Monday, 4 June 2012

How English football can change by staying the same

                                  BY BENJAMIN BLOOM 

Mistakes happen, they may be unfortunate, forgettable, tragic, or more likely, when it involves other people, bloody hilarious, and they happen more than we like to let on, but they happen none the less and that's something that has got me thinking (and writing). We humans seem to have a peculiar attitude when it comes to, not our own mistakes, but other people's. Henry's 'handball' against the Irish in a World Cup qualifying game when Swedish referee Martin Hansson allowed play to carry on resulting in a William Gallas goal, Frank Lampard's 'goal' being disallowed against Germany at the World Cup in 2010, Ashley Young's 'dives' to win penalties against Aston Villa and QPR in this year's Premier League season, and two years ago when I had a bad fall and luckily escaped without serious injury. Rather than being intentional somehow, these situations were not evil, malicious acts that were intended to bring misery, but honest mistakes that couldn't be avoided, apart from the tumble; evidently taking a t-shirt off whilst walking down the stairs is not the time saver one would assume. But in all these football situations you could easily (and most do) blame an inadequate referee.



As a regular football watcher of different national leagues, I bear witness to the consistency of mistakes that go unnoticed during play, mistimed passes and tackles, missed shots, crosses that do not even beat the first man and countless foul throws. So when I consider the mistakes of officials during games, I generally take a lenient view of the referees and their assistants who are just making human errors. Not a traditionalist by any stretch, I feel we should resist the call for wholesale technological changes, although goal line technology is a must, referee's having to do post-match interviews, sin bins and retrospective action for tackles and diving should be avoided at all costs. Football only needs to be tweaked, not revolutionised, and it's the attitudes of the 'us', the football watcher (pundits and tabloid journalists being by far the worst offenders), that could change for the better with a little perspective. Just as much as we all like different types of players whether they be quick, skilful, unpredictable, tough, a workhorse or a goalscorer, we still feel the game should be officiated depending on our own view of football. I like the game to flow, some like players to be punished for perceived misdemeanour's, but it's that variation that exists throughout the game that makes it all the richer

With a major tournament just around the corner in the euro's, this country seems more wrapped up in the Queen's jubilee celebrations than holding any hopes for the England men's football team, which in comparison, seem slightly subdued. Maybe this time, with expectations being at an all time low for England fans, we won't victimise an individual like we have done the many times England have exited an international competition early: Pearce '90, Taylor '93, Southgate '94, Beckham in '98, Ronaldo's wink in '06, McClaren 'wolly with a brolly' (Euro '08 qualifiers), all unfair given the many facets that contribute to success or failure. 

But then again, there is always the unnoticed aspect of these perceived wrongs; do they actually make a difference? At fifteen, after fumbling round with my then girlfriend and the first love of my life, I picked up my clothes after 'finishing' and ran out without so much as a thank you and goodbye as she, still in bed, greeted my departure with shocked silence. A cold act you might say, and we broke up the next time we met as you might expect, with me unable to give a good explanation for my sudden exit. Given that only a short while later I met the 'real' love of my life and current girlfriend (8 years), the mother of our young baby, it would appear that it was fate that made me flee that room. So maybe fate has plans for those wronged, and anyway would Ireland have beaten France if Gallas had not scored 'that' goal? Probably not. And would have England beaten Germany if Lampard's 'goal' had been seen? Even more unlikely. And given that Young's 'dives' did not make a difference as the title made its way to the blue half of Manchester, it seems fate or karma are playing a part and we should accept, like Gary Neville, that sometimes it's 'written in the stars'. Although I guess we can all feel comforted by the fact that it was all meant to be, que sara sara as it were, and that football is a funny old game.

That's a nice thought, but clearly that's all obviously bullshit, I was just testing you. Football is part of life and it's not exempt from the same rules and quirks of everyday life. Pick 'n' mix, poverty, PR companies, famine, fish fingers, Adrian Chiles and George Osborne; the fact is bad things happen, and the Henry, Lampard and Young incidents were just some of those frustrating things that happen in life. I know what you're thinking, but what about you and your girlfriend and 'fate' making you flee that room, the reason I fled the room was as I was receiving my clothes, I spotted the biggest (but not really) spider I have ever seen scurrying out of my self-consciously cool ripped jeans and towards the bed where my girlfriend lay. I quickly, calmly and, certainly, to my own mind, cunningly assumed that if I made mention of said invader, I would have to then be the one to usher our new 'guest' out. Deciding that wasn't a viable option, I did the only thing left that any self respecting person would do and escaped to avoid ridicule from her and, eventually, everyone at school after she would inevitably inform them of my cowardice. I then honourably broke up with her rather than tell the truth. My relationship was not then started on an romantic notion of fate, but fear of the truth (and spiders).

Sometimes bad things lead to good things like myself with my partner, and, despite the injustice to the Irish, France benefited from a referee's lack of sight. But sometimes bad things lead to more bad things like Germany knocking England out. Mostly it just leads to more of the same, such as Young's diving having no impact on the title or to QPR or Villa's Premiership status, and that's the category where most mistakes fall into. So let's give ourselves a break and take it easy next time someone gets it wrong, we shouldn't fear the truth, the truth is that we all mess up and, as this writer knows all too well, some more than others.

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