Deliberate Deliberations

Surely I can’t be the only one more than a little confused at the decision by the English FA to rescind the red card that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain eventually was awarded for his sprawling save in the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea. I mean as deliberate hand balls go this season that was by far the pick of the bunch. Arsenal contested the decision on the basis that the visible trajectory of Eden Hazard’s attempt on goal was destined to go wide and as such the midfielders deliberate, and successful, attempt to stop the ball with his hand would have all been in vain anyway. The FA’s conclusions to agree with Arsenals’ thesis on this matter is one of the most ridiculous decisions of the season and I’m astounded that given the propensity for the English media to chastise the FA and all that they do there has been not so much as a whimper of disagreement, in fact I’ve read and heard many agreeing with what the FA has decreed.

I’ve been trying to rationalise the outcome of the governing bodies findings and I have struggled whilst simultaneously trying to cast aside any conspiracy theories about how being young and English give’s you that little bit of extra leeway. Somehow over the last 12 months the rules surrounding handball have become just as muddled as offside and the six-second rule. Natural body position, deviations in flight and general proximity to the ball itself have all been used as defence’s when the deliberate nature of handball has been the focus of debate, and you know what? That’s fine, it would be remiss of any official not to take these factor’s into consideration when making a final decision, the problem I have is that in the case of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain none of these factors came in to play. It was deliberate as deliberate could get. Yes, Andre Marriner made a massive error in red-carding Kieran Gibbs but the decision to give a red card and penalty for the offence itself was spot on as far as I’m concerned.

Let us try to transport ourselves into the mind of ‘The Ox’ on that fateful Saturday lunchtime. Your team are 2-0 down after a 15 minute spell where you are getting totally over-run, recent history has shown that another thumping is on the cards and here come Chelsea again. You get yourself back on the line for the inevitable moment they manage to break through once again. The shot comes in and it’s heading towards you. It’s at chest height but too far away to get in front of it. You could head it away but with the speed of the ball coming at you the lack of control you would have would probably result in a goal anyway. You decide to risk it and fling your body to your left and stick your hand out to claw the ball away. Now I’m fully aware that the timeframe required to read that paragraph is far greater than the time the midfielder had to make the same decision but I hope it shows that the decision he made to throw a hand out to stop it was a conscious one and one taken oblivious to the fact that the ball was going wide and as such a foul worthy of a straight red card.

Whenever I delve into a debate of this nature I like a comparison and when it comes to red cards and handballs there are a few to pick from but I have restricted myself to just a couple, both with goal scoring opportunities at the heart of them.

One of my earliest memories of being a Scotland fan is a World Cup qualifier in 1992 away to Switzerland, at that time I had to make do with a combination of radio and late night television highlights but I, like many other members of the Tartan Army, still to this day remember the moment that Richard Gough caught the ball. A good old-fashioned punt up the park from the Swiss defence headed towards the then Scotland captain. With a Swiss forward descending all the signs pointed towards Gough launching a header back from where it came, however the ball was too high and in a moment of madness he reached his arms into the air and plucked it from the sky like a front row in a rugby line-out thus preventing an almost certain one-on-one opportunity for Switzerland to score. His punishment was rightly a red card but imagine that same scenario in the world of the English FA. If you refer back to the  Oxlade-Chamberlain incident as Gough’s offence did not occur within the 8ft by 8yd area contained within the goal posts a red card would not have been necessary.

If that is too subtle what about the moment where Luis Suarez ‘broke the hearts of Africa’, as one commentator proclaimed, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when stopping Asaomah Gyan’s winner in the final minutes of extra time in Uruguay’s World Cup quarter-final with Ghana. He was again rightly red carded and much debate followed about whether Suarez had cheated or simply done what he had to do to keep his side in the tournament. His histrionics as Gyan missed the resulting penalty are now part of World Cup folklore but there is no debating that the punishment fitted the crime. If that ball was going a couple of inches over the bar and Suarez had done the same thing would there have been the same ambivalence to the incident by the media and the red card reversed or would a pre-Premier League Suarez be a villain before he had even hit these shores. Suarez just like Oxlade-Chamberlain was knowingly trying to stop a goal, the only difference was the shot he stopped was on target.

My argument remains that Oxlade-Chamberlain was guilty of preventing a goal scoring opportunity with his hand and the red card and penalty awarded was the correct decision to give. The fact that the ball was going off target is a technicality that opens a can of worms that will go to further blur the lines of what should be one of the simplest rules in a game where the primary objective of an outfield player is to kick it with his foot, not to juggle it with his hand.

Pretty in Pink

Courtesy of The Football Blogging Awards

Picture courtesy of The Football Blogging Awards.

Last week Scotland unveiled their new away kit for the European Championship campaign. A primrose, yellow and white tribute to the classical racing colours of Lord Rosebery, a strip that on its debut must surely have been a contributing factor in Scotland defeating England 6-1 at The Kennington Oval, current home of Surrey County Cricket Club. The new strip unsurprisingly has divided opinion but pink in all its shades has become a way for clubs and individuals to leave their own special stamp on the world of footballing fashion. In celebration of this latest inductee to the football kit hall of fame, or shame dependent on your viewpoint, let’s take a look at some of the more notable examples of players looking pretty in pink.

Palermo

Palermo, unlike the rest of the teams that will be mentioned in this piece, sport pink not as an alternative but as their primary kit colour. Based in Sicily, historical home of the Mafia it seems almost fitting that the island’s number one club would sport a kit so flamboyant that it almost encourage those that visit to, ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. Initially playing in red and blue when formed in 1898 the strip was changed to the now familiar pink and black nine years later at the suggestion of Count Airoldi to represent the ‘sadness and sweetness’  of the sides consistence inconsistencies only for Benito Mussolini, Hitler’s some time BFF in facism, to order it be replaced with a more regimented red and yellow of the area’s municipality during the Second World War. After a brief flirtation with light blue in the post-war era the Rosanero (when translated from Italian means ‘The Pink-blacks’)returned to Airoldi’s recommendation soon after and they continue to sport the colours of pink and block to this very day.

Partick Thistle

While Palermo’s pride in pink is born out of history for other clubs the choice of pink can simply be a case of standing out from the crowd, something that Partick Thistle managed with ease in the 2008/09 season when they became the first Scottish team to sport pink as part of their team colours. Their away strip looking like something out of the creation centre feature on a computer game sported grey and pink hoops and, as is often is the case with ‘novelty’ kits, was a runaway success generating extra revenue and media coverage for the club.

The Maryhill Magyars were not done there though and the following season continued to think pink with a pink camouflage change kit that’s splendour was only matched by how preposterous a concept it was, looking like something that Barbie would have thrown on if she had wanted to swap her dream house and convertible for a panzer tank and a box of hand grenades. In some eyes the west end of Glasgow where Partick are based is viewed as home to the trendiest bars and shops in Scotland’s largest city but to this day the trend of pink hasn’t really caught on.

Scotland…again!

Although Partick Thistle were the first club side to sport the colour pink with pride, the national team have slowly been forming a reputation as having some of the most striking kits in recent times. This was led by a particularly fruitful spell of fashion related madness in the mid 1990’s. Notable inclusions where an orange and purple pin stripe effort and a white kit with a green, blue and purple lightning storm adorned upon every players chest. A few years later a strip appeared that looked as if someone had photocopied readings from a Richter scale taken during a massive earthquake and then when mental colouring it in with red, orange and purple felt tip pens. It was gregarious to the extreme but to this day is still fondly remembered by many members of the Tartan Army.

While those the strips were brilliantly mad, the salmon offering of the 99-2000 qualifying campaign was dreadful, not because it was pink but because the manufacturers insisted on calling it salmon and to make matters worse it was also rather dull. In fact it was so boring in its conventionality that after a near decade of away kit related lunacy many fans, myself included, made as much effort as possible to erase it from their minds.

Everton

For all the flak given to football clubs and the players that play for them, often chastised as money hungry and disassociated with the common fan they do every now and again show they do have a heart. In the 2008/09 season Everton released a limited edition pink shirt to help raise funds for the NSPCC and the clubs own charity ‘Everton in the Community’. The tops were a huge success, so much so that later in the season another limited edition batch were produced raising a total of over £75,000.

Four years later Scottish club Rangers also went pink also raising over £75,000 for the Rangers Charity Foundation where much like the case was at Everton the demand far exceeded the supply. This trend has been continued by other clubs and countries since allowing football to continue to show the softer side that we all secretly know that it has.

Paulo Aurrecochea

In the main goalkeepers are considered the loose cannons of the footballing world prone to eccentricity and never far away from the next calamity. This is even truer in South America where it is the norm for goalkeepers to be the penalty takers and free kick specialists of their teams. I once saw a clip of an Argentine keeper doing battle with a bee hive positioned in the corner of the net so it will be no so surprise to find that a South American has made his way onto this list.

While many of you may have been expecting the name of Mexican legend Jorge Campos to be highlighted in this section, known as he was for the self designed monstrosities that brought him worldwide infamy at USA ’94 further investigation revealed that this man, Paulo Aurrecochea, is the true king of goalkeeping pink. A Uruguayan playing in Paraguay who not only sports pink in a variety of designs from leopard print to cascading stars but also includes such childhood favourites as Krusty the Clown, Tom and Jerry and fittingly enough The Pink Panther on his goalkeeping attire. Never capped internationally and having never scored a goal he instead has assured his place in South American folklore with his penchant for kids cartoons and a splash of pink every now and again and for that I salute him.

Pink strips continue to pop up everywhere from Birmingham to Bordeaux and as can be seen by Scotland’s latest effort are probably here to stay for a good while yet. So let’s all say cheers to the continuing madness of kit manufacturers everywhere and for those of them who continue to think pink.

Defining World Class

"courtesy of @8bitfootball"

“courtesy of @8bitfootball”

There is an old adage that is true across all walks of life, but is particularly poignant in the world of sport. It goes, ‘Form is temporary. Class is permanent’. But what does that mean? And with the topic being wholly subjective to personal opinion and preference how do we, as individuals, define the parameters to which the term ‘world-class’ can be donned upon a player. I’m certain somebody with more time and resources could make a fairly interesting book out of trying to provide a true definition but in lieu of those aforementioned gifts I’m going to try to do it in around a thousand words. Wish me luck!

Before I look at what world-class is I think it is pertinent to provide some context to my conclusions by defining the term ‘Form is temporary. Class is Permanent’. In my eyes, and remember this is just one man’s opinion, the magic of one moment whilst glorious and beautiful does not make a world-class player. Neither does a series of these moments sporadically appearing over a one or two year period. I would also suggest that for any players in their late teens to be dubbed as ‘world class’ without being prefixed or suffixed with word ‘potential’ somewhere around about it is highly unlikely, although not impossible.

For me, to be world-class, a player has to have a body of work littered with moments of outstanding skill, supplemented by both personal and collective achievements whilst possessing an almost Zen-like aura that demands the confidence of your teammates in every little thing that you do having earned the respect those who deem themselves man enough to stand up against you. What world-class should definitely not be is a catch-all statement for any player, especially a young player, who is billed as the next big thing, something that the likes of Adnan Januzaj and Ross Barkley have been lumbered with in this current season. They may prove to be in the future but at present they are nowhere near; but who is?

Let’s start by making things easy for myself. Lionel Messi is world-class. He’s a statistician’s wet dream, sending goal records tumbling and in this current season turning his considerable talents to the creation of goals over scoring them himself in a slightly amended role within Tata Martino’s Barcelona set up. He is already a human highlight reel of footballing excellence and has shown in countless Clasicos and Champions League finals that his level of performance is not lessened even when the skills of the opposition are at their greatest. There has been criticism levelled at him for the perceived lack of success in the blue and white of Argentina but his skills at club level, perceived by some as superseding international football asking of the modern game, more than make up for this and with a World Cup as close to home as it is ever going to be who’s to say that 2014 will not be his crowning moment.

So what of his perennial challenger for best in the world Cristiano Ronaldo, is he world class? Once again I think the answer would have to be yes, although not as decorated personally Ronaldo still has a goals and assists record that makes the mind boggle. He’s won titles and Champions leagues and in international colours for Portugal he is as close to a one-man team as you will get at the highest level, exemplified by the way he singlehandedly dragged his team to Brazil scoring a hat-trick just when it looked like Sweden had got the better of his nation in Stockholm.

Then there is his nemesis on that particular day, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Winning titles in Holland, Italy, Spain and now France playing for some of the most famous teams in world football. Often derided as being not as good as he thinks he is there is no question that he possesses an aura that demands your attention, and once he has it he is capable of some truly memorable things, would Messi or Ronaldo have had the audacity to attempt a 45 yard overhead kick, never mind score from it? The fact that on that playoff night in Stockholm that he too was moments away from dragging his team to what potentially could have been his last World Cup almost goes forgotten such was the performance of Ronaldo and although he may be at level just below theEl Clasico rivals he too has earned the moniker of ‘world class’.

Being world-class should not be solely reserved for those who strut their stuff in the final third of the pitch. For me the greatest player I have ever seen is Zinedine Zidane, and with a flick and a twirl he changed the meaning of the verb poise to simply read ‘Zizou’. The film, ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is not only achingly beautiful from an audio and visual standpoint but essential viewing in understanding why he was so good. His symbolic walk past the World Cup in 20o6 after the head butt heard around the world perhaps tarnished the man but not the playing legend.

The captain of the eventual winners that year Fabio Cannavaro was another world-class performer. Diminutive by centre half standards he is rightly considered one of the greatest central defenders of all time as well as achieving the almost impossible for a defender by winning the Ballon d’Or. In Italy he was known as ‘The Berlin Wall’ so great was ability to make even the greatest strikers look like a Sunday league stalwart feeling the effects of the night before. Perhaps only Vincent Kompany currently has the ability and aura to do even a fraction of what the Italian did for the profile of central defenders in the modern game.

What about Suarez, Ribery, Rooney or Bale, surely they’re world-class? Some will argue they are but does the sum of their personal achievements to date even come close to comparison when stacked against those of just one of the aforementioned individuals? I don’t think so. Nor am I suggesting that the names I have mentioned are the only ones worthy of the title world-class.

Ronaldo, the Brazilian version in this instance, was a part of two World Cup winning squads with his performance in the 2002 final seen as redemption to the farce that was his appearance in the very same game 4 years earlier. Henrik Larsson, whilst spending the majority of his career in Scotland blew away those doubting his class with career defining spells at Barcelona and Manchester United and it would be remiss of me not to make mention to Barcelona once again and the midfield mastery of Spanish midfielders Xavi and Anders Iniesta. There will be a few more, but not many, and for each of these men all have individually contributed to the evolution of the game across the globe and in doing so forming the essence of what world-class should be. Not reserved for the best, or even the very best but for those that have helped form and continue to define footballing generations.

If you enjoyed this then maybe you will enjoy www.meatfilledpastries.com. My footballing adventure searching out the tastiest snacks at grounds across Scotland and beyond. The link is on the right hand side.

The Descendants of Djemba Djemba

With the news that former Manchester United and Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba Djemba has signed for SPFL Premiership side St. Mirren until the end of the season now seems as good a time as any to give a nod to some of Scottish football’s most fondly remembered African imports.

quitongo

1. Jose Quitongo

Former clubs: Hamilton Accies, St. Mirren, Kilmarnock, Hearts, Alloa Athletic, Albion Rovers, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Livingston, Stenhousemuir, Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow, Pollok and Muirkirk.

Any list about African football in Scotland would not be complete without the Angolan Pele/Maradonna/Platini/Laudrup/Charnley. A player with a trickery that seemed to often confuse him as much as it did his opponents who after moving to Scotland decided he loved it so much that he thought he would try to play for as many clubs as possible while his legs allowed him to do so. After starting his career at Benfica he found his way to South Lanarkshire and Hamilton Accies, a club that when all else failed would welcome back Jose with open arms time and time again.

Quitongo was a player who could play hopscotch with the line between terrible and brilliant all in a matter of steps but through it all continue to do so with a smile on his face, even when  blowing out his backside in almost every game he played. He also had spells in Sweden, Poland, Ireland, UAE and Italy but Scotland was where he would always call his footballing home, returning in 2006 with the hope of making it into the Angolan national team for the 2006 World Cup, unfortunately for us all that was one dream that didn’t come true. Towards the end of his career in professional football he was a one man game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ appearing at clubs across the central belt for trials and the odd substitute appearance.

Where is he now?: He’s still in Scotland and sports one of those wonderful accents that only a foreigner living in Scotland can obtain. After a playing spell in Junior football with Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow and Pollok amongst others he was this season appointed player-manager of Ayrshire District League side Muirkirk. Jose clearly loves Scotland and I think it’s fair to say we love him a little bit too.

balde

2. Bobo Balde

Former club: Celtic

Bobo Balde was a behemoth, strong in the air, quick on his feet and like all entertaining central defenders prone to moments of blind rage and calamity. A player who is as well know for his dominant displays in over 200 appearances for Celtic as he was for sitting on his bahookie and getting paid a handsome sum to do so. Not since Rangers Basile Boli had Scottish football seen a man who possessed the Guinean’s incredible combination of mass and speed, a skillset that led to Celtic fans chanting the phrase ‘Bobo’s gonna get ye!’ at opponents in celebration of his intimidating presence.

He was part of the successful Martin O’Neill side that reached the UEFA Cup Final only to be beaten by Porto by another man called Jose. Mourinho on this occasion. In Scotland he is without doubt Africa’s most decorated export, winning 5 league titles, 3 Scottish Cups and 2 League Cups whilst playing over 50 times for the Guinean national team. After falling out of favour with new manager Gordon Strachan moves to England failed to materialise and his departure was met with little fanfare or surprise when his contract expired in 2009.

Where is he now?: After leaving Celtic he had spells with Valenciennes and Arles Avignon at the foot of Ligue. 1 in France before retiring from the game.

toure mamam

3. Cherif Toure Mamam

Former club: Livingston

Back in the golden days before Livingston were known for their frequent flirtations with administration they were one of Scottish footballs nouveau riche, well as nouveau riche as you can be in Scotland. A rebranded Meadowbank Thistle moved to that bit of the country between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the hope of attracting new support in the heart of silicon glen. Using their new wealth to move their way up the divisions names such as Oscar Rubio, Guillermo Amor, Rolando Zarate and eh…David Bingham were often seen at the stadium formerly known as Almondvale but none came with as much expectation upon them as the Togolese international.

After trials at Rangers and Fulham, a team who themeselves were going through their own financially backed revolution, the then 20 year old midfielder came with a hype that he never quite lived up to. Sporting the number ’91’ his lucky number and an homage to his basketball playing roots, the ‘Sheriff’ as he was called, until the SFA decide they didn’t like that, had a pedigree to match any young foreigner coming to Scottish football at the time with spells at Eintracht Frankfurt and Marseille under his belt and had a sheer athleticism that had not been seen in Scotland before. Brought in as a player with the potential to be sold on for millions a spate of injuries meant that his potential was never fulfilled and he was released in 2004 as the financial problems we all expected started to rear its head.

Where is he now?: Well he nearly ended up back in Scotland in 2007 but a trial with Hearts was unsuccessful. After being part of the Togo squad at the 2006 World Cup he took the root of many African players and had a spell in the Middle East. Most recently he had a spell with Ghanaian Premier League side Asante Kotoko where even at 33 he was still being billed as the next big thing.

zerouali

4. Hicham Zerouali

Former Club: Aberdeen

The man with the ‘Zero’ on his back is perhaps still to this day one of the most gifted players to grace Scottish football and one of the few successes of the Ebbe Skovdahl era. A menace anywhere in the final third when the mood took him and capable of scoring some quite incredible goals resulting in him becoming an instant hit at Pittodrie. A Moroccan internationalist during his time at Aberdeen an injury towards the end of the 99-2000 robbed him of an appearance at the Sydney Olympics but that didn’t tarnish the memories of Dons fans with a hat trick against Dundee perhaps being the pick of many a highlight.

When looking back at the impact he made it’s not too far of a stretch to say that he blazed the trail for North African talent to find its way to Scottish shores. In the years since his departure players such as Merouane Zemmama and Abdessalam Benjelloun came in often billed as the new ‘Zerouali’ without ever living up to the inevitable hype such a comparison brought. While players such as Majid Bougherra and Ismael Bouzid have left their mark at the other end of the pitch.

Where is he now?: Unfortunately ‘Zero’ is no longer with us. After his contract expired he returned to his native Morroco via the united Arab Emirates where he was killed in a car accident two days after scoring a double for FAR Rabat. His death prompted tributes and a memorial was held in Aberdeen with thousands in attendance. The ‘Morrocan Magician’ to this day is still one of the most gifted players to play in Scotland since the turn of the millennium.

sylla

5. Momo Sylla

Former clubs: St. Johnstone, Celtic and Kilmarnock

If you were to ask the fans of the 3 aforementioned clubs to give a review on the impact Momo Sylla had on their respective clubs you will probably hear three very different stories. At St. Johnstone he arrived as a speedster capable of playing anywhere on the left hand side of the pitch. A bag of tricks with his feet sometimes moving faster than his brain and capable of producing a tackle that sent shudders down the spine of opposing players.

A key part of the Perth side’s success of the early noughties it wasn’t long before the Old Firm came calling with a £650,000 move to Celtic a just reward for a player who seemed to be consistently improving. However, like many players making the move to Glasgow things were not all that they were cracked up to be and as many predicted he struggled to find his place, never being anything other than back up to a team going through one of its most successful periods under Martin O’Neill and he was released when his contract expired. He then was part of Craig Levein’s ill-fated Leicester City revolution, before returning to Scotland for a short and unspectacular spell with Kilmarnock. Although born in the Ivory Coast he played internationally for Guinea although with only 2 appearances he, much like his career post McDiarmid Park, was nothing more than a bit part player there.

Where is he now?: A bit of digging shows that he had a spell in Moldova before seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet only re-appearing once prior to the 2012 Champions League Final to advise that he once told Didier Drogba he wasn’t good enough to play for Celtic. You can’t get them right every time, eh Momo.

Honourable Mentions:

Pa Kujabi – The Gambian Roberto Carlos, was apparently gifted with a wand of a left foot and a deadly free kick, those that attended his performances at Easter Road would beg to differ.

David Obua – Scottish football’s only ever Ugandan, a player who had more positions than the extended version of the Kama Sutra.

Madjid Bougherra – The Algerian Amo. For comment see Bobo Balde without the 3 years of sulking.

Sol Bamba – Now a mainstay of the Ivory Coast national team, during his time in Scottish football he tackled pretty much everyone, including his teammates.

Quinton Jacobs – A Namibian international who once turned down Ajax to play for Partick Thistle in the Scottish Second Division. Somebody must have done a really good job selling the concept of the Maryhill Magyars.

Will Eric Djemba Djemba be looked back on as favourably as some of these greats, only time will tell.

The Boys Who Cry Wolf

football-blog-diving-injuries-boys-cried-wolf

The AFC U22 Championship is not usually where I would find inspiration for the things I write but an incident in the quarter final between South Korea and Syria was sufficient in prompting me into writing about something that more than a niggles. In this instance, with South Korea comfortably leading 2-0 they followed popular convention and kicked the ball out of play so treatment could be given to an injured Syrian midfielder. Syria, however, never got the memo and from the resulting throw in proceeded to score an ultimately meaningless goal in their sides 2-1 defeat in Oman.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, think back to 1999 and that infamous moment when Arsenal striker Kanu, galloping forward in a way that only he could, passed a ball through to Marc Overmars to score the winning goal in an FA Cup tie against Sheffield United. There was such an uproar that Arsene Wenger felt obliged to offer a replay which Arsenal duly won, would he have been so generous had it been against Manchester United, we’ll never know. There is countless other examples, including that of Luiz Adriano, who after scoring for Shakhtar Donetsk against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League from what should have been uncontested dropped ball, found himself handed a one game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct.

This issue continues to evolve, highlighted most recently in a game featuring Arsenal once again. With 20 minutes to go and the scores level Arsenal were on the attack with Chelsea midfielder Ramires down in the centre circle, the ball was at the feet of Aaron Ramsey who, clearly unsure what to do, decided to kick the ball out. A decision that brought a handshake from opposition midfielder Frank Lampard but raised the ire of Olivier Giroud and a number of his teammates who believed Ramsey had thrown away a potential advantage in one of the biggest games of the season. Was Ramsey right to do what he did? And to that matter is it right that it should fall into the hands of the players to make that decision?

Well I think the answer should be a resounding no, in today’s footballing climate where going down injured is employed more as a tactic to break up play and time waste as opposed to the occurence of an actual injury. Why should a player place his trust in the fact that another player is not ‘at it’ for want of a better term. We’ve seen it hundred’s of times before, a player goes down, the ball gets played out and minutes later the he is running about at the peak of his powers without a physio even entering the field of play. It’s frustrating to watch and I’d imagine equally frustrating to play alongside as well.

Perhaps the referee should intervene, they already have the right to stop the game for a head injury why not expand that remit to include any injury that they see worthy of a stop in play? Surely a better idea than player intervention but on deeper contemplation still subject to the same fundamental flaws that are a result of a member of either team kicking the ball out of play. Well, except in this situation there is the added pantomime of the player being guided off the pitch only to be waved back on seconds later whenever it takes the official’s fancy.

Then there’s the third option, we don’t stop play at all. I’m not a heartless man, I’m just a man who is fed up of games being interrupted because a player who has got a blade of grass stuck up his nostril is dealt with in the same manner as a player who has torn a ligament or broken a bone. Now generally I’m not an advocate of rules of other sports being transferable to football. I think the addition of a video referee would be a step too far, taking away some of the controversy that we as football fans thrive on, and that sin-binning in a football context would not be as effective as a deterrent as it is in ice hockey and rugby. With that said the method in which players are treated during a game of rugby could and should be implemented in the football matches of today.

For those unfamiliar of the procedure when a player goes down but the game continues and a physio comes on to the field of play to administer treatment when and where required. If the injury is serious then a communication is made to advise of such and the game is stopped.

None of these actions require new technology, they would reduce gamesmanship and time wasting, stop the needless to and fro from the touchline of players and, in theory, as an action it is instantly implementable. I say ‘in theory’ as there would still be a bit of working out to do in relation to such a change. For example if a player is being treated on the field of play do they become inactive? I would suggest they would, meaning that if a defender is lying stricken they can’t play an opponent onside whist at the other end a striker can’t resurrect themselves suddenly whilst realising that they are clean through on goal.

As a resolution it’s not perfect, a first draft of any proposal is testament to that. When a foul is given and there is a natural stop in play then bring the physio on and let treatment be given but don’t then make the victim of the foul traipse off the pitch because you made someone else who was chancing his arm fifteen minutes earlier do the same thing. Like many things in football the best resolutions involve the mythical concept of common sense but until such time arrives in that the myth becomes a reality I think those with the ability to do so should empower themselves to ensure that yet another one of football’s more annoying foibles doesn’t continue to blight the game that we love.

Let’s Break Football’s Last Taboo

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In the coming days and weeks, there will be thousands upon thousands of words written about how brave Thomas Hitzlsperger has been and while these words of support and praise are to be commended the stand out phrase from the interviews the former German international has given to date still remains:

I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.”

So let’s try our best to do it right now, not in a focus group years down the line, or when the next footballer, active or not, decides that the time is right to offer up his sexuality as a sacrifice for the discussion to be moved just another baby step further forward. It’s not going to be perfect but I’m going to give it a try. Firstly, let us not forget that, although he is the most high profile, Hitzlsperger is not the first footballer to reveal he is gay, both Anton Hysen and Robbie Rogers have made themselves involuntary martyrs for football’s last great taboo and they too were praised for their courage but how far has their courage really moved the debate forward?

Personally I think there are two ways you could look at this. In the first instance you could look at the way Robbie Rogers was actively encouraged back into the game as an indication of football’s growing acceptance of a lifestyle that has long been part of the norm in modern society. Conversely though you could say that the fact he only felt comfortable in making his revelation from the relative safety of early retirement as an indictment to the dated perception of homosexuality in and around our football grounds. At this juncture it’s worth noting at this point that at the time of his retirement Rogers was plying his trade within the United Kingdom and this is why we need to move the debate on from words and onto actions.

However with that said it is important to recognise that the football community in the UK has been at the forefront of the ‘acceptance’ movement with players, manager and even Match of the Day host Gary Lineker sporting rainbow laces in support of their colleagues. This, however, is not an issue that should be left to those involved in the game to solve, this is one that we, as lovers of the game, can help alter and change right now.

In the days following Hitzelsperger’s announcement, John Amaechi, the NBA’s first openly gay player labelled the culture surrounding football as ‘toxic’, and although a tad sensationalist in its terminology it clearly highlighted the feelings of many out with the game that football’s attitude to homosexuality would be placed on the evolutionary scale beside the man chasing a mammoth with a spear.

Football, however, has always proved it can change.

Think of a fan beside you hurling monkey chants and throwing banana’s at a player of African descent and the shock and horror that you are your fellow onlookers would feel at such behaviour. Has that shock and horror always been so prevalent? No.

To give another example, in Scotland, sectarianism still lurks in the shadows of the countries most famous derby between Rangers and Celtic, but efforts continue to close that divide. It’s staggering to think that it was only as little as 15 years ago that Rangers appointed their first Catholic captain in Lorenzo Amoruso. Should it have taken so long? No, but they still did it.

Am I saying that elements of racism, bigotry and other discriminatory behaviour are not still to be found in the game? Of course not, but the backlash for players and fans alike will continue to grow if such behaviours continue. It is no longer seen appropriate to have a laugh because a player is black or because a player crosses himself before stepping onto the field of player so why should it be any different if he’s gay.

As a member of the Tartan Army, known for championing just how great we are, I am privy to a repertoire of songs designed to help drive our nation to a level somewhere above the mediocrity we perpetually reside in. Amongst all the ‘Doe-A-Deer’s’ and ‘We’ll be Coming Down the Roads’ is an ode to former England international Jimmy Hill that goes like this:

“We hate Jimmy Hill, he’s a poof, he’s a poof.”

Now there is no doubt in my mind that for the dwindling number of fans that sing the words above it is done so with harmless intentions, but it should perhaps be seen as a telling insight into how far football fans have to come to catch up with the rest of the world around it. This doesn’t have to be solely in the form a song, it could come from the pensioners four rows behind shouting about a player’s ‘boyfriend’ as he lies injured on the pitch. It could even be as simple as a group of mates sitting in the pub, watching the game talking as if no one is listening.

While FIFA continue to trumpet their crusade for inclusion and diversity by hosting World Cups in Russia and Qatar, seemingly oblivious to the fact that in these countries homosexuality is perceived as a crime, it is up to us as fans to prove that football is indeed as inclusive as Sepp & Co. advertise. The actions of Thomas Hitzlsperger, Robbie Rogers and Anton Hysen should be praised as the catalyst for this debate, it is now up to us to turn this debate into actions.

More Than A Black Mark

With five minutes to go, your team are drawing one each. A point is enough for to secure promotion, a win and your champions, your midfielder, who has been doing his best Steven Gerrard impression all season has already scored 20 goals and is clean through on goal with just the keeper to beat. It’s the last minute. He surely can’t miss, you slowly rise out your seat with your scarf clasped tightly in both hands, ready to jump in the air with a moment of pure ecstasy that only football can bring. He rounds the keeper, the angle is a bit tight but you already feel the scream of joy rise up through your throat, he pulls back his left boot and manages to balloon it 12 rows over the bar.

Sorry Chris, but this was a shocker!

Sorry Chris, but this was a shocker!

You sit down, disappointed that your team couldn’t quite win the first trophy for what feels like years, but still elated with a season that ended in promotion, when relegation seemed the only way out.

A few hours later, a man, who should be disappointed that he missed out on his ultimate moment of glory, is celebrating, not with the fans, or even his fellow teammates, but in a room alone in his home, sitting staring at a pile of cash won as a result of that missed shot in the final seconds of the game, because that star midfielder, the one that tens, hundreds, even thousands of fans has put their trust in has just thrown the game to win a bet where he didn’t want his own team to win.

Thankfully the story above is pure fabrication, a meandering piece of fiction that started in my head and ended up on the page before you. As you continue to read, I want to reassure fans of ICT, Hearts and Rangers that I am not dubbing Ian Black as a midfielder of great prowess, and as such the story above can bear absolutely no resemblance to him as a player.

Neither am I saying that this was the case in any of the 3 games in which he bet on his team not-to-win, an offence he has been deemed guilty of by the SFA. No, this is am example of the dark path that professional football, and our national sport, could go down, if serious action is not taken against those who feel the need to further compromise the ‘integrity’ of the game.

Would you now pass to this man with a minute to go?

Would you now pass to this man with a minute to go?

Ian Black was found guilty of three charges resulting in an immediate 3 match ban with a further 7 games suspended until the end of the season along with a fine of £7500 with the football matches in which he was not involved resulting in censure.

The charge sheet read as follows:

Guilty of betting on 3 football matches on a then-registered club not to win.

Guilty of betting on 10 football matches that involved a then-registered club.

Guilty of betting on a further 147 football matches.

So let’s go through each charge as above, building up the severity as we go, bearing in mind that all of the above are deemed as chargeable offences by the SFA.

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Charge 1: Betting on 147 Football Matches

It is ludicrous for some people to think that young men with varying degrees of disposable income do not enjoy a flutter just as much as the rest of us. Personally I have no problem with a player betting on a game of football that has no direct bearing on their current teams circumstances, or which they cannot be seen to have any influence over. There will be arguments made that why do players have to bet on football, why not bet on horse racing, boxing or snooker? Well from what my many, many years of sports consumption has proven is that in comparison to football, although each are not without their merits, the aforementioned sports are not quite as good, this is of course without reflecting on the various betting ‘scandals’ that have effected them.

What would concern me, and should not be neglected, is the friendships and associations built up between players across their careers, could a well placed word in another player’s ear alter the outcome of a match where their would be no apparent connection. Surely if that accusation is to be made then it too should be applicable to a player’s barber, aunt or landscape gardener? Perhaps the sensible thing to do is not to outlaw a practice that is almost impossible to monitor successfully but to instead create a set of guidelines for games that which a player can get their football betting fix, removing any doubt or suspicions about match outcomes where an association can be made. Logistically, is that possible? I’m just not sure.

Charge 2: Betting on 10 football matches that involved a then-registered club

On the face of it this seems pretty straightforward, especially if you take into consideration that the final charge we will look at is in relation betting on a then-registered club not to win. By the process of elimination, that would suggest that a player who is found guilty of these charges, is guilty of betting on his team to win, and as a fan if that’s the case you’d hope he puts everything he owns on a victory, in theory resulting in the optimum effort being input for the cause of your club.

However the intricacies untold in this situation could suggest that any bets made in relation to this charge may also contain wagers on correct score or number of bookings to name but two examples. In that respect any bet made can only lead to a compromise in performance by the player no matter what protestations the accused may make about always giving the magical 100%. Taking these points into consideration common sense should dictate to any individual involved in a game not to bet on it, irrespective of whether or not that you fancy your team to knock six past your opponents that weekend.

Charge 3: Betting on 3 football matches on a then-registered club not to win.

Let me start by saying this, as a professional, in any field, at what point should it be considered a good idea to bet against yourself? Whether it’s before an interview, during a big presentation or on a football pitch. Especially on a football pitch, the ultimate results business. To bet against the team that pay your wages, the fans that chant your name and the children who buy your shirts smacks of the highest level of disregard for all those parties. I know that was all a tad vitriolic but as a football fan to know that a player I pay to watch is willing to bet against a win, in ANY circumstance, whether its Barcelona or Brechin City is totally unacceptable.

Is good early season form going to be enough once the ban is over

Is good early season form going to be enough once the suspension is over? Is the trust gone?

And the above is just from the fans perspective, what about the coaches and players they spend their daily lives with. Earlier I mentioned the ‘magical 100%’ that every player should strive to give. How can those words be taken seriously by the teammates and management of Ian Black. When Ally McCoist looks at the options available to him when Black’s suspension is over will he be able to pick the player on his individual merits, throwing aside the shackles of doubt that surely must lurk wthin, no matter how many snappy supportive sound bites that may or may not come in out in the forthcoming weeks.

What about next time a teammate strides forward with minutes to play and Black is the only option, will the adrenalin rush of the game out think the fog of doubt that surely must surround him? Or am I being naïve and the camaraderie of fools that is professional football let this ghost by without a second thought? It shouldn’t but I feel the paltry nature of the sentence to be served does almost nothing to discourage the practice.

The Final Verdict

As previously stated the SFA punished Ian Black after he was found guilty of all three charges  resulting in an immediate 3 match ban with a further 7 games suspended until the end of the season along with a fine of £7500, with the football matches in which he was not involved resulting merely in a censure.

All decisions should be made on a stand alone basis, and to compare the ban given to Ian Black to that given to other players by other federations is to do so without taking into consideration the specific circumstances of each case. With that being said once again yet another indication has been given that when it comes to the big decision the SFA would fail to exert enough authority to announce its nap time at a nursery whilst armed with a box full of cookies and a Peppa Pig DVD.

Ian Black has been found guilty of betting against his own team. To ban him for only 3 games, knowing that barring a gross act of stupidity on his behalf, that the further 7 games will never be missed is a slap in the face to anyone who has worn the scarf of the clubs he has played for, the managers who put their trust in him and the players he played both with and against.  As he has been found guilty, of something that I believe to be just a few short steps shy of match-fixing, the punishment should have been given out as such, instead the SFA failed to take the opportunity to send a clear and concise message that behaviour of this nature will not be tolerated and should never be seen again.