Honesty and smoke bombs

If John Sheridan's honesty is "refreshing" - which it is - what does that say about others in football?

The Carlisle United boss tells it like it is, in contrast to many different managers who prefer to go on the defensive

Straight-talker: John Sheridan

No arguments: Sheridan said jerry Yates deserved to be sent off at Bury

Every time he speaks, John Sheridan sounds tired. Not tired in a sleep-deprived, one-game-too-many, knew-that-last-coffee-was-a-bad-idea sense. Tired in a good way.

Tired of the tiptoeing, ego-stroking, deceitful creature that the language of football has become.

Cut the nonsense, his manner suggests; ask me the question and I will answer it. If something has gone wrong I will say so first and worry about protecting the delicate species later. If something has gone well, I will examine your praise for gibberish and then measure my own words accordingly.

It is as though Carlisle's manager has lived through enough of football's era of spin to know it is bogus. Why not go straight from A to B and save everyone the trouble?

Take last weekend, and the red card issued to Carlisle's Jerry Yates. Now, there is no doubting that referee Mark Heywood's performance was not to every United supporter's liking - yet Yates' discipline unquestionably failed him at Gigg Lane.

He mouthed off to the officials and now has a two-match ban for his troubles.

Normally, the mitigation for the red-carded player would have been scripted before the red card was even back in Heywood's pocket. Too many decisions against us. The lads were frustrated. It's a passionate game. If the officials did their jobs, we wouldn't have reacted like that. If they want to be regarded as human beings, they should start by getting 100 per cent of their decisions right, like we always do.

Infamy, infamy...

This aggressive self-delusion is encouraged routinely. Remember some of the suspensions issued last season under the new retrospective diving law, and the cries of outrage made on behalf of practically all the offenders?

Not once did we hear the words: "Yep. Bang to rights. Our player probably did dive. No place for that. He'll get what's coming."

It is the same with penalties, free-kicks, throw-ins, the direction of the wind - yet, last Saturday, Sheridan took what we are now conditioned to regard as a novel approach.

Yates, according to a post-match conversation United's boss had with ref and linesman, had said things that did not belong on a pitch without proper censure.

Acknowledging his own previous in this area, Sheridan accepted that, no, you can't expect to get away with such language. "He deserved a red card," Carlisle's manager concluded.

This sort of straight-shooting has been described as refreshing, which it is. Yet it is also depressing to have to make this conclusion, because it means that too much of what we hear these days is the opposite.

Managers defensive after a defeat: we've all heard them. You can no doubt name several. At times, it's more understandable than the people on the asking side of the fence are prepared to acknowledge.

Once in a while, those of us expecting maximum contrition and illumination from a boss post-defeat should go home after a bad day at work and be immediately subjected to 20 questions about everything that went wrong.

Chances are we'd probably nibble at one eventually, and maybe seek to guard not just our own behind but those in our team.

But still. Men like Sheridan show that it's possible to see a game through clearer eyes and not have as a default setting the need to fool people in order to flatter egos. It probably comes from an inner confidence developed over many years, or perhaps simply his nature.

Consider, too, his first competitive game as Carlisle manager. Again, there were excuses easily within reach , yet after United's 3-1 defeat at Exeter, Sheridan preferred to go directly to the bone.

The players, he said, had made life harder for themselves than was necessary, and the first 20 minutes of the game were miles below standard. Then came an even franker admission: perhaps he had got things wrong himself. Maybe, in hindsight, he'd picked the wrong team.

Game one, against a promotion favourite, with a new squad bedding in after a hurried summer of recruitment, with the tightest managerial budget for some years and the second-longest journey of the season already in United's legs. The justifications were on a plate and others would have fallen greedily upon them.

Instead, we got candour, as we have in other circumstances, when Sheridan has constructively criticised, for instance, Ashley Nadesan's movement at a time when it would have been easier simply to shower the striker with praise for scoring against Crewe, and when compliments for Richie Bennett have been laced with fair assessment of his flaws and state of belief.

It was once said that football is a simple game complicated by fools; perhaps it is also true of aspects of management. You could knit a scarf long enough for the Equator with the amount of wool that gets pulled over supporters' eyes most weeks, so anyone who kicks against this is a welcome voice.

There will no doubt be days ahead when, like any manager, Sheridan pulls the drawbridge up a little, goes on the attack over a minor slight, or tries to convince us that black is just a different shade of white. The smartest choose their moments. Tactics apply with what is said publicly and privately just as much as 4-4-2 v 4-3-3.

There is a difference, though, between timing such behaviour, to distract media, fans, maybe even players and directors, and existing in a constant cloud of doublespeak, what-right-have-you-to-ask-that paranoia and knee-jerk deflection.

Sitting in the gaffer's office must sometimes feel like a battle against a million different agendas. Shrewd is the man who can ignore or see past most of them, and even better, take the rest of us in the same, simple direction.

This would not feel so "refreshing" if the game was in closer touch with genuine honesty, rather than the cliched version, but it's where we are, so we should be thankful for our regular dose of Sheridan: a straight road, rather than so much distracting scenery.

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Guilty pleasure time. Smoke grenades, from afar, look fantastic. Let us not pretend they don't.

That, though, is a judgement far easier made from a distance, rather than when one of the things have landed by your feet, or been let off in an enclosed space you happen to be occupying.

A couple were unleashed at Carlisle's game at Bury last weekend. In the aftermath of Richie Bennett's goal, one caught the eye in a bouncing away end. Again - a cracking sight.

Closer footage, less so; one video on social media saw one supporter completely engulfed by blue plumes, while another fan castigated "idiots" for letting off a grenade in a low-ceilinged bar where elderly, disabled and young supporters had been standing.

This (along with the dangerous temperatures such devices can reach) is the barrier to making a lenient case for them in football grounds.

Criticising them puts one at risk of being labelled a killjoy. Yet that label can also be applied to the handful of people forcing their version of fun onto everyone else in the near vicinity.

The smoke is entering your lungs whether you like it or not, the screaming hot item may drop by your toes whether you like it or not, the football club falls at risk of penalty whether you like it or not; it is a conceit to imagine that everyone loves this, and that those who don't simply need to get a life.

If leaving them at home spoils the occasion of a big away day, if the game is somehow not enough, then maybe, in the end, football isn't for you.

The good news is that we are approaching the time of year when bright colours and smoke are more easily accessible, and accepted, in public settings.

Bonfire Night, it's called. Carlisle's fireshow in particular is a belter. No pyro, no party, etc. Try that instead.

29 September 2018 10:00AM