Full disclosure – I’m a lifelong Newcastle United fan.
Yeah, it’s quite the cross to bear. But this is not partisan. Football is about two things that are not mutually exclusive. It is of course a sport, a game, a pastime… That is my eperience from “jumpers for goal-posts” kick abouts in parks (I was a reasonable attacking right-back in my day) to playing at the exalted heights of Leeds University Maths IV (yes, the Ivy League beckoned!*). I can honestly say whilst there were thrills, spills and bellyaches (though the later was mainly from the post match pint and kebab) I never saw anything nasty. Sport is not war and the conflation of metaphors between the two upsets me greatly. It is almost impossible to watch a major sporting contest and for the commentators not to resort to martial language. And of course warfare is frequently (this might be a British thing) described in sporting terms. I think it horrid. Football is a thing of joy and fun to be endlessly replayed (and embellished) in the pub -”Remember when I went past the left-back with a Cruyff turn and laid it to rest in the top-corner of the onion bag.
But it is also (as I hinted) about something else. It is about big business. It matters in that sense too. Did you see that goal that wasn’t given in the Edinburgh Derby?. Stevie Wonder would have known that was over the line. Well over.
Now the thing is Nick and his mates having a kick-about is one thing because apart from faux-immortality at the boozer afterwards it doesn’t matter. It’s fun in the park and the big-money transfer from Leeds Maths IV to Real Madrid isn’t likely to happen and nor does a sponsorship deal from Samung hinge on the performance or anything of that kidney. But arguably in the professional game such matters matter more because of things like this. Haidara will be out for months and maybe that is his career over – at 20. No card was shown, not even a free-kick (not that Haidara was in any fit state to take one). That is not on and it happens because football unlike almost every other sport played at the highest levels such as Rugby, Tennis and even Cricket has embraced technology. Goal-line, touch-line, LBW, video replay and all that are mature technologies that work. Quite why the biggest sport on the planet is averse is beyond me. But then after Brazil the next two World Cups are in the noted footballing nations Quatar and Russia. I assume because FIFA’s Mr Slack Bladder got an oil well and a diamond mine on the deal.
Dave Whelan – the chairman of Wigan Athletic defended his player Callum McManaman on the basis that the ref was 15 yards away and saw nothing. Quite quantum of him. He wasn’t saying it didn’t happen, but that the ref didn’t see it which is not quite the same thing. I am currently in negotiations with Mr Whelan when the transfer window re-opens over a cat in a box. By all accounts the vision of the ref was blocked by another Newcastle player. You simply cannot have professional football with enormous stakes (look what happened to Rangers recently) conducted in such a half-arsed and frankly amateurish manner. Yes sportsmanship matters and from the local park to Old Trafford it still matters but even if I romanticise “Jumpers for goal posts” the pro game which millions watch and care about and millions of monies and the very career of a young man is one horrendous tackle away from disaster should use the tools pioneered in other sports to keep it straight. They can well afford it.
Football can be conducted in a good-natured spirit of fair-play. But at the top of the tree that is not enough.
*For some reason Leeds Maths had a lot of Romanians – mainly called Radu – “Nick, Pass to Radu!” is not helpful advice from our captain when you have three Radus. Good players and good lads, mind.