This is an article that ran in the South African Sunday Independent on the 29th of December 1996. Tony happened on it by chance... perhaps there are many others uncollected?



Fancy kit doesn't make the player but playing in itself makes the game

by JOHN PERLMAN
Seriously amateurish amateur football is governed by an irrefutable law which goes something like this: "The fancier the kit a team wears, the more likely it is that they are completely useless." It's probably not a terribly well-known law, perhaps because I've just made it up. But it's an ironcast law nonetheless. And discovering that it still applies has been just one of the many pleasures of what is undoubtedly my sporting highlight of 1996 -Monday night football. There have been other great moments of course, and certainly moments of greater significance. South Africa's win over Ghana in the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations was quite exhilirating, even if I was many miles away in Durban on the night Atlanta was even more distant but it felt as if Josia Thugwane was running those final kilometres of the Olympic marathon on a road that ran straight through my London flat The joyous atmosphere at the Champions League final in Rome between Ajax and Juventus was more immediate. But the most remarkable football I saw was a 20-minute spell on an icy morning in Amsterdam, as a team of 1l-vear-olds from Ajax's youth academy used quick minds and feet to give a side three years older and many sizes bigger a glorious run-around. South Africa's thrilling semifinal against India in the under-15 cricket World Cup offered a similarly intriguing taste of what the future might bring. For sheer emotional drain, though, nothing quite matched Sugarboy Malinga's improbable triumph over Nigel Benn in Newcastle to lift the WBC super-middleweight crown. Sitting three rows from the ring, the acrid smell of fear at the start was overwhelming, but the scent of victory which slowly but surely banished that was delicious and sweet. A memorable moment, but Monday nights in the old Spitalfields Market in East London have been satisfying in a different way. Once a huge enclosed market hall, part of Spitalfields has now been converted into a complex of indoor football pitches. You enter the place through big roll-back gates which let balmy evening air in during the spring and summer, and act as wind tunnels for blasts of icy air as winter sets in. There is temptation along the way Much of the space has been taken up by restaurants and bars and if you're coming from Liverpool Street station you have to pass one Italian eatery in particular which exudes smells of garllcky delights. But most men pass the test, because the Spitalfields pitches are always packed. And as one shift of players files into the dressing rooms and another comes jogging out - you can usually only hire a pitch for an hour - you invariably see a good number of players wearing the colours of famous teams - Manchester United, Juventus, Chelsea. Now replica football shirts are huge business in Britain. That they are considered fashion items was eloquently expressed when the manufacturers of the England team's much-hated grey shirts pointed out that they were not in fact grey, but "indigo-blue", and that the colour was chosen because it looked very god with jeans. Even so. some people do actually wear these shirts when they play
football. If you were checking out the opposition you wouldn't necessarily assume that someone wearing Liverpool kit or a Newcastle shirt or something similar is going to be rubbish. But your thinking might lean that way once you managed to see which players name he had stuck on the back. If it's Robbie Fowler, Tony Adams, Roy Keane or Mark Hughes he's paying tribute to. you ought to watch your step a little. But if it's Beckham, Juninho, Ginola, Cantona or Gullit you can rest assured that this bloke has more pose than pace. And if the entire team turns out wearing the kit of some famous team, you can succumb to garlic seduction and stop off in the Italian on the way in for a sumptuous pre-match meal, in the sure knowledge that this one is going to be easy. One of the teams at Spitalflelds always turns out in spanking new Milan kit. Not only that, they have a tall pale blond bloke with "Weah" on his back, a stout chap whose name is apparently "Baggio" and another who fiddles about in defence wearing a shirt labelled "Maldini". Needless to say, they are dismal. Our game generally involves the same group of about 16 guys, few of whom wear replica shirts or anything resembling football kit. There is one fellow who sometimes comes in an Everton shirt with Ferguson on the back, in honour of the club's big Scottish striker known also as Duncan Disorderly. And fittingly, our Ferguson - whose name is Nigel - possesses a fierce but erratic shot and an extremely sharp pair of elbows. For the most part. everyone wears either white or a shirt of some seen-better-days sort of colour, and so every match involves "whites" versus the rest and the teams usually take the same shape each week. There is a core group of us - three of whom are called Simon - who religiouslv wear white each week. We tend to think that we pass the ball better, play more sophisticated football and in the patience of our buildups, reflect the growing influence of more thoughtful European styles on the English game. Others would say we are simply lazy. By contrast, the "colours" really buzz after the ball, shoot on sight and take no prisoners in the tackle. Not surprisingly they tend to win. but on the nights when the "whites" game really comes together - about one in four - we have played some football that is quite beautiful to watch. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that is the whole point. Despite writing about football and commentating for years, I have never been much good as a player. (Therein lies another ironcast law of football, you might hear some soccer managers say). But after not playing.ihe game for years, it was wonderful to discover that however average the players on the pitch may be, football's glorious simplicity throws up these shiningly perfect moments to even the mediocre. It might be a quick exchange of passes that opens up the defence, even if one partner in the one-two had actually meant to shoot. It might be a shot in which the ball somehow makes contact with that sweet spot in your foot and simply flies. And once in a while, even on the stone-hard carpet of an indoor football pitch, you find yourself combining with four or five others - seven, eight passes; darting movement off the ball; a clean shot to finish it - in a move that makes your heart sing. Whenever that happened on those Monday nights in the market, the week somehow got off to a quite splendid start. And it made me realise, after years and years of watching football and writing about it, that there is still nothing to beat playing this game. Even if your kit, like your legs, has failed to keep up with the march of time.