Tag Archive: football


Eye on the ball, as always.

Eye on the ball, as always.

‘A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world.’

Albert Camus

It’s difficult to become a professional footballer –  you need talent, determination and luck to become one of the elite but you also need to do what it takes to win.

Football has seen incidents over the last few years which have caused outrage.  Henry and Suarez stand out for obvious reasons but they aren’t the only ones who work outside the rules when the need arises.

I won’t bore you with self-indulgent tales of my own football career – there are no tales as such and it was not a career – but joining a team at the tender age of 24, I encountered something there I hadn’t seen before, unadulterated competitiveness.

It was not a high level, sometimes I doubted the matches even deserved to be called ‘football’, but every man on that field gave every ounce of their limited talent in pursuit of victory. The ball was thrashed back and forth between us on that lumpy pitch until someone lost and we could trudge back home dreading next week.

I bring this up because it was the very lowest level and yet, in our first training session at the start of the season, our coach taught us to impede our opponents at set pieces by standing on their feet.

At the time I thought this shocking but as the season wore on every other team seemed to do it and it gradually became just another part of the game.

There are a number of subtle ways to gain an advantage over an opponent. Players will routinely nudge their marker as he rises to head the ball to increase his chances of missing it. If a referee sees the contact, it’s a free kick, but he won’t see it every time. If that nudge results in a goal you won’t hear calls of ‘Cheat’ around the ground. It’s as illegal as a Suarez handball but not quite as blatant.

The point I’m coming around to is that football is far more enjoyable if you win and if the playing field is level and the referees are in place, we’ll do what we can to gain an advantage for our team. A professional athlete will have addressed this ethical dilemma long ago, they won’t suffer sleepless nights or fall apart, they’ll keep playing that game as they have for years – to win.

Can you brand a player ‘cheat’ simply because he does something which isn’t permitted in the rules and is missed by an inadequate system of refereeing? How important an infringement must it be to warrant such abuse?

Of course, it’s in the media’s interest to construct a moral debate around every high profile incident. Everyone acts outraged until the topic fizzles out. The conversation is never a debate and no solution is ever proffered.

Yet there is one.

If FIFA wished, they could impose sanctions retrospectively for all incidents occurring outside the rules on a football field . Perhaps they could simply ban lying?

Dishonesty is the scourge of football and could perhaps be addressed under the ‘ungentlemanly conduct’ section of the rules.

I’ve constructed a rudimentary scale below:

Premiership Morality Chart

Premiership Morality Chart

If we could stamp out the claiming of throw-in’s by players – who know full well it hit them last! – we could prevent the more heinous infractions from being perpetrated. It’s time we took action and stamped dishonesty out of football.

We could have a Fair Play league table of individuals based on their ethical performance that season?

Or a humiliating black mark on the back of their shirt for every lie they’ve told?

I hope FIFA are reading this – I’d be glad to discuss my idea further with them.

The moral dilemma here is either a problem worth solving or it isn’t a problem at all. I suspect it may be the latter.

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Football Fanatics

Another quiet Saturday afternoon in England.

There are few things quite as absurd as the idea of a sports fan.

Think about it.

Forming a connection with a team or individual – often picked at random – who you root for simply because you’re watching it? Celebrating when he/she/they succeed, slumping into despair come the inevitable defeat?

We all do this. Our brain will pick sides based on unimportant information like hairstyle or gait.

Take the Olympics for example. I was extremely suspicious of the tournament before it began thinking it a bloated refuge for second tier athletes and sports (which may still be true…). However,  like pretty much everyone else in the world, it tricked me into caring about people and events I’d never heard of. After an hours viewing, I was cheering for a woman shooting at a tiny target and felt let down when she lost by 0.2 of a millimetre.

In football, year upon year, you gather memories of your team, associate these with moments in your life – a shared history forged through time until you become part of that massive organ. A fan.

Some don’t even get that choice. These are born into fandom, attending games at Celtic Park before their speech is sufficiently developed to yell abuse.  Like religion, you can be a part of it before you know it.

It’s pretty clichéd when writing something to include the dictionary definition of a word, but I’ll do that anyway:

Fan (noun) – Americanism – Short for fanatic: a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.

As a fan, you must:

  • Be biased, dispute every 50/50 call against your side and roar with righteous indignation should your opponent get one in their favour.
  • Find at least one team to hate with a ferocity which mirrors your affection for your own side.
  • Neglect your family, career and actual important things.
  • Eat unhealthily.
  • Find which item of clothing in your wardrobe causes your team to lose and burn it.

There are different types of fan of course, but one of the most vocal and difficult to respect are the busybody supporters-group fan.

You know when an athlete or Justin Bieber or someone says, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my fans…”? 

Well, these are the types of people who actually believe that.

Similar to the fact that human extinction would result if insects were somehow removed from the planet, some supporters believe their club would perish without them. Using this imagined leverage, these fans will often issue demands or express criticism to their beloved club.

Famously, a section of the Man Utd fans unhappy with new owners set up a non-league club to support instead. Some wore green and yellow scarves for the same reason but still attended games.

One of the most well-known and self-important of  supporters groups in England is Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly group. I’ve pasted a letter they sent to Fenway Sports Group suggesting that the US owners move to Liverpool for the good of the club. They also manage to use the word ‘commensurate’:

Ø

Following yet another summer where off the pitch activities at Liverpool Football Club have dominated the headlines, we once again find the club ownership attempting to explain away business decisions that have overshadowed footballing matters.
Spirit of Shankly reiterates its stance that the position of manager at Liverpool Football Club should be supported with all of the resources at the club’s disposal.
However, events of last Friday and the subsequent “open letter” from the club’s Principal Owner, John W Henry, indicate that almost two years into FSG’s ownership of the club this is not yet the case.
As pointed out by the union in May, there remains no ownership presence on this side of the Atlantic. It is our opinion that this situation has led directly to the “mistakes” alluded to in Mr Henry’s open letter.
Should the club’s absentee owners not wish to establish a full-time base in Liverpool, it remains imperative that they appoint a Chief Executive of a calibre commensurate with the club’s global status, to act with the full authority of the owners in their absence.
 

Ø

Clubs will always look to placate such groups as they can often sway public opinion, but it is purely a lesson in PR .

Spirit of Shankly’s ultimate aim is supporter ownership of Liverpool FC. A worthy cause in theory but then again, can it be a good idea have the sort of easily distracted, blinkered characters I describe in charge of what is basically a business?

In Italy, fan groups can become far more menacing. A Genoa game was halted towards the end of last season as the home ‘Ultras’, unhappy with the teams efforts, demanded their shirts. Genoa were losing 4-0 in the 53rd minute when the Marassi crowd stopped the match by throwing fireworks and climbing on top of the tunnel. With tears in their eyes, the players bar one were forced to comply. Players, managers and owners will come and go, the Ultras consider themselves the eternal guardians of the football club.

There’s something insane and wonderful about the idea of thousands of people cheering as 11 strangers play 11 other strangers on a Saturday afternoon. There’s a mad innocence and a genuine sense of something human to that.

If only we can avoid the misplaced sense of entitlement which slips into our mindset.

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