There is a certain hype and urban myth which surrounds football regarding sportsmanship, discipline and what is deemed to be acceptable behaviour in order that your team wins. Every week throws up a different scenario, and of course we continue to have the spectre of Luis Suarez at the forefront of this, but I watched highlights of a game at the weekend in the Championship in England and saw something that is usually frowned upon, and yet I have heard not one single mention of it at all on any media sites or TV channels since.
Before I start, let me say that those of you who know me and the type of player and person I was, know that I would have kicked my granny in a tackle and made sure she never got back up if it meant that we could win a football match. Here begs the question; what is acceptable and what is not? In answering this, it is important to recognise that football is an international game and we may need to be a little more tolerant of other cultures, before we decry their ways.
The imaginary red
It was Reading v Fulham on Saturday. 20 minutes in and a Fulham midfielder makes a really poor tackle (a bit like mine at Montrose if you’ve been reading my previous blogs). It’s a straight red, but before the referee gets a chance, three Reading players surround him, demanding it be shown. As it IS shown, the Reading centre half fist pumps and turns away with two hands aloft exclaiming “Yes” as if he had just scored a goal. Too far?
We’ve all seen it. The striker through on goal, scythed down by the lumbering centre back who now knows he is going off and opposition players just managing to catch up with the referee, brandishing the imaginary card and willing the referee to send him off. The inevitable outpouring of false martyrdom, the “scandalous” behaviour of the players urging the red card. Is it really that bad? As a player, why shouldn’t you want the defender to go off? Down to 10 men and now in with a great chance of winning. As long as it was deserved and there was no diving or cheating, should it really be a hanging offence to claim for a card to be shown? Lets be honest, as a fan, you will certainly be celebrating it in the stand. On top of that, you will have the gleeful manager of the team who’s players have all managed to stay on the pitch, quoted as saying “I’m not one for wanting players sent off or anyone getting a red card.” Really? Trust me, when you read that sentence on the back pages of your chosen rag, it’s ALWAYS followed by “but…”
I’ve played for a few managers and coaches who would privately have allowed you to do almost anything to get opposition players wound up and in some cases red carded, whilst publicly trotting out the old – “I’m not one for getting players sent off” line.
I must say before I go on, that I am in no way attempting to condone the actions of Luis Suarez. The biting and spitting incidents he has been guilty of are completely unacceptable and abhorrent. He is an animal, but with it an incredible footballer who in my opinion needs psychological help. I read a wonderful article by Gus Poyet who explained that it was their Latin American culture to try to win at all costs, that diving was an acceptable part of their football being, and that occasionally overstepping the mark comes with that. With the advent of so many foreigners in our game, maybe we will just need to learn to be a little more tolerant of their ways.
All of which brings me to my final bugbear; the current fad for TV pundits to “demonise” shirt tugging and blocking at free kicks and corners. Lineker, Lawrenson, Ingham and Green, all of them condemn to a man, the art of defending. This is the same Mark Lawrenson who when he became manager of Oxford United, proclaimed to us – “we are going to train and play the Liverpool way.” We trained each day for 90 minutes, the Liverpool way. We had 5-a-sides in training, the Liverpool way. We changed the shape of the team so we could play, the Liverpool way. We played……..the Oxford United way. Someone had forgotten to tell him we never had Hansen at the back, Souness in the middle or Dalglish and Rush up front. Relegation and he left the club after seven months. Football – the Lawro way.
So, sure it’s a free kick (or a penalty in the box) if you get caught tugging at a shirt. But that’s it. If you can get away with it, surely putting someone off balance and preventing them from scoring is part of the art? The Italians of the 80’s and 90’s were brilliant at it; foreign players were coached in denying the striker space in all areas of the pitch for years. I had first hand experience of this during a game against Rangers. I was marking Basile Boli at set pieces and they got a corner early in the match. Boli, a monster of a man was a big threat in the air and it was my job to stop him getting a run at it or getting any momentum to power in a header. We were jostling as the corner came over and Boli turned to run behind me and as I turned to match his run, Richard Gough ran straight into me and put me on the ground. I had been ‘blocked,’ and whilst on my knees I just managed to lift my head in time to see Boli rise unmarked at the far post to beat Jim Leighton with the header. It was brilliant play by Gough, but that was of no consolation at half time when I was berated for losing Boli and allowing him to score. I could do nothing about it. In those days we had no video analysis to look back on and even Archie MacPherson couldn’t save my skin as my desperate plea of “watch Sportscene tonight and you’ll see” fell on deaf ears.
But it WAS my fault as he had scored and I lost my place for the next game, even though we had come back to get a point. So don’t dare tell me shirt pulling and blocking are as bad as some of the things that go on in the game. It’s very easy to sit on the sofa on a Saturday night and have a go Lawro, but don’t forget YOUR time at the coalface.
So onto this week’s Tips. Yet again, a red card scuppered the chances of the treble with the other two teams winning as Dundee United could only draw with their 10 men. Two weeks in a row we’ve been very close so lets get that elusive win under our belts…
First up i’ll go with Aberdeen at home to Ross County (4to7), Peterhead at home to Stenhousemuir (EVS) and East Fife at home to Queens Park (8to11). Here’s hoping for a win or it’s Guest Tipster time next week.