Monday, 30 November 2009

Take your partners for the twist

My blogs have already affected the professional game as seen on television. In two games this weekend plus extracts on Match of the Day I didn't notice any shirt pulling or holding. In fact, the match at Portsmouth against Man Utd was a revelation in the war to ridicule shirt pulling. Why? Well, the referee awarded a penalty to Portsmouth signalling apparently that it was for such an incident. The penalty was taken and Portsmouth scored their only goal of the match - which they lost 4-1. Television revue programmes including BBC's Match of the Day could find no footage of shirts being pulled by the Man Utd players defending a high ball into the box. Vidic and crew were not doing it. Hard to believe, but obviously the opinions of this blog are being respected.

However, when one style of cheating declines then another appears or reappears. Two very clear examples of another cheating trick shown on Sky Sports 1's coverage of the Arsenal v Chelsea match would have each warranted a penalty kick if the referee had seen them. The first was by Arsenal's Sagna on Chelsea's Anelka who seemed to get past the Arsenal player and then fell down. Sagna's arm had gone around Anelka's waist from behind and then pulled backward to rotate Anelka's hips from the front. This overbalances a player moving forward, or striving to do so. Or if it doesn't overbalance him for that reason, the shock of being so intimately interfered with is also likely to do so.

This cheating twist was not the only one of its kind from this team. The second one was performed by Vermaelen the Arsenal defender when John Terry, the Chelsea captain, came into the penalty area for a free-kick taken by Lampard. After the Chelsea attack was successfully cleared by Arsenal, the cameras were able to show one reason why. Vermaelen had done the same as Sagna, the arm from behind encircles the waist then the hand at the front pulls backwards. Terry spun without falling but then Vermaelen hung on to Terry trying to spin him again. You could call it the Arsenal Twist or even Waltz if you like! Again the referee did not see it. And of course, if you asked Mr Wenger, the Arsenal manager, then he would not have seen it either. But he will tonight or tomorrow when he looks at the footage.

I hope that this experienced manager of the Arsenal team will say that this practised cheating must stop? (Well, isn't it practised, two players using it?) Instead, he will probably point out the incident when the ball was kicked a few inches in front of Chelsea's Cech's nose by Eduardo, Arsenal, and the fact that the referee disallowed the goal which followed. The referee saw it as 'dangerous play'. And another incident when Vela went stiff-legged and fell after a tackle in the box by a Chelsea player. This was a possible penalty to Arsenal except that Vela was waiting for it to happen, it seemed, and the referee is likely to see the false fall rather than the tackle.

It was a great match. The flair and movement of the Arsenal players being in the end contained by the strength and skill of the Chelsea team. The result of this gladiatorial contest full of dash and passion was Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3. But what do the players caught on camera feel when they see themselves performing the lower level skills? Shame or pride?

I am a Chelsea fan but I hope that I have been reasonable in my comments. There is no team completely free of cheating and I have pointed out examples of unfair play by Chelsea players.
Example from an October blog:
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.

I hope that my team have not learned any bad habits from their latest game.

Click for a full match report from The Daily Telegraph

Click here for the full match report from The Guardian

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Not Rocket Science!

Watching Porto v Chelsea last night on our 28" television, I kept looking for Ballack. He is a big man, over six feet. Dark hair, good looking athlete. I knew that he was supposed to be playing from pre-match information. It was a Champions League Group match which Chelsea won 1-0. I thought it was him once when a Chelsea player approaching the Porto penalty area received and then passed the ball. The commentator didn't mention it. And if it was him I was not able to identify him again until he was substituted. I realise that I have watched many matches without identifying Ballack. Over several seasons. The next day when he is praised in the press I think ....where was he? Don't get me wrong, I am not blaming Ballack, he may well have had a good game. But to the television spectator he is just a nameless figure representing Chelsea. Like plenty of others.

Commentators don't just comment. They are also identifiers! Interpreters of the screen made of dots of colour. Get real! I know we have huge screens, but the shapes we see are only in two dimensions and only centimetres high in distance shots. My familiarity with a shape will surely develop given time spent watching the shape. But only if it is identified. I want to know who I am watching. Remember the radio? The commentator tells you who has the ball.

On my television, on a large screen, not on a small flickering postcard-sized 1960's meccano-set - when a minute figure picks up a pass in the centre near the penalty box I might be able to tell it is Drogba.  I have a fair idea of Drogba's shape. I think, "Shoot, Drogba, you world-beater you!" And I shout. "Let's have a goal Droggers, old son!
Then the lackey of a commentator says, "Lampard puts another shot wide."
He tells us who had the ball but only when the emotion it conjures has gone.

(Note:This was another match, not last night's; Lampard has put quite a lot of shots wide this so far this season, but in fact last night he was somewhere foreign having placenta treatment on his knee/thigh! How mad is that?)

And have you noticed how much more difficult it is to recognise players on screen WHEN THEY ARE WEARING THE AWAY STRIP? John Terry in the Chelsea blue is instantly recognisable, except in the very long shots. Put him in pink and you have no clue at all who it is. Last night Chelsea were in a kind of white but not England white. Chelsea also have grey shirts and black ones. This all adds to the confusion of who actually is playing, kicking, dribbling, tripping, diving, pulling shirts and taking throw-ins. The commentator is struck mute on this subject most of the time. But he is supposed to be at the match looking at real players and interpreting the game.

For corners and free-kicks you usually get a close-up shot and I can recognise the player - by the 30th game of the season when I have seen him in blue for a few matches, that is. Why don´t the commentators make sure we have the vital information: who the bloody hell has the ball? We can see figures on the pitch and the size of the crowd and all the adverts, come to that. We can see lots of irrelevant information on the screen BUT we want to know the name of the one WHO HAS THE BALL, and the name of the one who has it next, and so on.

Cech throws the ball to Ashley Cole who strokes it forward to Malouda .. Ballack .. Lampard .. Anelka .. Ivanovich coming forward .. Joe Cole  .. BALLACK (there he is)..Drogba .. on his back .. gets up .. unbelievable .. and shoots.

"It's a goal", shouts the commentator. "Drogba has scored a magnificent goal!"

It is not rocket science!
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Friday, 20 November 2009

Fair Play and Replay: the French qualification for World Cup, 2010

The situation described in the last blog continues in the news: Thierry Henry's handling of the ball leading directly to a goal for France by Gallas. ( See below this piece)
               Apres vous Monsieur Duff. Non, apres vous, mon cher Thierry

A replay would be unwise, and possibly farcical, indignant as I am about the injustice to the Irish brought about by unfair play. They rose magnificently to the occasion and then were denied (well, not quite, they still had to score another goal in order to qualify on away goals). Clearly, the player is responsible. Henry said after the match that he did handle the ball but it was the referee's job to spot it, not his duty to point it out. This attitude reminds me of the lack of honesty in other walks of life where highly-paid professionals put themselves beyond the normal rules of reasonable conduct. The attitude of: "If we think we can get away with it, let's do it!". I am sure you can think of recent examples in banking and politics.

A replay goes into uncertain ground. There are so many incidents in a football match that are not judged correctly because the referee cannot see everything. The uncertainty of judging offsides, corners, handballs in general, and the institutionally endemic cheating such as shirt-pulling and pretending to be tripped (diving) are also difficult for referees to judge correctly. There was at least one corner and probably an offside that the referee may have got wrong in the match under discussion.

Fair play means, very simply, that the players should play fairly. The referee's job is to adjudicate situations where two teams of eleven individuals simultaneously co-operating and competing, inadvertently but sometimes intentionally, do not follow the rules of the game. To do this he needs the players to cooperate; why not? It is the players who must play fair. Everyone knows that the referee cannot see everything.

But, the very thought of the TV-soap drama of a replay makes me excited and want it to happen. Would Henry even play? Would it have to be on neutral ground? Would the crowd be vetted beforehand as if boarding an aircraft? Would the players feel like it was a real match? Imagine that the ball flies up in front of the French goal and an Irish player just cannot, cannot ....... stop himself from poking at the ball with a finger. It goes into the net! Goal! Goal! Goal

It would be wonderful on TV. And very difficult to resist!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Excuse me, but did the ball hit your hand?

France go through to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year after a disputed goal saw them defeat a valiant Republic of Ireland team last night with an aggregate score of 2-1. The score on the night was 1-1, the French goal came after the ball hit the hand of Thierry Henry before he passed it along the goal line for Gallas to head it into the net from very close range. In the build-up, following a free-kick to France, Henry and another French player seemed to be offside. Understandably, the Irish team feel robbed. They were!

The Italian manager of the Republic side is reported today in The Guardian as saying:
"I prefer that we'd have gone out on penalties and I am sad because the referee had time to ask the linesman and also to ask Henry. He should have done that and I am sure Henry would have confirmed that he had handled. It wouldn't be the first time that a referee asks a player whether it was or it wasn't. It wouldn't have been out of place to ask. This is not good for fair play. I have been to schools many times to talk about fair play. I tell the young children that it's so important in life. This is a bitter evening for us."

Henry admitted after the match that the ball hit his hand but felt it was not his role to come forward at the time. If he had been asked, then I am sure he would have admitted it.

What is wrong with the common sense of asking the player?

Full article from The Guardian

The words of the manager of the Irish team reminds me of  my own words in earlier blogs about getting children involved in showing how to play fair, to shame the adults.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Astro Turf? Today's final play-off for World Cup, 2010 in Paris

The Republic of Ireland v France at 7.30 tonight in Paris where France go into the match with a 1-0 lead from the first round is the subject of this marvellous put-down of astrology in today's Guardian.

The French team's weakness is the manager, Domench, says the writer. Apparently Domenech has claimed that the Republic team is an England B team! It should be some match tonight.
A World Cup without France would look strange, but Ireland's presence would be a marvellous compensation.

And if you ever need to convince anyone of the absurd nature of astrology, read this piece.

An association of football with astrology is a gem!!

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Half expectations

I went along to the pub to watch a match on television yesterday, Sunday, afternoon. It was half time when I arrived, the score on the screen was 0-0. I was quite pleased with that! For me the match would just be starting. I might have missed the dramas of offsides, shots scraping the woodwork, disputed non-penalties, and other referee antics. But I had not missed any real meat. In the pub the sound track from the television is unhearable above the more urgent banter of the customers. There was no chance of finding out what had happened in the first half. But it didn't matter much.

The teams come out, the home team in blue, the away boys in black. I rub my hands, here we go. The boys in black must be up for it to justify their transfer fees and huge wages.  In the 12th game of the season surely the next 45 minutes would see them really gel. A sip from my beer and I settled down to enjoy myself. Soon there's a penalty to the underdogs. 1-0 will really make the expensive boys in black step up the pace; bring it on. A veteran penalty-taker for his country, McFadden struck the ball. Too close to the keeper, Given dived to make an easy save.
And that was the end of the drama. Nothing else to report. Except, very near the end, a blue player who must have been lying on the field near the touchline suddenly sprung to his feet and raised his arm to a throw-in by an opponent. Hand-ball. Red Card! Off goes the Birmingham player. Poor guy must have been so bored he lay down and then felt he had get up and do something. The final whistle went. Birmingham 0 Manchester City 0.

'Why am I still here?'
 I finished my half-pint.
At the ridiculous price of £1.50.
Is there any way I can get my money back?