Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Beauty and the Beast

Now a slight change of tack for today's effort - back to sport. There isn't much midweek rugby on television these days, so I have been reduced to watching 'the beautiful game' the last couple of days. Now I have a couple of issues with the way that football is played these days; mainly that it is no longer beautiful. Things happen on the football pitch that must surely make even the most staunch defender of the virtues of soccer cringe at their sight.

Now I have already blogged at length about the attitude and behaviour of top flight footballers towards referees (here), but I think I have found something that upsets me even more. At least screaming blue murder at the referee is not cynicism borne out of the supposed tenet of sportsmanship. It's just lots of swearing and carrying on that really should get them all sent for an early bath. I'm not even talking about cynical play like diving or pretending you got nailed in the head by a sniper when actually you got a bump on the elbow in an effort to get your opponent sent off. That said, whilst I'm there, if we have a system for citing foul play after games, why not extend it to this awful practice. See how many people will carry on like pantomime dames when the prospect of a ban looms. Just a thought, and naturally one that will be ignored (and not just because nobody reads this drivel). Nope, this evening's rant is about the practice of putting the ball out of play when an opponent is apparently injured.

In the many hours of football I have watched, I think I have probably seen no more than a handful of serious injuries. I have definitely seen somewhere in the region of a billion pretend injuries, though. Slightly polar numbers you say, so let's try to narrow it down. A serious head injury or a broken bone? Maybe 4 or 5 a year on televised Premiership football (and that's pushing it). An injury that causes a player to perform 6 rolly-pollys grasping some part of his body with a face contorted in an agony normally reserved for the VIP suite at the Sanish Inquisition, only to be playing fully fit two minutes later? 4 or 5 times per match (at least)?

Now roll around like a little child if you wish, but why on earth are we now stopping play for these fakers? Surely it is obvious to everyone in football that almost every 'injury' is actually fine in the end and the ones that aren't are very obvious (bones sticking out of socks, or the grass going red) when they are serious, or when they are not do not warrant the game stopping. Pulling a hamstring is painful and serious enough for long term fitness, but no reason whatsoever to stop someone attacking goal 50 yards up the pitch - he'll live, and the game will be the better for it.

Almost all of these play-acting incidents comes at a time when a footballer loses possession in an inopportune place, giving the opposition an advantage. They then roll around like a bad soap actor; 20,000 people boo the terribly unsportsmanlike opposition for playing on; the attackers then give up their fairly won advantage and kick it out; advantage over; the 'injured party' gets up, grimaces slightly, hobbles for requisite 10 metres then rejoins the game at a full sprint. If you have seen it once, you have seen it a hundred times.

It ruins the flow of the game, and brings further discredit to a game so far from the moral high ground it would require some serious navigational skills and high powered binoculars to find it again. Moreover, it is all without reason; the referee has the right to stop play if he sees fit. Look at rugby - play would only be stopped if the referee deemed it a serious injury (not a twisted eyelash), or deemed it could get worse because play was returning to the area of the stricken man. Meanwhile, medics can pop onto the pitch to sort out said fallen player. I'm pretty sure the rules are the same in football, yet they have descended into this farce of faux sportsmanship that both sides know is just a defensive tactic to be employed when losing the ball.

So, there you go - let the ref do his job, and stop this nonsense. Another thing easily remedied, that doubtless nobody will do anything about. What is frustrating is that football has the ability to be great entertainment, provide role models, bring people together even. However, it is its own worst enemy - there is too much in the game now that is utterly unedifying, yet could easily be rooted out. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder - for me at the moment, I'd say football's beauty is at best skin deep, but its ugly goes right to the bone.

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