Stone Cold Friday: Anti-Football As A Way Of Life
The offspring had their school mass last weekend. Sat next to a man who claimed to be from The Valleys, thought I’d be impressed by his singing. I think he may have been lying to me about his birthright because the last Welshman to hold note that bad was Mickey Thomas and he got 18 months. Here’s Darius with his thought for the week…
International breaks bounce from the injury lottery to mind-numbing lack of good old fashioned club football. Managers up and down the league are reduced to waiting for a count of the walking wounded as the players trickle back in from their expeditions. Injuries sustained on international duty have become an occupational hazard that seems to be here to stay.
What is more concerning, particularly in England, is the more critical issue of players being assaulted on the pitch. Some may have you believe that this is good old fashioned tackling, but let’s call it for what it is; mindless and reckless endangerment of other professionals resulting to actual or grievous bodily harm.
In less than two months in the Premier league alone, players have had their legs and ankles broken more times than most married couples have sex. What is more baffling is the intransigence shown by observers, pundits, hacks and the football public at large in accepting that this is actually a problem.
A lot of respect has to be given to the Dutch national team manager Bert van Marwijk for showing courage and addressing the issue. The English FA reverted to type and took the cowardly position of claiming that they don’t want to re-referee an incident that a referee chose to do nothing about.
A few weeks ago, Arsène Wenger incurred the wrath of an establishment who were not even prepared to listen to what he actually had to say about bad tackles. He was called a whinger who was only interested in bringing his tippy-tappy style of football to a game supposedly for men. He was accused of having soft, brittle boned players who were more suited to netball than the hard tackling, blood and thunder nature of a proper man’s game.
In one incident on the radio, a shamelessly Arsenal hating pundit, who surprisingly played for Arsenal in the 70s unleashed the mother of all tirades against Wenger. You wouldn’t be mistaken to think that he was being paid to deride the Arsenal manager with such disdain and contempt.
“He’s just a whinger. We’re tired of listening to his purist agenda. This is a man’s game and it’s a contact sport. How dare he think he can come to this country and change the way football is played”
This pundit was challenged on air about whether he actually read what Wenger was saying as opposed to just the twisted headline that suggested the Arsenal manager wanted to outlaw tackling. And if the pundit indeed read the article, was he suggesting that dangerous tackles that stop a player’s career or that break legs and ankles were acceptable? The climb-down was spectacular as it became increasingly clear that the chap hadn’t even read the actual article.
What compounds the issue is that when an incident happens, the establishment closes ranks and defaults to self-preservation mode. Player honesty, passion and commitment are offered as substitutes for responsibility and duty of care to fellow professionals. Victims are blamed for being too quick, not being skilled enough to ride a tackle and believe it or not, in some cases, they’ve been accused of having small and weak bones that are not fit for purpose.
We are told that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes of violence against association football have no single nasty bone in them, and that they have absolutely no intent. My argument is that intent is immaterial. By being reckless and irresponsible, you lose your right to argue whether you had the intent or not. It’s depraved indifference.
Take the case of someone who regularly drinks and drives. They know it’s against the law, but the environment they live in allows them to operate to the limits of that law. Whenever that person enters their vehicle after leaving a pub while drunk, they have absolutely no intention of killing or maiming someone. They simply want to get home in most cases.
The fact of the matter is the minute they start driving under the influence, they’re in charge of a lethal weapon that they have no control over. Intent can never be a factor in arguing the depraved indifference of such a person. Even if they get away with not having an accident, the law of averages dictates that it’s only a matter of time before they kill or maim someone.
The English FA, the Premier league, the managers, the referees, the media and the pundits have all conspired to create an unacceptable environment that is an accident waiting to happen. Week in, week out, players are unleashed onto the pitch with instructions to push the laws of the game to the limit in order to survive or to win matches. They are like drunk drivers handed the keys to the SUV and told to hit the highway.
What happens has nothing to do with intent. It has nothing to do with honesty, commitment or a style of play or brand of football. It’s depraved indifference. When thuggery and violence is accepted as a substitute for not knowing how to play football, and when you cultivate a culture where it’s expected that you will show physicality supposedly to prove your manhood, then the results are inevitable.
It was good to see the Fulham captain yesterday in a football leader’s seminar directly mention the ‘Premiership 3’ (would have been 4 if Phil Brown was still gainfully employed. Danny Murphy claimed that Allardyce, Pulis and McCarthy are directly responsible for the recklessness of their players and for pumping up the players to do battle instead of playing football. The injuries are inevitable. Clearly, there’s a law suit or an apology demand coming his way.
The ‘Premiership 3’ couldn’t do any worse than learn from West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool that you don’t need to resort to violence and thuggery to win football matches; you just need to play your game.
Kudos to Roberto De Mateo and Ian Holloway for promoting the virtues of the game, despite the fact that the odds are stacked right against them. It is this football philosophy that can see them winning games against Arsenal and Man City, and Newcastle and Liverpool respectively.
My sense is that more and more technically gifted players are now becoming consciously aware that playing in England might shorten their football careers. Something has to be done about this issue – and I’m afraid that until one of the golden generation of English players gets their leg broken or their career ended by one of these hatchet men, then absolutely nothing will be done. It’s a man’s game after all, isn’t it?