Football nil, Cheats one

It becomes more difficult every week for sensible people to remain football fans. Based in Ireland, I watch the English Premier League on TV on a regular basis – mostly when Liverpool are involved (for my sins in this and past lives I am a fan) – and otherwise on Match of the Day (the signature tune is Stacey’s most hated music ever).

First off, as a reasonable person, I must declare my hatred for Chelsea FC, as will all reasonable people who did not succumb to the charmless cash offensive of Roman Abramovich when buying success during the noughties. And it is an incident in yesterdays FA cup-tie between QPR and Chelsea that moved me to howl my disdain and sorrow for the state of (mostly) English football.

I only saw the incident in question as a highlight of the match – it was all that was shown after the live Liverpool, Man U game because apparently it was the only excitement or incident worth showing from a dull match anbd the one that decided the result – but it was enough to once again throw doubt into my mind about my ability to keep watching football at all.

The ball is centred into the box, Daniel Sturridge attempts to control it on his chest, defender Clint Hill brushes the back of his shirt, Sturridge completely abandons the spirt and sporting aims of the game and throws himself to the turf waving his arms toward the referee. Now firstly, Sturridge was in a scoring position but abandoned it because a penalty gives better odds of scoring. But he DID cheat. The contact was not enough to dislodge lint from his jersey never mind propel him to the ground. Secondly, the contact was not foul play under any rule of the game as far as I can see – there was no intent to foul the player or to harm him. Football is a contact sport and during the course of the game players bump into one another, often such contact causes one or both of the players to fall over. These contacts do not always constitute foul play but in recent times referees seem to be encouraged to call foul against the player left standing, even if no foul or intended foul has been comitted.

The real disease at the heart of the game is provided by the succour and support for cheats by so-called experts handing down their lofty views from the cetrally-heated comfort of a glass booth high above the stadium or the TV studio. The words I hate to hear, the words that have condemned us to watching a bunch of delicate flowers prance across the football pitch in expensive designer strips, with rosy clean knees and shorts are: “He was touched in the penalty area, he had to go down.”

No, he didn’t have to go down. He could have played within the spirit of the game and stayed on his feet and attempted to score a goal or pass to a team-mate better positioned. But even when he knows he was diving the modern footballer will consider himself justified in running toward the referee, shouting and gesticulating if his cheating has not been rewarded with a penalty. (Soccer) Football refereees could do with taking a look at Rugby (Football) referees. Rugby referees have established a standard of behaviour towards themselves by players. Run shouting at a rugby referee and you will find your backside back on the bench pronto – ten minutes in the sin bin could help football immensely. Verbally abuse or even strongly challenge a rugby referee and you will find yourself sanctioned. But this could not happen without the backing of the authorities. Rugby has star players earning lots of cash – and these star players obey the rules and the referee because they are forced to. The FA or whover runs English football currently (Sheikh Roman Glazer possibly) needs to man up and back referees against the spolit brats playing and ruining the game. Make simulation (what used to be called diving) an offence that can be retrospectively punished using video technology. Make shirt pulling in the penalty box a penalty offence – it can get you sent off anywhere else on the park. Intorduce a sin bin. Punish players who disrespect the ref. Punish players who disrespect the game. But most of all only punish players who intentionally foul another player or who do so through rashness (dangerous play which might leave other players injured – collateral damage, rather than intent). If it was not a penalty unless there was demonstrable intent on the part of the defender (which I thought was actually stated in the rules)  then less players would chuck themselves to the floor, less undeserved penalties would be awarded and players might even stop dragging their foot to make contact with a tackler and give the appearance of a foul. Nobody likes it, except when the foul menas your team gets a penalty.

But wouldn’t we all prefer to see more skill in the penalty area, more attempts by forwards to dazzle defenders with skill rather than attempting to kid the referee into awarding a free shot at goal from twelve yards? If the answer to that question is no, then I really will have to abandon the sport I love to watch. I used to like to play it but that was back in the days when you kicked a centre forward and his response was, “Is that the best you can do?”

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About Bob Neilson

Bob Neilson lives in Dublin with his wife, two daughters, son, two dogs, one cat and a growing feeling of claustrophobia. In partnership with his wife he runs a successful retail business in Dublin city. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and he has had two plays performed on RTE and one on Anna Livia FM. He also presented a radio show on Anna Livia for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as several comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland.
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