Sunday, 18 October 2009

A lot of balls

Bent of Sunderland scored on Saturday against Liverpool. His shot was on the way to the left of Reina, the Liverpool goalkeeper. Then it hit a red beachball that had been thrown on to the pitch just moments before. The path of Bent's shot bent even further to the left of Reina and went into the net. Reina was rooted to the spot, his eyes following the track of the red beachball which went to his right and also into the net. He almost dived at it. Replays show how distracted he was. The referee awarded a goal and all the hardened professionals, commentators, and experts around the place accepted this decision at the time.

I couldn't believe it. It did not seem fair, surely it need not be accepted as a goal. And it if was a goal, then should it have been two goals at once?

Suddenly, I could see the future. At every match from now onwards there would be a lot of balls thrown on to the pitch by supporters hoping to intercede with the trajectory of shots at goal. Or the trajectory of balls going for corners, goal-kicks, or anywhere at all. What was the referee thinking of?

You see lots of arguments involving players, their managers and the match officials about incidents on the field. This goal incident seemed barely contentious at all. Nobody it seemed knew enough to gainsay the referee at the time or even in comment just after the match. Only later did I read what seemed to make sense.

The referee was in error and should not have allowed the goal. Instead there should have been a bounced ball on the spot where the collision of the red beachball with the real football took place. An 'outside object' had interfered with the course of play.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

You pull mine and I'll pull yours and other small matters

Why do professionals pull each others shirts? John Terry, captain of England, pulls the shirt of an opponent instead of trying to get to the ball himself. If the captain of the national team does it then it is open to all. All the footballers and all the kids at school.

The problem is that each player knows he will be cheated by opponents pulling his shirt, illegally preventing him from showing what he can do. So players pull opponents off balance in premature retaliation! And the poor referee has the unpopular option of penalising every incident, slowing the game down by adding maybe 10 free-kicks to a match, and those are just the incidents that he can see. I myself saw at least 5 shirt-pulls and I was far away watching on television in Spain. There is little option for the players the way things are. Do as you would be done by does not work in professional sport.

Why don't the kids do something? They don't get paid for playing for the school do they? So what have they got to lose? Why don't the school teams cut out the shirt pulling? And why not the diving as well? They should set an example. The kids don't have much respect for adults these days so why don't they provide a model.

Watching the England v Belarus on television last night from Wembley, I put the shirt pulling aside and watched how the small players, Lennon and Wright-Phillips, were able to scuttle around the bigger guys. When they were knocked down they were up again in the same movement. Crouch, at 6' 7'', who scored two goals, always looks like he is defying natural forces to get at the ball. Even at heading where he starts closer to the ball, he is not a force. By the way, did you notice how high Wright-Phillips can jump? He was up there with the Belarus goalkeeper at one point, head to head, for a cross from the right. The referee was so surprised he blew for a foul for impeding the goalkeeper.

Suppose Fabio Capello, the England manager, chose a team of the smallest players available to him. Would England have a better chance of winning the World Cup with such a squad? And do you know who would probably get in that squad? David Beckham!

Just give him a few months to adapt. I think he is already on to something in trying to look like a small garden gnome with the help of that beard.