Another sporting entry.
It is a big sporting day today, as I write this I'm watching India play South Africa in a World Cup match. Cricket is a sport that I've grown into and find that I enjoy more and more. I think the 50 over game is soon to become a relic; it has never really been embraced by the purists and it is too long for those who enjoy the knockabout fun of the T20 game. Cricket is nice. It is respectful without lacking the capacity for those 'oooh, here we go moments' of controversy, it has shown it can change with the times without betraying its spiritual heritage, it is passionately followed, yet that passion rarely boils over into hostility. I like cricket a great deal.
We also have the penultimate (?) weekend of the six nations. Rugby is a sport that I traditionally dismiss as being 'egg chasing'. I find the Union code is obsessed with kicking whilst the League code is obsessed with never passing the ball. Union has always annoyed me, I've found that it specialises in a type of fan (the vast majority of whom are English) who are a particular type of bore. They seem to view their support of the sport as something of a crusade, and have this urge to pin football supporters in a corner, jabbing them with their finger whilst explaining why their code of football is morally, athletically and socially superior. I don't understand why they do it. Some people who like association football don't like rugby football, get over it. I'm sure there are many tennis fans who couldn't give a tuppenny fig about canoeing, yet the canoeing fans don't seem to want to brow beat the strawberry eaters.
The casual violence on the rugby pitch, in Union mainly, bothers me. It is seen as an amusing part of the game to behave in a fashion infront of a crowd that would see you up infront of the magistrate if you behaved that way on the street. Because it is perpetrated by, in the main, bloody good public school old boy middle class chaps, this is acceptable. It isn't. Oh, you'll get banned for stamping on someone with your studded boots, for attempting to gouge someone's eyes out or picking someone up and throwing them down head first into the ground, but punching someone in the face is all part of the fun. Still, I suppose to give them their dues, they all seem to be friends in the bar at the end of the game, everyone calls the referee 'sir' and they don't surround him, faces twisted in rage spitting bile and hatred, when he makes a decision they think may be incorrect. It's a funny old game.
As far as the handling codes go, I much prefer the American version. It is a bit stop and start, but I find it is a sport that is true to its roots, delivers a package which generates a lot of support, not only from the fans but also the sponsors, yet the vast amounts of cash poured into it have not led to wholesale changes in the format of the competition. Despite a worldwide audience of God knows how many for the Superbowl, there is no sponsorship on player's shirts. The officials are (literally) untouchable and the league makes sure that competition is sufficiently even for all 32 teams at the start of the season to ensure that interest remains. When the new seasons starts in September, 8 teams will have a real shout at winning the title, another 16 a decent chance of getting there with a bit of luck, 4 teams will find it a challenge, 4 teams will have no hope at all. (Bizarrely, the Cleveland Browns are perpetually in this last group, despite the league's best efforts to make it a level playing field. I'll start shitting out £20 notes before the Browns win the Superbowl.) Yet for all of this, for all of the hard hitting on the field sometimes the crowd seems a little sterile, almost as if they are enthusiastic, yet ultimately disinterested. It also bugs me that when the Vince Lombardi trophy is awarded at the end of the Superbowl it is handed over to the team owner, rather than the head coach, quarterback or most senior player. It just doesn't feel right.
So that brings me once again to football. A friend asked me last night 'are you watching the football tomorrow?' It reminded me that this afternoon it is Manchester United vs. Arsenal in the FA Cup 6th round. These are two of the biggest teams competing in the oldest and one of the most presitigious competitions in the world. My response? 'Dunno, I find that I'm falling out of love with football. The sport is becoming so ugly.'
What I mean by that isn't that it is ugly on the pitch, all the time, Barcelona and Arsenal both play a style of football that is so beautiful it could make angels weep. I've been to matches where the atmosphere is, to use a well worn cliche, electric; real goosebumps, hair standing on end, hang on, I've got to go to the toilet, electric.
But over the last few years the face of the sport has been changing. I'll start with the supporters. Heated rivalries are important, having someone you 'hate' is one of the most defining qualities of tribal football support, but it now seems that a good season is not measured in your own team's success but in your closest rival's failure. A good deal of my friends on Facebook (my personal page, rather than my Snowolf persona) are both Arsenal and Spurs fans. The Spurs fans seemed happier to see Arsenal go out to Barcelona this week than they were to see them see off Milan. Whereas the Arsenal fans seem more bothered that Spurs won, rather than they lost. Can this be so? Is it really true that the Arsenal fans would rather see Spurs go out than to see their own team win? It isn't attractive. Tease your rivals because you won, by all means. But because they lost when you were nowhere near? Really?
I wrote about Ferguson the other day, and now Wenger, the manager at Arsenal with whom Ferguson has had more than one difference of opinon, has been acting like a clown. There was a controversial decision to send of Robin Van Persie, Arsenal's Dutch forward the other night. He was sent off because of, I thought, a poor interpretation of a poor law of the game, but them's the breaks. At the end of the game Wenger and the referee were nose to nose and having a right old row in a most unbecoming manner.
Arsene, old chap, the decision is made, what is getting in the referee's face going to solve? So he made a bad decision. Live with it. He's human, we've all made poor decisions, even you. He then had the temerity to the demand an apology, whether it is from the referee for his reaction and/or decision, or UEFA for disciplining him and/or the bloody silly rule is not clear. Let's reverse the roles and suppose that when his 'keeper went off injured early on in the match that the substitute he'd brought on was a striker, and he'd dropped the aforementioned Van Persie back to play in goal and Barcelona had gone on to score to eight. An unlikely scenario, but perhaps Arsene had decided it was the right decision, under pressure in the glare of the spotlight, at the time. How would he react if an Arsenal fan went nose to nose with him to protest the decision. Would he take no action and just mark it up to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? No. There'd be bannings from the ground, flashing blue lights and probably a fine if not a short spell inside. So what makes this OK for him then?
As for the referee, he should know a lot better, and I believe that just as the managers are contractually obliged to speak to the media pre and post match, the officials (who are professional now) should also be obliged to speak to the media about why they made a decision they made. UEFA must stop pretending that their officials can do no wrong. Managers must stop pretending that they can do no wrong and that the officials can do no right. It really doesn't make the game fun to watch.
Nor does the constant moaning and whining, from the players. The endless simulation of injury. The incessant badgering of the ref over every decision, the mimed invitations to show their opponents cards for some imagined foul play, the grabbing and pulling of the officials. Laying hands on the officials? Do that in Rugby, the NFL, Major League Baseball, hell, any sport other than WWE Wrestling and see where that gets you. Yet the officials on the pitch do not deal with it, the administrators do not deal with it, the clubs condone it.
The game's calendar is pulled and pushed about to meet the demands from sponsors. Well, they need that sponsorship money, is the response. Yes, right up until the point that the sport becomes so detached from its base that no-one watches. Then see how the sponsors turn and walk away. The traditional supporters excluded by sky high ticket prices used to bankroll the enormous wage demands from players, that are met by clubs with no business plans and levels of debt that would make the Irish government sweat. The sulking from those players if their every demand is not met, every request is not granted. They take £100k per week plus, and then expect their employer to tug their forelock and wipe the player's arse for them, and amazingly, the employer does it! What madness is this? I've no problem with earning a shed load of money, but. . .
Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly.
No, I'm falling out of love with football. I think I'll take the dog for a walk instead.