Married to a Non-Believer (Millwall – NFFC Programme Notes)

For those regular readers of ‘The Red Revolution,’ who have grown accustomed to anti-establishment rants and chilling visions of football’s soulless future, I’m afraid this week I’m taking a break from all of that so that I can offer some invaluable relationship advice to those who need it.

Although I’m a happily married man, there is the slightest of blotches on our matrimonial parchment. My wife, Sarah, carries a dark disturbing secret that I was not made aware of until after I’d proposed.

She doesn’t like football.

I’ve been reliably informed, by friends and well wishers, that this is grounds for an annulment. After all, I was, technically speaking, tricked into this marriage under false pretences. Of course, I’m not going to go down this route; for a start, I don’t have a comprehensive enough understanding of how the microwave works.

But those obsessive football lovers amongst you, who are on the cusp of a new relationship, should take heed … if your partner doesn’t like football now, they probably never will!

I know what you’re thinking. I thought exactly the same. You’ll coerce them into coming to a game and their whole ideology will be transformed by one spontaneous moment of ingenuity from Andy Reid.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. These anti-football fiends are a stubborn bunch. You may think you can change them, but essentially you can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried everything.

The wedding itself should have given me a clue as to what being married to a non-believer was going to be like. I suggested having the service at the City Ground, with Frank Clark conducting the ceremony in the centre circle. I assumed that as chairman of a football club, much like the captain of a ship, he would have the authority to legally marry us.

I also wanted to get married in my Forest kit, with ice sculptures of the 1979 European Cup winning squad placed at strategic points as Sarah walked down the aisle. All of these ideas were rejected without consideration, and yet, according to Sarah, I was the one being selfish.

In fairness, she did try and add a few Forest touches to the day. In the church where we had the service, there were pictures and statues of Jonathan Greening everywhere. He’s one of my favourite players and it was very thoughtful of Sarah to arrange this.

Since that day I’ve tried everything to entice her into football but even a romantic midweek break in Doncaster didn’t do the trick. Personally, I can’t think of a better place to spend your honeymoon.

Her dislike of football can border on being unreasonable at times. I saw Christmas as the ideal opportunity to subtly indoctrinate her and decided to buy her some paraphernalia from the club shop. She burst into tears and threw the hilarious Nottingham Forest Goalkeeper Oven Gloves straight into the bin. Perhaps I should have bought her something else to go with it.

You may well be thinking Sarah and I need some marriage counselling but nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve spent eight happy seasons as a couple and, in that time, we’ve developed a number of ways to co-exist harmoniously, despite the fact that I love football with all my heart and Sarah has grown to pretty much despise it.

Crisis negotiations take place on an almost daily basis, in order to ensure I get my recommended football dosage. We have all kinds of little deals in place to help maintain the equilibrium. For example, I get to have my life-sized cardboard cut out of Stuart Pearce out in the living room and Sarah gets to name our first born child.

With the European Championships this summer, there is a household meeting planned, the like of which hasn’t been seen since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Of course, in this vastly advanced technological age, there is one other thing which has proved a great aid to a mixed marriage like ours. They say a successful relationship requires hard work and compromise. Personally, I think all you need is a Sky Plus box. The person who invented this devise deserves a knighthood. It means you can watch live football, without your significant other having to miss the Hollyoaks omnibus. Genius.

The only real wisdom I have to impart is that non-footballing folk cannot be converted. As hard as you may wish to try, they will never be quite the same as us football fanatics.

Though scientists claim not to have found it, there is such a thing as ‘the football gene’. If you have it you will absorb all the football you possibly can and it will never quite quench your thirst. If you don’t have it you will, at best, be apathetic towards the beautiful game or, at worst, develop a pathological hatred of it.

For anyone embarking upon a relationship with a dynamic that bares resemblance to what I have portrayed here, I would strongly suggest drawing up a formal contract, early doors.

It’s important to have all the necessary clauses in place so that you don’t find yourself monotonously trudging through the aisles of Ikea at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, having forgotten all that once meant so much to you.

Follow me on Twitter: @Dave_Abbiss


Seven Substitutes (Doncaster Rovers – NFFC Programme Notes)

In the recent match against Watford at home, I turned to have a gander at who was in the box above where I sit and thought I was having a religious experience of some sort.

After a moment’s reflection I realised it was Jonathan Greening, sitting alongside Radoslaw Majewski, Lewis McGugan and a whole host of other available players.

Unfortunately, Championship managers are restricted to naming just five substitutes. This inevitably means a number of talented match-fit footballers are forced to watch from the stands on any given game day.

Last season the Football League allowed teams to select seven substitutes per game, but after the 72 clubs themselves opted to revert back to five substitutes, the rule was changed for the 2011/12 season.

I have spoken to Forest fans (and fans of other Championship clubs) who simply cannot comprehend why this is the case. To many supporters it seems like a step backwards.

These opinions should not be ignored. After all, it’s these same supporters who effectively pay the players’ wages. The majority would much rather see those who don’t make the starting eleven running up and down the touchline, as opposed to eating a chicken balti pie in the stands … and I’m quite sure the players would agree with this sentiment.

Most Championship clubs have a squad of 20+ full professionals and it seems a waste to have several of these players completely redundant on match days.

Furthermore, the introduction of extra substitutes would mean managers have more options at their disposal. It means that the game can be changed in a greater variety of ways. This can only be a good thing!

Substitutions are a massive part of football. A well timed substitution can change the course of a tie; it can even transform a team’s entire season. It’s part of what makes our sport so exciting.

Just because someone is the seventh choice substitute, that doesn’t mean a situation won’t arise whereby that particular player can change the game. Surely having as many players involved as possible is in football’s best interest.

With things as they stand, it’s not only members of the first team squad who are likely to suffer. When is a young player ever going to stake his claim for a place in the starting eleven, if he hasn’t got the remotest chance of getting on the bench?

There is a huge problem with the structure of modern football; young British players are not getting an opportunity to perform at the highest level. Having seven (or more) substitutes in a matchday squad would certainly present opportunities for these youth players, whose careers may go unfulfilled otherwise.

The worst part of the decision to decrease the number of substitutes is that, in every other respect, Championship clubs are encouraged to have massive squads. The restrictive transfer window system means that clubs have to have an excess of players so that they aren’t left short by injury and suspension during the season. Furthermore, there is a grossly congested fixture list for these clubs to contend with.

All this leads to the fact that clubs simply have to have big squads in order to survive within the modern game. Increasing the number of substitutes allowed on the bench seems like the next progressive step.

Of course there is another side to this issue; it’s the reason why the majority of Football League clubs opted to reduce the number of substitutes back down to five during the summer. Not all clubs in the Football League can afford to have a squad that is big enough to cope with fielding seven substitutes per game.

Championship clubs are considerably better off than their contemporaries in Leagues One and Two and the decision was made by all 72 competing Football League clubs, many of whom have threadbare squads and feel that the availability of additional substitutes puts them at a disadvantage.

Furthermore, with the introduction of Financial Fair Play regulations looming, it may be that all Football League teams have to start cutting back on the number of playing staff they employ. The reduction in substitutes may therefore have been implemented to encourage a more prudent approach to squad building over the coming years.

My feeling is that, despite the forthcoming FFP regulations, the game would benefit from Championship clubs being able to select as many substitutes as possible. If clubs have to strip back their first team squads in order to balance their books, they should instead fill their bench with youth players. This is, in my opinion, the key reason why we need to have at least seven substitutes sitting in the dugout.

I do accept that clubs in the lower leagues do not necessarily benefit from having to field extra substitutes on match days and am not proposing that they should be forced to do so.

Instead I am suggesting that each league should vote separately on the issue. There is a huge difference in the infrastructure of clubs, dependent on which league they happen to be in, and this should be represented in the number of substitutes they are allowed to use on match days.

There are so many benefits to be gained by the game of football if Championship clubs are allowed bigger match day squads. In my opinion, the current restrictions only serve to waste players’ talents and supporters’ money.