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.
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.
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.