"Deep in conversation with his assistant there..."

The Bench. Like all things football-related, there are rules that all participants follow, seemingly subconsciously.

Firstly, the bench itself. Of course it's not actually a bench and probably hasn't been so since about 1955. I will concede, however, that it would sound a little ridiculous if Tyldesley said "…and Real Madrid do have options on the Recaro race seats". Not that Red Clive seems to have anything against sounding ridiculous - he just wouldn't say it.

The Recaro seat option is just a natural progression of the trend started by perhaps the greatest of all the football innovative thinkers, Graham Taylor. Yes, some may remember him as the man who played David Batty at right wingback, allowed Carlton Palmer to play for England and took off Gary Lineker against Sweden when all we needed was a goal. This, I think, clouds the great man's greatest achievement - which was to start the long road to lovely Recaro seats by sitting by the side of the pitch on plastic chairs nicked out of the canteen. Hats off to you, Graham.

Although it seems that every man and his dog gets a seat on the bench these days, it really is only open to a select few. The Angle... analyses the characters typically found in the dugout:

The Manager

Recently, managers have chosen to leave the sanctuary of the bench to stand in the technical area. This seems to be very handy for berating the fourth official - an example of a completely worthless protest, as it can't affect the game and is most likely to lead to the manager being "sent to the stands". A strange punishment, given that many modern, forward-thinking managers (like, erm, Steve McClaren and Sam Allardyce) opt to begin the match in the stands anyway. They revert to the more traditional dugout position only in the second half, or when their team goes 2-0 down inside ten minutes, or just when the chairman's wife starts annoying them. Until then, they must communicate via mobile phone with their assistant, foiling Sky's attempts to eavesdrop by putting their hand over their mouths.

Managers will use the technical area for a variety of reasons. Jose Mourinho will use it to slide fully ten yards on his knees, Glenn Roeder will stand, arms crossed, providing a calming influence on his players - which panics them into conceding a late goal. Meanwhile, Stuart Pearce will charge round it like a retarded child, throwing the ball back into play in the vain hope that the bigger boys will take pity on him and invite him to join in. Oh, sorry, we mean "he kicks every ball".

When the use of the technical area has been exhausted, the manager will return to the bench and hopefully whack his head on the roof of the dugout. If his team are winning he will laugh, despite the pain, and the rest of the bench will laugh with him. If they are losing, the bench will pretend they didn't see it and the manager will pretend it doesn't hurt. It does.

The Assistant Manager

I'm sure there are assistant managers (or No. 2s as they are, perhaps unfairly, also known) that are absolutely integral to the coaching set-up within a club. These men, even if they spend season in, season out with successful managers, will eventually pluck up the courage go to a club to manage in their own right - and be out of a job within 6 months. They will then be labelled a No. 2 for the rest of their life, unable to release themselves from the shackles of the failure at the big time. Examples can be seen from Manchester United: Brian Kidd, Carlos Quieroz and, most topically, the balding, plastic toothed, red faced, deluded, incompetent buffoon that is Steve McClaren, have all tried their hand as the figurehead elsewhere. If you are an assistant manager, there is only one way to survive - and that is to become a slightly less concentrated version of the "the gaffer". Of course, not in a pathetic, Phil Neal, let's-just-repeat-everything-Graham-Taylor-says-and-hope-nobody-notices kind of way. No, for perfect examples of this we need to look at two of the masters of the art: Steve Clarke and Pat Rice.

In his playing days Steve Clarke was a committed, but average, defender. Not too controversial a figure, quite an anonymous character, in fact. Compare that with the Steve Clarke who sits on the Chelsea bench, all wagging figures and histrionics, passing himself off as a significantly less charismatic and much more Scottish Jose Mourinho. He knows the value of being a yes man and he's kept his job because of it.

Pat Rice is the ultimate "cone man". He collects the footballs, probably takes down the nets at the end of training and shouts pointless instructions such as "Go to the ball, Go to the ball" and, erm, that's it. He has perfected the art of outwardly replicating Wenger's mood, whether he actually feels the same or not. "Patrice" very nearly let the mask slip against West Ham this year when the cameras caught the sheer panic on his face as he tried to decide whether to shake Alan Pardew's hand after Wenger had refused to do so. Still a little way to go there, Pat.

Sammy Lee at Bolton has taken this one step further by aping every physical movement Sam Allardyce makes and wildly gesticulating to the pitch. Rumours that Lee actually died a number of years ago and that Allardyce is operating him, Weekend-At-Bernie's-style, from the stands, remain unconfirmed.


No matter what the game, or the importance of it, as the camera gazes upon the manager barking out instructions, his assistant trying manfully to convey the same message using only his eyebrows, there will be a group of people nearby who are barely watching the game. I am, of course, talking about those that have either been dropped, rested, are coming back from injury or, as in the case of Sheffield United's army of unused strikers, simply not very good.

At least once during the game, the bench will be in fits of laughter or just generally sodding about like the kids at the back of the school bus. The one exception to this will, of course, be the goalkeeper. It has long been received wisdom that goalkeepers are a bit mad, their case not helped by their insistence on "concentrating" for the whole game, despite there being approximately a 2% chance of actually getting on. As well as doing absolutely everything, including the "concentrating", while wearing their gloves.

At some point, the freezing cold sub will be summoned from the bench. To do so requires the reading through of the Assistant Manager's magic notepad of instructions, which no doubt includes gems such as "Use your fresh legs to run at them" or, more likely, "Get out there, make a nuisance of yourself and try a nick a goal. Then, ensure that you mention this in your post-match interview".

The Physio

The physio, or the "trainer" as people like Jimmy Armfield insists on calling him, cuts a very lonely figure at the end of the bench, looking somewhat like a roadie who has just realised he's not actually regarded as "being in the band". He sits with a concerned look on his face. This may be interpreted as concern for the players. In fact, he's wondering why there is always a spare seat next to him. We'll tell him why - most people feel uncomfortable sitting next to man wearing latex gloves, that's why. The look on his face could also be interpreted as the look of a man primed to sprint into action. No physio has ever been officially timed at full speed, but head injuries often cause them to reach velocities unattainable for the average man.

"Who are ya?! Who are ya?!"

It is stated in the Premier League's rules that one obscure member of the backroom staff has to sit on the bench, so that one spectator will ask: "who's that?". The person who instantly answers with "That's the Assistant Kit Man" or "That's Les Reed" will therefore be deemed to need to get out a bit more and be a little less anoraky.

That person needn't mind. He's one of us.



Unknown said...

Very amusing.

Anonymous said...

Mourinho's arrival at Chelsea seems to have brought with him a new addition to the bench, the assistant as a receptacle of unrequited love.

I dunno, but some of Mourinho's assistants seem to look at him with something more than professional admiration. Rui Faria can sometimes hardly bear to unlock himself from Jose so he can go hug the players.