A hail of emulsion
By Matt Rowson
An annual challenge presented by the summer months is that of how to replace football as a means of letting off steam. Whether things are going well or badly in the rest of one's life, attending a football match is a highly therapeutic way of lifting the lid from the saucepan.
A number of possibilities have been tried and, largely, failed. Sure, you can fill the time pleasantly enough. Or you can watch cricket (if you really want to). But I'd not found anything to serve this particular requirement until this summer.
Oh my word.
To the uninitiated the concept of grown men (and women) running around the green hills of Wexford in combat gear shooting each other with bullets of paint might be considered little more than a playground game for kids that never grew up. Having experienced this for the first time this summer I can confirm that this is exactly what it is. And it's bloody marvellous.
Two extreme approaches became apparent quite quickly, each of which had its merits. ig adopted a cautious, controlled strategy. A sniper in the woods, he used just 40 paintballs in the space of around an-hour-and-a-quarter's game play. Silent, predatory, lethal. At one point he even abandoned his gun altogether to achieve greater mobility in pursuit of his objective.
At the other extreme, Miles. Miles set a new course record for a half-day game by consuming 560 pellets in total, or approximately one every eight seconds of game play on average. No subtlety here, just an irresistible adrenaline-fuelled hail of emulsion.
No right or wrong, exactly. ig had precision where Miles left little to chance. ig had a reasonably cheap afternoon, whilst Miles burned off a great deal of football-less frustration. Two strategies, each with its attractions.
An alternative approach would have been to enter the competition with your forty gratis pellets, to defiantly not fire your gun but skulk around in the undergrowth collecting the many paintballs fired from too long a range (often by Miles) that had failed to burst on impact. These, along with your original balls, could have been re-sold back at base camp, slightly undercutting the rate at which the stewards were dispensing them in return for a modest profit.
It's a possible approach, to be sure. But you sort of feel that, having come all the way to Ireland, whatever your love of Guinness, you really ought to have a shot at enjoying yourself. The third alternative seems, therefore, implausible and unappealing.
Which makes the apparent approach of the Rotherham United hierarchy to an unexpected promotion to relatively exalted heights particularly inexplicable. Having resisted a takeover attempt in the summer from a consortium lead by his ex-vice chairman, Ken Booth is displaying all the characteristics of a man pitifully scrabbling around in the dirt for a couple more paintballs to sell on. Tickets for United games this season are not, apparently, to be sold individually. Ostensibly to prevent away fans invading the Millers' home end, tickets are being sold exclusively in blocks of three consecutive games. Which is a bit of a bugger if you can't go regularly. In the light of apparently falsified attendance figures, one correspondent describes United's management, players and support as approaching the season "with arms tied behind our backs and a blindfold on".
In the face of this, the Rotherham United Supporters' Trust (RUST) is launched this week, supported by its first two members, management team Ronnie Moore and John Breckin. It's slightly wearying that efforts like this are increasingly necessary, but good luck to these guys in their attempts to inject some sanity into things in any case.
Given that Palace, whatever Ronnie Moore's optimistic assessment, are hardly likely to be amongst the movers and shakers in this season's Division One, losing a two-goal lead at home seems a mite careless. Nor does it bode well for the Millers' survival hopes in a league in which they are already amongst the favourites for relegation.
That said, Watford will have to improve fundamentally on Saturday's nonsense if they are to get a result against anybody. Further to this, United won't be burdened by the inflated level of expectation that is likely to be as crucial an opponent to the Hornets this season as Eyal Berkovic or anyone else.
In goal for the Millers will be Mike Pollitt, in his second spell at Millmoor having resigned from Chesterfield this summer. Pollitt, who turned down a move to Watford during our second division days, had a nervous second debut on Saturday, appearing particularly reluctant to come for crosses during Palace's second-half comeback. His cover is former Stockport keeper Ian Gray.
At the back, summer signing from Bury Chris Swailes made an impressive debut alongside the committed but limited Guy Branston. In the absence of the capable but suspended Rob Scott, former Blackpool man Marvin Bryan is likely to play at right-back with Paul Hurst on the left. Hurst's limitations were badly exposed on Saturday, and the introduction of Chris Beech would appear to be a popular possibility. Local youngster David Artell, a successful introduction to the side last season, can also play at the back, his absence something of a surprise at the weekend, whilst another signing from Bury, Nick Daws, can also feature at the back.
In midfield, the engine room is weaker for the absence of Darren Garner, slowly recovering from a broken leg sustained in March. The erratic but talented Stewart Talbot will certainly feature; Talbot's last match against the Hornets was an uncomfortable one, as he suffered a badly broken leg at the hands of Paul Robinson during our 1999 visit to Port Vale.
Alongside him will be another creative player, team captain Kevin Watson. On the wings on Saturday were youngster Chris Sedgwick and the popular Paul Warne, but Saturday should see the debut of Portuguese left-winger Mirandinha, who impressed whilst on trial pre-season. His introduction could see Warne move to the right, with Sedgwick dropping to the bench. Other alternatives would be ex-Villa reserve Trevor Berry and 20 year-old Andy Monkhouse, whilst Welshman Rhodri Jones also arrived from Manchester United in the summer.
Up front, the continuing suspension of Alan Lee robs United of their target man, now priced at £5million by Moore following his £150,000 recruitment last season. Not for sale, then. Lee's last encounter with the Hornets was in the same epic clash with Vale in 1999, when his assault on Steve Palmer somehow won the home side a penalty.
Raw youngster Richie Barker will therefore be partnering Mark Robins, still a very effective predator at this level following an unorthodox career that has taken in half a dozen English clubs as well as spells in Spain and Greece.
Whether Robins would be as sharp with a paintball gun as he is in the box we'll probably never know. As for Watford, any strategy that doesn't involve providing each other with indefinite cover without ever making a move for the flag will be very welcome indeed...
Stop press: United have signed uncompromising Hibs centreback Martin McIntosh on a three month loan.