat each other with respect, turn up to matches every Sunday to play football, try to win fairly and enjoy themselves, but Yarnton and Abingdon are two huge exceptions. If the ball went missing in a match, their players wouldn’t notice. Their eyes would remain firmly fixed on the opposition’s legs even if a bomb exploded next to them.
This is the story of two teams who cheated, bullied and disgraced football’s name, who made the long car journey for the Cumnor players a complete waste of time when the sides met. This is the story of two referees who allowed their sides to get away with murder, who put the safety of the Cumnor players at serious risk by purposely not giving decisions against the teams they were part of. This is also the story of terrible decision-making by the FA, of England’s footballing authorities docking points off a team who justifiably walked off the pitch after being offered a boxing match rather than a football match on the pitch.
My thighs are only just beginning to recover from the game against Abingdon two weeks ago; such was the violent nature to their style of play. I received more stamps than the Royal Mail from their centre-halves. Every time the ball was hacked clear, their defenders would threaten to break the legs of any of Cumnor players willing to go near them.
Those threatening words could have easily become reality on numerous occasions, as they swiped us down time after time before demanding us “to get up you pussy.” As Cumnor players complained during half-time about the violence they had faced during the first period, the Abingdon assistant-manager overheard, replying that “this is big boy’s football now ain’t it? You’ve gotta take the physical side of it.” Yes, but there is a difference between muscling someone off the ball and stamping on them when the ball is at the other end of the pitch.
The kind of violent bullying Cumnor players were subjected to should never be allowed on a football pitch, and it is the responsibility of one man in black to make sure of that. The young referee did not do this against Abingdon though, and we should have known he wouldn’t before the game had even started. As the players filed into their positions before kick-off, the referee could be seen joking and laughing with the Abingdon players, clearly on first-name terms with them. Never a good sign.
It became blatantly clear as the game progressed that the referee would not be giving many decisions against Abgindon, no matter how vile their challenges were. He was simply too scared to blow his whistle in favour of Cumnor, threatened by the abuse he would receive from his friends if he let the other team get away with winning.
As Cumnor appealed for two stonewall penalties during the match, one for a scything, late tackle and one for climbing on top of a player and pushing him to the ground, the referee remained hesitant, bottling the decisions in fear of the 11 monsters masquerading as Abingdon footballers.
When one particularly nasty centre-half began to approach a Cumnor player late in the second half, appearing to offer him a fight amid a swirl of vitriol, the referee finally responded to the desperate pleas from Cumnor to take action, reaching tentatively for a yellow card before nervously holding it aloft. He then received the biggest barrage of abuse from the player that I have ever heard in my life. Any other referee would have immediately brandished a red card and the Abingdon player knew it. Though probably without a GCSE to his name, he was obviously sharp enough to pick up from past matches that the referee was scared to penalise such foul-mouthed rants in his direction from Abingdon players.
The referee seemed to want to give the correct decisions, seemed to want the game to be won by the best team rather than refereeing decisions, but he just couldn’t face being the subject of vicious abuse from players he knew well. It became clear how well when he joined the team photo at the end of the match, standing alongside the two linesman. Then everything fitted together for the Cumnor players, confirming that we had been well and truly cheated and that the FA should never let members of a team referee them in a match.
And certainly not the manager of a team. It is two years ago now that we came face-to-face with Yarnton, managed by the referee and refereed by their manager, in an away league clash. He shared many of the traits of the referee in the Abingdon game, clearly not willing to give decisions against his own team, but there was a major difference between the two: this referee was not scared at all of his players, because it was totally his idea to sway the course of a match by the unfair use of his whistle.
Yarnton players also shared many of the traits of Abingdon players, as they were also more focused on kicking us than the ball, but they were actually instructed to be this way inclined by their manager. Their physical abuse was even worse than the Abingdon players’, diving into two-footed tackles whenever they had the chance and leaving elbows in when challenging for high balls, yet not one of their players received a caution.
One of only few likable members of the Yarnton team, a guy I know from school, told me after the match that in the dressing room their manager (aka the referee) had instructed them to “kick the shit into them,” had told them he would be kind to them when awarding free-kicks. He also referred to our centre-forward as a “prick” in his post-match talk, a player he had booked for next to nothing during the game.
After the match, our much more fair-minded and football-orientated manager asked us to take photos of the bruises and cuts we had received during the match so Cumnor could file a complaint against Yarnton. That was letting Yarnton off lightly.
Another club who faced the same cheating and violence actually walked off during their match with Yarnton, something us Cumnor players later said we should have done, and also filed a complaint against them. The injustices against them were only just starting though.
Rather than Yarnton being fined, docked points, or at least reprimanded for their disgraceful behaviour, it was the team who were so battered, bruised and bullied that they had barely been able to walk off the pitch that were punished. Unbelievable. They were the ones who had been assaulted, yet they were the ones who were fined and docked points. Remarkable. The FA must be proud.
The rest of the league was certainly astonished at the decision, with our training decision full of amazed open-mouths when the news filtered through. Most teams in the league had come up against Yarnton’s twelve men, with one school-mate telling the story of how one of their players almost broke his leg with a horrific two-footed lunge, before he lashed out with a fist, albeit not making any contact with the player, and seeing a red card brandished in front of him while the other player received a pat on the back.
The FA can’t allow members of a team, especially not managers, to referee matches involving that team; otherwise there will always be the odd few, like Yarnton and Abingdon, who plain and simply cheat. If somebody is so desperate to referee, he can do so in football matches away from the league which his team are playing in. And if any clubs still managed to break the rules and cheat their way to victory, the FA would have to punish them heavily, threatening to close down the club if the behaviour continued.
Because letting the likes of Yarnton and Abingdon get away with the physical abuse which they direct at the opposition, not to mention actually fining a club for rightfully walking away from the fight cage, is disgraceful. If the FA want youngsters to play grass-roots football, then they must clear away the cobwebs of cowards, banning any clubs who disgrace such a great sport in the way that Yarnton and Abingdon have done.