Let’s Break Football’s Last Taboo

football-blog-homophobia-lets-break-footballs-last-taboo

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.

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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.

betslip2

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.

The Life of Pie

I have a new blog, it’s about Pies, if you like Scottish football, you’ll like pies. Get in about it!

MEAT FILLED PASTRIES

Let’s be honest, we all love a Pie.

After an aimless conversation whilst watching the first game of the new Premiership season I discovered that within the first 2 weeks of the season I had scranned a total of 11 pies or 1.4 pies per game of football I have attended. What started as a joke is now the blog you see before you:

Meat Filled Pastries: A Tour of Pies, will be a blow by blow account of any pie I encounter, whether it be at a sporting event, in a pub, in a restaurant or just for my dinner.

Each pie will get a rating on a number of criteria,, giving it a final ‘Gravy Factor’.

The criteria will be as follows:

Price: Not necessarily cheapest is best, but value for money.

Presentation: Not necessarily Michelin starred but does the pie taste represent the pie presentation.

Meatiness: Not…

View original post 83 more words

The Re-Return

the re-return

 

Right, so it’s fair to say that over the last few months I had mistreated the Leading The Line blog concentrating instead on my pursuit of financial gain in a job I never thought I would find myself in. I’m not going to use this as a forum to discuss my current career more wanted to highlight it as the reason I have forgotten about something that I love to do. Well I say forgot, more like after a working day, I had not been able to summon the energy to emit a brain-fart never mind construct a sentence worthy of the name.

However last week somebody contacted me last week asking if they could have the ‘Leading the Line’ WordPress site as they wanted it for a university project. Initially my reaction was they could have it, I hadn’t used it for nearly 10 months, I didn’t seem to have that drive or spark to do it any longer but yet as the idea of letting go seeped in I realised something. I couldn’t do it. You see for as soon as I had answered yes to this request those last few brain cells dedicated to stating opinions and researching deeper into the things that interest me would be forever lost in a wave of spreadsheets and compensation figures. I just couldn’t.

Therefore I am proud to announce the return of Leading The Line, I’m not going to mess about too much with the format at first, I like the layout and the look of the site but I have decided to branch out in terms of contact, starting today I will be doing what I shall dub until I come up with something pithier ‘Real Time Music Reviews’, in which I will take an album and listen to it from start to finish uninterrupted, using the duration of said album to consider its merits. There will still be the usual sporting additions but given the casserole of nonsense that is Scottish football at the moment I thought I better ease myself in with something else first.

I hope this is the start of something beautiful.

Kind Regards

‘CF’ of Leading The Line

Chris Marshall

Little Jimmy Predicts Summerslam

Its Summerslam time, it’s the new era of cerebrally assassinating people in an ill-fitting business suit, where two WWE titles exist although one is clearly a knock off and I discovered there were WWE Ice Cream bars, where Christian is still awesome and where Mark Henry’s dreadlocks
still start halfway towards the back of his head but man does he like KOOL-AID! Let’s get predicting.

Divas Championship

Kelly Kelly v ‘The Glamazon’ Beth Pheonix

Glam Slam. Done! If Kelly Kelly wins the world has gone mad. Let Natalya and Beth feud because if they are both heels I can’t see how Natalya would be happy with Beth being the dominant sister, one of them will turn face again very soon.

Winner and New Divas Champion – ‘The Glamazon’ Beth Phoenix

 

Sheamus v Mark Henry

 

I remember listening to Sheamus on BBC Radio 1 a few months ago, he was on tour as the WWE Champion and as he spoke to the presenter I couldn’t help but think this guy is a great heel but I wonder if he was given the ball to run with as a face how successful could it be. Well two things say to me that it is going to be massively so, firstly he’s on Smackdown where there are no faces and secondly he’s positioned correctly not as a sympathetic baby face but as a hard nut who will fight with anyone or anything inlcuding a tall glass of KOOL-AID.  He has been getting good pops and his charisma on the mic should cement a face turn. This match is interesting as there is logic in both men winning. Mark Henry has been on the run of his life and a loss to Sheamus although not a disaster would totally kill his momentum and where would he go after that. However if things go how I believe they will with Christian and Orton than a Sheamus win would ideally position him as the number one contender to the World Heavyweight Championship.

Decisions. Decisions. I’m going for Kool Aid in a heelish manner, possibly a Worlds Strongest Slam onto a chair the ref can’t see. He then goes for the post match Vader Splash with the chair but wastes too much time Sheamus pops up and Brogue Kicks him over the top rope. There are still
legs in this feud and a loss to Mark Henry will only strengthen Sheamus when he goes over him at the next pay per view.

Winner via Worlds Strongest Slam on a chair – Mark Henry

 

World Heavyweight Championship – No Holds Barred Match

Christian v Randy Orton

 

You would think with this being a World Heavyweight Championship match I would have lots to write about this but I don’t. This feud has gone on two months two long, the title is on Christian which is the right thing going forward. He wins clean in the middle on the ring, well as clean as
you can in a No Holds Barred Match. There matches while have been good have been gently declining in quality so I hope the added stipulation gives the feud the blow-off it deserves. Moving forward I’m not entirely sure, it’s not unfeasible for this feud to go another month but I really hopes it doesn’t.

What I will say is that Christian needs to leave as Champion and by that I mean a clear 1-2-3 victory.

Winner via Pinfall and STILL World Heavyweight Champion – Christian

 

WWE ‘Unification (Really!!)’ Title Match – Special Guest Referee Triple H

CM Punk v John Cena

 

The fact that this is being billed as a Unification bout is a joke to begin with, CM Punk is the Champion, John Cena is the guy that beat up a midget in a mask after he’d already been through a match to become ‘Champion’. Cena’s character is so rammed down the throat that even when he does something so obviously heel that it is swept under the carpet, but wait. Are you ready? This is when it is going to happen. John Cena is going to turn HEEL. I’ve never really believed it before but hear me out. It’s Summerslam one of the big four PPV’s, the kind of Pay Per View where something like this happens and will be remembered for a long time, so the foundation for timing is there. Triple H, who will come out of his tweener role and go full blown heel, has come back and said it’s all about being good for business; well the best thing for business storyline wise is John Cena WWE Champion. So as CM Punk finally has Cena down for three after numerous counters and finisher kick outs by both men Trips will stop the count at 2 and a half, take off his shirt to reveal a Cena T-Shirt and Pedigree’s CM Punk, drags Cena over for the pin and
we have a new Champion.

Not very heel so far I hear you say, afterwards Trips and Cena embrace turn to Punk and start beating the fruity pebble coloured crap out of him until ‘Cult of Personality hits and outcomes The Kings of Wrestling and Colt Cabana (not Scotty ‘F**kin’ Goldman) for the save ending the PPV with Triple H and Cena on the ramp celebrating. I realise this is going into the realms of fantasy booking but next night on Raw in the Hispanic heartlands Punk initiates his rematch clause and just as he is about to reclaim the belt Triple H reveals his ‘Good for Business’ stable that cost Punk the match as Cena smirks in celebration after earlier giving a promo about how he is the Champ and nothing else matters Alberto Del Riooooooooooooooooo comes out and cashes in MITB to a huge pop from the home crowd. Going forward you have a Triple H v CM Punk feud and ADR v Cena except with ADR the face and Cena the corporate stooge. Onto the actual prediction.

Winner and NEW WWE Champion via Triple H – John Cena

At time of writing that is all that was announced so therefore the only matches WWE care about so they are the only matches I’m going to review, where are The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, R-Truth, The US Title and The Intercontinental Title, I’m sure some if not all will make an appearance
but at the moment you have to go with what they’ve announced.  I reckon this should be good, fella.

The Anthem for being ‘The Best in the World’ your video treat:

Welcome Back!

I like sport…well that’s an understatement if ever there’s
been one.

I suppose I realised it was more of a compulsion when I found myself
during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney watching an overweight Bulgarian man in a
shell suit straight out of 8o’s Liverpool shooting a bullet I couldn’t see into
a target where you couldn’t tell if he had hit it at 4am on what was a t the
time, a school night!

Football is my passion, Scottish football in particular, but
then again Scottish Sport and its endless pursuit to reach the nirvana of
‘glorious failure’ pretty much covers it.

I’ve been around a bit got a couple of degrees and have made
vane attempts to keep this up as a regular part of my life but it never seems
to have happened. Well it’s a new day and three very important things have
happened in the last few months that will see this site become an epi-centre of
opinion that will make Graham Speirs look like a linguistic moron, Jim Traynor
softer than Jenson Button’s hair after doing those fantastic Head and Shoulders
Adverts and make Chick Young look like an idiot…..cheers Chick for giving me a head start.

Tangent over, I’d like to reveal those three things as
passing my driving test, moving back into Glasgow and finally having a laptop
that doesn’t require a well timed slap on the side before it even switches on.

That’s really all for now, for those that have subscribed or
read anything I put up I thank you and for those that have not, just subscribe,
you get a cheeky wee email with all the latest from ‘Leading The Line’ and it
will make me look good.

One last thing, I also like wrestling so it will make an appearance
every so often and inspired by the one man the USA should be asking to solve
their debt crisis I ask you to do the following things, ever so slightly
altered for the benefit of actually putting down everything I want here:

Subscribe to Leading the Line.

Follow Me on Twitter @mistermersh

And any article you see Like it on Facebook.

Zack Ryder for President! WWWYKI

As a wee treat for being with me at the re-birth of Leading
The Line I’d like to share what I believe to be the greatest piece of advertsing in the 21st Century