Football Irritants

This past week has presented two instances of why I sometimes despise football. At its best, Pele’s “beautiful game” can be a force for good – bringing disparate, even warring communities and people together.

At its worst, however, football is a hubristic, humourless breeding ground of hypocrisy. Two incidences of this in the past week have made me somewhat vexed and indeed rather angry.

Adam Lallana

You’ve changed Adam

Being a referee is a horrifically difficult job. A newspaper “situations vacant” ad for a Premier League referee would presumably say something along the lines of “do you want to be verbally abused by 30,000 or more people every week for nine months of the year, and make split second decisions then have them pored over by a gaggle of cynical former players earning ten times as much as you for their meaningless opinions on your performance? Then why not become a referee.”

There are of course occasions where referees do get things very wrong and do deserve criticism. Frank Lampard’s “goal” against Germany in 2010 and Chelsea’s last gasp penalty against West Brom earlier this season demonstrate those occasions when a refereeing mistake drifts from bad luck into negligence.

As well as the spectators, referees must also put up with abuse from the 22 men running around on the field, coaching staff and substitutes. Again, from my limited lip-reading vocabulary, they put up with a great deal, and would be perfectly within their rights to issue red cards until an important derby march resembled a shoddily attended five a side match given the level of vitriol directed their way on a regular basis.

Which is why, getting to my point, this week Southampton and Adam Lallana have really, really irritated me. As I mention above, referees have to withstand all sorts of abuse from those they share the field with. It seems, however, from the clubs’ point of view that referees dare not speak anything other than pre-approved sentences in the Queen’s English back the way.

This was certainly the case in Southampton’s recent match against Everton. On telling the Southampton skipper and recent new England cap Adam Lallana that he would not be awarding his side a penalty, referee Mark Clattenburg told Lallana “you’ve changed since you played for England.” At worst, one could imply this to mean “you’ve become rather unattractively arrogant since you became an England player.”

Not according to Mr Lallana’s club, however. According to Southampton, Clattenburg used “abusive and insulting language” in saying to Lallana that he’d become a bit too big for his boots (again, at worst). Southampton duly complained to the FA and the Premier League, both of whom have (brilliantly) given the complaint the attention it deserves by not upholding it.

To my mind, the FA should reach for a radical solution to this, one which has apparently been raised by refereeing chief Mike Riley. Give the refs microphones so we can hear what’s going on. One clear benefit in doing this will be to avoid scurrilous accusations like this one, and when last year Clattenburg was maliciously accused of racial abuse by John Obi Mikel.

The other interesting angle on this, and the one which will make Southampton’s complaint look all the more stupid, is that the mike is likely to pick up all kinds of floury and interesting language from the 22 chaps on the park. One imagines that after a few cries of “oh f**k off ref” are heard through the microphone, clubs may have second thoughts about making such ridiculous and spiteful complaints in future.

Theo Walcott

The North London derby has become a rather poisonous affair in recent years. As both sides spend money and, in relative terms in the last 5 years, Spurs have got better while Arsenal, until this season, have stayed at the same level.

So it was that Saturday evening’s FA Cup third round tie between the two sides was a particularly feisty affair. Fans of both sides were rather badly behaved, with Theo Walcott particularly coming in for stick and indeed having various things thrown at him during the match.

He can then be entirely forgiven, as he was stretchered off near the end of the match, for signalling “2-0” at the Spurs fans with his hands. If you give it out, you have to take it back.

This is, however, one fundamental rule which doesn’t appear to apply to football supporters. There was various outrage from Spurs supporters, with Spurs accusing Walcott of being disrespectful in his gesture. So having thrown both abuse and things at Walcott, he was being disrespectful to them for cheekily telling them the score. Riiiiight.

Of course, and rather brilliantly, the FA have decided Walcott has no case to answer in making his gesture, though have seemingly given him a ticking off. The Spurs supporters, indeed all supporters, will no doubt continue to take the view that they are entirely entitled to give it out while being grossly offended should any player dare act like a human and give some back. Football eh.

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Predictions for 2014

I did this at the beginning of 2013 and didn’t do toooo badly, so here goes for the upcoming 12 months of sport.

The Premier League title in England will go to Manchester City, with West Ham, Cardiff and Sunderland being relegated (going against my relegation predictions at the start of the season).

Celtic will once again win the league in Scotland (shock), with Hearts joining Rangers in next season’s Scottish Championship. East Fife will just about stay in League 1 but not without some nervousness (again).

I fancy Bayern Munich to provide a bit of an historic moment and retain the Champions League. I frankly don’t give a monkeys who wins the Europa League – I’ll say Ajax. I think the World Cup will be won by Brazil, laying to rest the ghosts of 1950.

In the realms of other sport, I think Europe will retain the Ryder Cup, and Rory McIlroy might actually win a major this year. I reckon Tiger Woods will get his first major in many years too.

Andy Murray won’t win a grand slam title this year (I hope I’m wrong), with Djoko and Nadal sharing the four titles – though I also think Wawrinka has a good chance of winning one.

The Commonwealth Games will be a rip-roaring success, showing Glasgow and Scotland at its best. I still think we won’t beat our 2006 tally of gold medals, however. As ever, Australia will finish top of the medal table.

Finally, England will tie the series with Sri Lanka, and lose to India as the post-Ashes rebuilding process begins.

As with last year, I’ll provide an update to this later on in the year to assess my performance. Later this week will be a review of 2013 from my perspective.