I have loved this game for more than six decades, captivated by the skills involved, the drama of sporting contest, the ability of two teams to create a panoply of human emotions in one short interval of an hour-and-a-half, and its ability to transform what appears to be a collective stalemate into a victory in one supreme act of match-winning brilliance by an individual player. It is indeed The Beautiful Game, and I am pleased that I have shared the field with the man who invented that phrase.
So, what am I leading up to . . . ?
Among the players, the wrecking of Haaland’s knee and the ending of his career by Roy Keane is one example:
Taylor’s breaking of daSilva’s leg is another:
Those two acts of savagery tell their own tale. And because of them and others like them, we spend hours and hours teaching referees to observe and properly punish similar crimes, hoping of course that we can eliminate them from the game. In many ways, it is a forlorn hope, because as long as there are mothers and fathers, there will always be a supply of offspring for whom the injuring of an opponent is the prize for enjoyment of their own brutality.
But then last weekend included a different kind of bad behavior in the match between Spurs and Newcastle, when one manager shoved an assistant referee, with whom he disagreed about a touchline decision:
Although it was not a violent act on a par with a solid punch to the gut, or a “Liverpool Kiss”, delivered with the forehead into the nose or eyebrows of an opponent or an official (the exception being the MLS final, where it is occasionally allowed without punishment “ . . .if the game didn’t need a red card at that moment . . .”) No, the push delivered to the shoulder of this assistant referee (FIFA AR Peter Kirkup) by Alan Pardew of Newcastle United was more like a morning wake-up call of the “Did you see that? What did you think of that?” kind. Nevertheless it was a shove, right there on national and international TV all the way out to the left-hand coast of the U. S. of A.
For me, it was an ugly moment. This was in one of the best leagues in the world, with some world-class players on display, and a manager has to do something bloody silly like that. Pushing someone with whom you disagree is an expression of outright contempt, a crime in common law. And this after long campaigns in the UK about “Respect”, and after he had delivered a speech to his players about the Olympic spirit!
He said: "Here's me telling my players to behave themselves, follow the Olympic spirit and do everything in the right way, and we did. Apart from me."
The referee sent him to the stands, where he spent some minutes trying to figure out a headset that would have allowed him to communicate with his assistants on the bench! I don’t know what the regulations are in the Premiership about being “sent off”, but I know as a referee I would have found some (legal) way to make sure he did not participate in the match in any way. The integrity of the game demands it.
The last example I have is how a good game can be spoiled by an official who got an offside decision terribly wrong--again in the Premiership, just over a week ago. Fernando Torres scored Chelsea’s third goal against Reading when he was clearly offside at the moment the ball was crossed into the middle. For Torres it was a tap-in.
According to every commentator I have heard, the AR was directly in line, although his position does not show on this video:
Torres’ position is clear, however. Why the AR did not see it, we will probably never know. But this is simply not acceptable at this level of the game, and I hope the AR, while he enjoys his “gardening break” from the league for the next few weeks, reviews and reviews this incident to figure why he missed it.
And on top of all this ugliness, we still have the spectre of racism, sometimes wraith-like, a mere phrase (“choc-ice”) on Twitter, sometimes unmistakable, a banana thrown at the feet of a player taking a throw-in. Another ruination of The Beautiful Game.
But then every weekend, and more, we turn and turn again to the screen to see van Persie deftly volley into the goal, or to hear the crowd on the Kop roar their approval as Liverpool take the lead against Manchester City. And in my case: to listen, wrapped in nostalgia as Welsh songs fill the Liberty stadium in Swansea, where I first saw a professional match in the old Vetch Field. I remember it well. I can still name the players on the team . . .