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Infractions, red flags and red cards

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Red Card.<br />Photo AFP

The first time I saw a red card was on a football field during a match between my school secondary team and another school which I cannot recall now. It was well before the days of watching matches live on television where all actions were seen.

When we couldn’t enter the stadium or travel to the town where the match was played we made do with radio commentary which was even more exciting than seeing the match live.

It was the days of Ernest Okonkwo, Ishola Folorunsho and the others who had the capacity to make dull matches come alive with their energetic and imaginative presentation of events in the field of play.

How could I ever forget the memorable: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the impossible has happened; Nigeria has scored against Nigeria. Odiye has…’ when we suffered an own goal scored by Godwin Odiye in a 1978 in a World cup qualifier in Lagos. The tragedy was conveyed by the voice of the commentator in such a way that the nation was in mourning.

The thrill of the current Arsenal/Chelsea and Liverpool/Manchester United matches don’t match the thrill those commentaries gave us; no, they didn’t. It did not really matter that when we eventually developed the wisdom of watching the live match on television and listening to the radio, the commentaries were often exaggerated!

So, back to the red card story! A player had given a star player on the opposing side a stud or was it a kick in the groin and the fall to the ground was a mighty one! Hearts went into mouths in uncertainty and what would become of the team. The unfortunate victim was carried off the pitch, never to return.

The referee ceremoniously produced a red card, raised it to heaven and the guy was marched off the pitch. Red card! It is a very powerful weapon in the pitch of play. I suppose it ought to be powerful anywhere it is employed. I use it freely in the WhatsApp Group where I am one of the Administrators and I notice that members generally remain within the bounds of law!

Back at school the next Monday our teacher took up the subject of ‘infractions and punishment in the course’ of playing football. Infractions, he said, were offences against the established rules and order in the field of play. By the way those teachers never spared the rod whenever there were infractions. He talked about yellow cards and how yellow cards were a warning sign, putting a player on notice that the next time there is an infraction the punishment would be more serious.

In a sense, therefore, he said, a yellow card was supposed to be a ‘red flag’. A red flag we were taught was an indication that something was wrong and that except action was taken there would be disaster. A red flag therefore is a danger sign. Red flags, yellow card and red cards became very familiar as we enjoyed the lexicon of the football world.

In spite of yellow or red cards players are never really afraid of committing infractions. I remember how players used to deliberately plan to bring down a deadly striker/player once he became too dangerous. Sometimes three players would be asked to tackle one player. ‘Mark or tie him down’, the coach would say. Often once the ball was passed to that deadly player, three hefty footballers would converge on him, and pronto things would change. But some players soon got wind of the ‘tie-down order’ and decided to develop extra legs of play. The last resort, bringing down the player became the last command to be obeyed.

It was often a gamble. Bringing down a player was no guarantee that your team would ultimately win the match particularly after a red card had made your side short by one.

Sometimes, when a side was under severe pressure and the defenders begin to make mistakes and hot direct shots are fired at the goal keeper, the coach would see a red flag and make adjustments. Stubborn coaches often refuse to see the red flag and their teams often invariably get the red card from the competition.

These red flags and red cards images came to my mind recently, drifting in and out of my consciousness as I watched some national events. Cows and herdsmen, slaughtered human beings, guided missiles from Abeokuta Garrison and Minna Fortress, Catholic Bishops joining the confused and confusing fray, the constitution of a reconciliation Committee in APC to be headed by one of the most aggrieved persons in the world, a man who had been used to wrest power and virtually dumped, snakes swallowing millions of naira, APC swallowing the bitter pill of allowing a restructuring of the polity and the trance referents of our only Nobel Laureate. I wondered whether the wily and nescient cabal had seen the red flag and the yellow cards that followed and were doing all they could to avoid the red card.

To be sure I wasn’t sure of what the game plan was or what game was up or what game they had in mind or whether there was a game plan in the first place. How could the players take their opponents and crowd of supporters so much for granted? Such stupidity or were the gods infusing madness before the destruction? Certainty is indeed not one of the strong points of the 21st century! When there is a kaleidoscope of images upon a ‘kaleidoscoped’ and watery canvas the image/message becomes confusing.

Which is why no one is particularly certain about the fate of the Super Eagles in the coming World Cup series! Somehow deep optimism has given way to cautious hope and earth-shaking doubts. And the nation’s fate and predicament cannot be separated from the fate of our footballers, the fate of our football. So we need yellow cards, red cards once a red flag is raised.

Some of the watchers of policy furiously excoriated the red flag raisers from Abeokuta and Minna. Third term agenda and an endless transition were no credentials to honour, they said. How can a smelly mouth say and pronounce anything good about another smelly mouth? Perhaps before those Yoruba deities –Sango, Esu, and the rest- were raised to the pantheon, that is, in their earthly days, they were not saints or men of great distinction.

Oedipus killed his father and married his mother and was subsequently deified by the capricious gods who gave him such a terrible fate in the beginning. So the red flag flyers could be getting ready for their own apotheosis in spite of the scarlet of sins!

On one of those days when my secondary school was on the verge of losing a match one member of the football ‘management team’ rushed back to the hostel and from my vantage point in my hostel I saw him kneel before an empty egg shell that was ‘fetishly’ suspended on a broomstick that had been stuck into the earth: “Don’t disgrace me my god’, he was muttering a thousand times before I shut my window in disgust.

In fact, when my schoolmates returned from the stadium, one look at their faces and I didn’t need anybody to tell me that the red flag had not been heeded when it was raised and that our team had been red-carded out of the competition!


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