Sep 28, 2010

Shades of Black and White

By Gary Paul

Unlike Manchester United away to Southampton, I long for grey. Furthermore, there is a part of me that longs to see an uneventful game of football.

Yes, that’s right.

Now, before you all clamour to ask if I have taken leave of my senses, allow me to clarify: I do not mean that I wish to see a boring game. I enjoy goals as much as anyone, except for the ones that Tottenham concede right at the end of the match having led for the majority of it. I also share in the collective endorphin rush we all experience with a near miss, a crunching tackle, or a great save.

One day though, and hopefully soon, I’ll see a game that plays itself out and can be reported for what it is. I want to watch the match listening to commentators that do not sensationalise events. I want to read a write up the following morning that, fine, passes an opinion, but is not looking for a headline that simply does not exist.

A case in point: soon after Tottenham (I’ll try not to mention them again) had demolished Young Boys to book their place in the Champions League proper, Giles Smith wrote in the Times that Spurs (drat, failed) should withdraw from the competition on account of Jermain Defoe’s “cheating.” That is Mr Smith’s opinion, to which he is entitled. He is wrong in his assertion that Defoe’s offence was on a par with Thierry Henry’s alley-oop against the republic of Ireland, but I do not begrudge him his take on the events.

What does annoy me though is the fact that, as far as I can tell, plain and simple handball no longer exists. If the myriad experts are to be believed, be they in print, on the television (also in HD) or via the radio (FM, digital and online) then handball can be one of two things: “deliberate” or “accidental.” A “deliberate” handball is punishable with a caution, or if preventing (but not creating, eh Thierry?) a goal, with a red card. By contrast, “accidental” handball does not even warrant the awarding of a free-kick.

These two possibilities are so far removed from each other as to stretch the boundaries way beyond such limitations as black in white, yet they are all we have. They are so far apart that there is more likelihood that Professor Stephen Hawking and Pope Benedict XVI will release a jointly-written treatise detailing their shared “Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.” Which we all know is forty-two, anyway.

But what about the nice grey middle ground? Why does it have to be that if I commit a sin as heinous as handball that it must have either been whacked at me from less than a yard away, giving me no time to take evasive action, otherwise I am a cheat? Why could Giles Smith have not reported Jermain Defoe’s handball as just that: handball? No more, no less. Of course we all know why, but let us review: could Defoe claim impunity from the laws of the game under the “accidental” clause? Absolutely not – the ball struck his arm giving him an advantage: free kick. His long glance to the linesman and post-match interview confirmed this, to his credit. But neither did he deliberately, note deliberately, use his arm in an attempt to cheat. The officials got it wrong, plain and simple. It was a mistake, nothing more sinister than that. If anything, the offence they missed was of Defoe holding the defender back, an offence that happens countless times in every match, yet no-one cores “cheat” when that happens. Why is it that the world goes bananas simply because the ball happened to hit his arm in the process? The very worst coverage we should have read was “the five officials on duty all missed a handball by Defoe in the build up to the goal.”

I mean not to single out Giles Smith or indeed this one event. It is indicative of the world we live in now, in this age of twenty-four-hour rolling news and the feverous fight for ratings and column inches.

I recall a match in this year’s World Cup where an apparently forgettable striker (at least to me!) was clean through only to hit Iker Casillas on the ankle, with the Spain keeper looking the other way. Rather than being reported as the poor execution by the forward it was, Mr Beglin, McCarthy or some other dullard advertised this as a “fantastic save.” No, sir, it was not, it hit him. Similarly Joe Hart, being almost universally held (for now) as the saviour of the English goalkeeping debacle, made three decent but routine saves on the opening day of the season at White Hart Lane (phew, nearly!) which were of course “out of this world.”

So forget ratings, forget headlines, and please forget rolling twenty-four-hour sports news. Please, just for a little while, can we return to a simpler time when commentators commentated, reporters reported, and the most sensational thing that happened was that the vidi-printer put the score in both numbers and words in case you thought you had misread “Tottenham 6 (six).”


Tread0 said...

As a former keeper of some repute I am perfectly placed to say Hart's saves were FANTASTIC!!! (Imagine that in a Batman style POW!/ Sky Sports yellow "breaking news" ticker to emphasise the hype.)

Other than that good blog. And agree with the sentiment. Less hype, more cold, hard analysis required (sorry MOTD2). See Jonathan Wilson in the Guardian for the best voice currently out there.

Christina Woolgar Jacobs said...

Agreed!Great article Gary!

Erica H said...

Gary - I wish I knew more about what you were talking about (soccer/football) :) But great article anyhow - you write well and I am proud of your efforts!!

Diane Woolgar said...

Gary - Great! Will pass this article on to Rick.

Stelios J said...

Couldn't agree more. I much prefer football to hyperbole? Saying that, Leeds' match with Preston North End, ended with an 6-4 win to the away side; which, coincidentally is Wigan Athletic's preferred staring format.
Anyhow, nice piece.

Sporting Fare said...

Really good article and I agree wholeheartedly with all of it EXCEPT, like the first commenter, your assessment of Joe Hart's saves against Spurs...though I think I can guess why you have your view!

For me, that was the best keeping performance so far this season. A shame for you it happened to be in that game. ;)

Anonymous said...

Nice one Gary, I think you have found your vacation in life ! And I dont even like football - well I dont agree with the salaries the big boys get. But if My son became a famous footballer, Id be sooo proud and so very rich ! Sarah Chapman

Lionel RichTea said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

To those of you commenting on Joe Hart, I'm not knocking him. Rather, I think he is far and away the best English goalkeeper at present. Neither am I upset because he kept Spurs at bay. I just think that they were all saves he would have expected himself to make.

So my issue is with the commentator, not Hart.

The best thing though is that we all have a different take, all enjoy different aspects, and that we are here debating it!