They're only Human

Tuesday 28 August 2001

By Ian McCulloch

It's always reassuring to find out occasionally that professional footballers actually are human beings. When you watch them from the terraces or on the box, they just seem like so many little super-fit automatons, displaying such skill and ability that they make the game that most of us have played seem almost unrecognisable.

For all the resemblances they have with anybody who has ever indulged in a spot of Sunday morning football they might just as well have come from the moon.

But every once in a while, one of our heroes will do something more suited to the wilds of Wormwood Scrubs or Hackney Marshes, and doesn't it feel good to the rest of us when it happens?

A couple of examples from last season brought me particular delight. The first was on a particularly nippy Saturday afternoon when poor old Fabrice Fernandes collected a hard hit ball on his bare arm a few minutes after kick-off.

Now those of us who have ever turned out for their team on an icy pitch in the heart of winter and got an early one on the thigh, will know how particularly agonising that can be.

As the vivid purple ball shaped welt comes up on your skin, all you can think about is how could you be in such pain from doing something that is supposed to be fun, and how you would much rather be at home tucked up warm in bed.

Now I'm sure this must happen to professionals all the time, but I've never seen anyone react to it before. It was obvious that at that moment, tucked up in bed was the only place that Fabrice wanted to be. I thought that he played some tremendous games for us last season, but perhaps this incident gives just a little inkling of why he is no longer with us.

The other example occurred, I think, at the away game with Palace. A low cross was hit into the area and Kit Symons came over to head the ball clear.

Unfortunately for Kit, the ball unexpectedly lost all its pace, and by the time it reached him it was only a couple of inches off the ground. Kit, already committed to the header, had to continue his momentum, albeit downwards, and eventually connected just as the ball died into the mud, thereby producing a very rare example of a headed half volley.

To his credit, he succeeded in successfully clearing the ball, albeit in somewhat humorous fashion. Now this might be the only time in an otherwise immaculate career that Kit has mis-timed a ball like this, but to those of us for whom that was the only way that we ever made contact with a ball, it was as hugely reassuring as it was entertaining.

So I'll be looking for more of the same this season. Just to let us know that footballers are real people, I'd like to see a whole catalogue of mistakes, errors and bloomers in the games to come. But preferably from the opposition!