Friday Nov 23, 2007


So, England will not be competing in next summer's European Championships. Frankly, I'm glad. I enjoy watching football, but not England. It isn't the inability of multi-millionaires to play a simple game in a coherent manner that puts me off, irritating as it is. It's the behaviour of the people that watch.

When people watch the club they support, they do just that: support. As a rule, they are predisposed to be nice to their own players and with an expectation that supporters of the other team will be equally partisan. But when people demonstrate their "passion" for the national team, it's far too frequently with an abusive tone, with the indignation of unmet and unrealistic expectations, and with a lack of basic decency that other countries' supporters are able to show.

Here in Sweden, most gardens have a flagpole from which the Swedish flag flies on special occasions. In England, if someone flies the cross of St George in their garden, it tends to mark them out as strange. We have difficulty expressing our nationality. Is it because we're ashamed of it, or secretly too proud, or so self aware as to be both? I'm not sure. But when the England team plays, the expression of national identity is nothing other than boorish and offensive, witness the routine booing of other countries' national anthems.

Much navel-gazing and public thought will be given to how to get these lavishly rewarded footballers to perform at something approaching the level their status would imply. But I think there's a more pressing issue: where do these polyester-clad outpourings of chauvinism and anger come from, and how can we make them stop?

ps. the views expressed here are not necessarily those of my employer.

Tuesday Aug 21, 2007

Say no to instant replays

I'm cross-posting this, having written it on the Guardian's (rather good) football blog as RightOnBrother.

Listening the Guardian's also rather good Football Weekly podcast (which is incidentally now bi-weekly), one of the senior journalists, Sean Ingle, spoke of the "inevitability" of the use of instant replay evidence in football. Calling it a "no brainer", and saying that he does not understand opposition to to the idea. This, of course, in the wake of Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Chelsea which saw referee Rob Styles awarded a bizarre penalty to Chelsea.

I'm a staunch opponent of the introduction of video replays into football. A good example of just why was last October Great Britain played New Zealand in a rugby league international. Almost all of the tries were referred to the video ref. This is by no means uncommon. The option of the video umpire undermines the authority of the referee, who will be castigated for failing to use it. So, almost every try is referred to the video referee.

Not that the video referee is infallible: watch again that rugby league international to see that on a majority of occasions two veteran commentators (Jonathan Davies and Ray French, are both former players, one with refereeing experience) disagree with the decision of the 4th official.

You're the video ref. Goal or no goal?

What's more, the experience of a live football match would be diminished by the instant replay. It is not simply that lengthy pauses in the action would slow the game down, but that the very defining moment of a game - a score - is nullified. Seeing "Goal", or "No goal" eventually appear on a video screen is a very poor second to seeing the net bulge, or a finger-tip save.

And if the effect of a goal is cathartic for the spectators, it is doubly so for the players. Having to pause for a matter of several minutes before a goal is given will reduce the shifts in confidence and momentum which see games change hands. Would Liverpool's famous 6-minute assault on AC Milan in 2005 have been possible with a video umpire present? Lengthy breaks in play are what defending teams crave to kill revivals off.

I don't blame Sean Ingle for considering this to be a "no-brainer". I was ambivalent about video referring until it totally ruined my enjoyment of rugby league, a sport with discrete passages of play. Football, with its contiguous play, lends itself even less to video refereeing. How far back in a passage of play would one go in determining whether a goal was legitimate? Or would only certain laws be enforced by technology? Wouldn't any line be arbitrary, and just as unsatisfactory?

Anyone who thinks that it is inevitable that we should have instant replays should consider just how rubbish video refereeing actually would be. Television is important enough already, and, as Liverpool have proved so well in their first two games of the season, these things do even themselves out: Liverpool beat Aston Villa the weekend before by scoring from a highly dubious free kick.

p.s. the views expressed here are not necessarily those of my employer

Thursday Jul 26, 2007

If you only vote in one online poll today about who will win the Premier League next season

make it this one.




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