The World Game

 

The World Game

 

My disenchantment has been growing, slowly but surely, for a number of years.  For very sublime Messi chip, curling Ronaldo spot kick, witty song from the terraces and gut busting run through the midfield, there has been the choleric complaining of managers whenever a point is dropped (you know who I am referring to), the unsavoury surrounding, hectoring and, on occasions, pushing of the ref by players protesting decisions, the shirt tugging, the theatrical flopping and rolling after contact, the refusal to adopt simple video technology and the racist taunting.  Unlike my passion for the AFL in general and the Hawks in particular, my interest in the so called world game is borne of a love for the contest without any club allegiances.

 

I’ve finally lost it.   In a game struggling for credibility in this country when competing against the behemoths of the AFL and the NRL, and in a game recently besmirched by the posturing of extraordinarily wealthy owners, the final of the A League gave us two outstanding examples of why my interest in all things sporting is now unlikely to include even the most passing interest in football.

 

As fine a team as Brisbane is, and as much as dominant possession and the likelihood of the weight of that possession and numbers would have made a win more likely than not, in the heart of every rational supporter must be the knowledge that it was a tainted victory.  The penalty was a result of a refereeing error – not the I am blaming the ref, for it was only footage from behind the goal that showed that the Brisbane player simply fell over, unbalanced,  but the usual theatrics as he hit the ground must have influenced him.  Such theatrics are, purely and simply, cheating.  To describe it as ‘milking a penalty’ is to put an unacceptable gloss on what really happens. It is, in essence, no different to the ball going into touch and having both of the competing players raise their hands claiming the throw, when replays show that not only in most cases that the decision was clear cut, but that both players must have known that was so.  To say, as the apologists have done already, that these things balance themselves over the season, or that Brisbane were worthy winners, is to miss the point entirely. To have a final game, supported by so many passionate fans, ending in such a way is a travesty for all bar the most loyal Brisbane supporter.

 

The second issue was the limp joke that is football administration in this country then demonstrating its complete incompetence with the award, or non award, of player of the final, leaving both players short changed.

 

What can be done?  The short answer is a lot.  The fact that none of it will be done is what makes the whole exercise so nauseating.   Start with….a  booking for any player other than the captain talking to the ref, a booking for any player showing dissent, a red for any player touching a match official, simple goal line technology and, last but by no means least, video match review.   The games are all now the subject of multi angle television.  Unacceptable and clear cut physical conduct which escapes the officials should be treated in the same manner as happens in the NRL and the AFL.  More importantly,  diving needs to be eradicated.  The game in this country (and indeed everywhere) will suffer for so long as the most critical part of a generically low scoring game – goal front tackles – are so amenable to cheating leading to unfair results.  Both of the major codes in this country have been very quick to adopt technology to the undoubted benefit of their games.  There is still room for improvement (decent goal line video technology in the AFL, for example), but it is difficult to mount an argument that the modern games in both codes have not benefitted enormously. The sublime skills and athleticism of football will be overshadowed in Australia for so long as these blights remain and the comparison between codes can be made.

 

Comments

  1. Michael,
    Both the non-penalty disgrace and man-of-the-match fiasco
    summed up the A-League’s season.
    Quite fitting, really.

  2. Lots of good thoughts there Michael. I like most sports, and soccer/world football at the highest level is a game of great artistry and excitement.
    WF was already a joke in this country thanks to the antics of the FFA and the owners. The referee today just finished it off. The problem is that penalties (particularly in the last minute) have such a profound effect in a low scoring sport. I would not let the ref off as lightly as you. I thought he had awarded the penalty as soon as the Roar player went down, and before his staged appeal. I don’t think the Roar player dived, he genuinely lost balance when he had an ‘airie’.
    The problem was that there were 3 or 4 players between the ref and the fall. The ref paid it for what he thought must have happened, and not what he ‘saw’. The lunging Glory player was at least a half metre short of the Roar striker, but the ref could not see that from his position. The ref should be suspended for making himself the centre of attention, and not letting the game speak for itself. He was sucked in by the home crowd and his own ego – not a player ‘dive’.
    I cannot envisage using video technology for appeals on penalties given or not given, without frequent disruptions to the flow of play. Goal line technology – yes. Penalise diving – yes (Milne and Ballantyne would never play a game if we adopted that in AFL).
    Rule changes to make scoring easier is probably the only way to ameliorate the effect of bad refereeing decisions.
    Personally I think Lowy, Palmer, Tinkler, Sage (and all the other ‘toys for boys’ glitterati) got the result they deserved. There is no viable commercial market for WF as a spectator sport in Australia. It should be a youth feeder league to Asia and Europe where there is fan, corporate and TV interest. Green Edge teams in the J League and UK 2nd Division??

  3. I have many reservations about soccer admin in australia and also about the game’s playing “scruples” in general. But I’ve really enjoyed the A-League coverage on FOX and am happy to concede that the comp is about Div 3 in the old coin. (I’m only still up this late because I got home from the shite MCG match and watched the superb ManU/Everton game.)

  4. Crio – point taken. But surely the GF result lacks all credibility. The ref won. The Roar collected the fallout. The Glory lost the title. The game lost all credibility as a ‘competitive’ sport. Do you think the Melbourne Cup should be decided from the Stewards Tower on instant impressions of apparent interference in a tight finish? The punters would tear the grandstand down. If that penalty had been awarded to the Glory, there would have been a riot – quite justifiably.

  5. Michael

    I completely agree with your comments about players interferring with a ref. The sight, here and in European soccer, of players rounding and abusing the ref is terrible, but seemingly justified and excused.

    A few years ago, my (then) 8 year old son had a FIFA Nintendo DS game that he played on a little hand held console. I’d occassionally hear him abusing the ref while playing the game and after gently telling him that it was (a) a game (b) a one way game that his comments couldn’t influence and (c) that the ref was always right, I then said that if the game was going to frustrate him so much, I’d take it off him.

    He then explained to me that the game had a voice recogntion component, and if you said something to the ref, like “come on, he fell” or “that’ wasn’t a free”, the decision could occassionally be reversed in teh computer game itself.

    This was a FIFA sanctioned game, where you could take on club or national identities and individual players were named. Therefore, the abuse or questioning of referees was so common and sanctioned by the game itself that this feature was included as a normal standard component of the computer game, just as much a regular part of mimicing real soccer as crowd noise or passing.

    Considering the speed of the game and its duration, the fact that top level soccer continues to have one ref instead of two staggers me. Look at hockey as an example of a game that reinvents itself regularly, with great results. The removal of the offside rule over 10 years ago then the recent introduction of play on after a free hit, as well as moves to improve player safety, shows a game moving with the times, not stuck in the past

    Sean

  6. I have come in on this one late.

    Did a Western Australian team get beaten in a grand final from a dodgy decision?

    Well, well that’s a breath of fresh air.

  7. Do I hear Wynyard’s black Cat calling the Perth moggies sooty?
    I was appalled but not surprised to read a full page spread in the AFL Record on Saturday night about a certain team chainsawing the goal posts; burning down the grand stand; and holding the umpire’s mother hostage at knife point to prevent a North Hobart player take a thoroughly deserved free kick on goal in the dying seconds of a GF (1967 was it?)
    Surely that couldn’t be the North West’s finest? Home of esteemed correspondent? Have you apologised yet to that fine Kardinia Park statesmen John Devine for stealing his inheritance?
    All Almanackers journeying across the ditch later in the season should ensure that their life insurance premiums are up to date.

  8. Rick Kane says:

    Hello fellow Hawker,

    Sorry, I have to rant:

    I think several different issues are getting unnecessarily bunched up into a single line argument. Firstly, re the Penalty decision. Yes, that appears to be a mistake. AFL has mistakes of that nature occurring many times through every game. The most subjectively umpired sports that I watch is Australian Rules.

    Secondly (I’ll limit it to two points), the sport itself. C’mon, are you serious? The game isn’t going to buckle because of the concerns expressed in this essay and responses. It’s a brilliant game. And here I’m referring to the sport not the administration. Across, Europe, across Asia, across South America and across Africa there are countless Premier Leagues with 20 or so elite sides competing weekly. And that’s before you include the Reserve and sub division Leagues. They all continue and thrive despite the problems that seem to be of such concern as expressed here. And how serious are these concerns really? Are they building to an epidemic? Or is this just anecdotal?

    I watched the Chelsea vs. Spurs FA Cup game and the Spurs got done. There was a controversial goal decision. To my eyes it didn’t look as if it had gone into the goal. Chelsea went on to win 5-1. Did the decision ruin the match? Not at all. Just like when I’m watching the footy (Australian Rules) I get angry with stacks of umpiring decisions but it doesn’t define the game or my joy of the sport. So it is with the World Game. The athleticism, foot skills, running, tension and sheer genius of decision making through a game far outweigh the fact that it aint perfect.

    Cheers

  9. PB,

    not only have I not apologised but I had to entertain the great Cat at a forty year anniversary as Predident of the WFC a few years ago. We agreed to disagree.

    I think you should come over in June. Just hop on boogie board down at Esperence and float out. I will get my son to pick you up at West beach when he is surfing and take you to the ground.

  10. Andrew Weiss says:

    Michael i have to agree with your idea that some type of referral system needs to occur especially when it comes to giving a penalty. There is no doubt that there was no infringemnt on Berisha and the penalty should not have been given. In that instance the referee should ask to refer it to the video just like umpires in the AFL can do it with a goal.

    The other suggestion that could occur is that the captain of each side could have two referral per match if they think a penalty decision, a goal decision or a card decision could be wrong like they do in cricket. By doing it this way the captain is the only one that is allowed to go up to the referee to dispute the decision rather than numerous player like what occured last night.

    I will admit that i have enjoyed watching the A league this year and i think it has been a resonable good comp even with the numerous distraction that have occured but what happened last night in the dying minutes of the game put a dampner on the season

  11. Rick

    Many good points, and all taken. No, it’s not an epidemic and the game is clearly not going to buckle because of my concerns. It is my frustration alone, which falls well short of the number required for an epidemic. It was a late night rant and I badly needed to get it off my chest.

    Australian Rules is a curious and unique game – the vast bulk of the rules require subjective interpretation. The very few rules capable of clear objective interpretation (including interchange infringements, out on the full and the fullback overstepping on the kick in) generally have limited impact on the flow or outcome of the game. It is, by its nature, high scoring. Football is not, and the stakes associated with a penalty are commensurately higher.

    The enjoyment or otherwise of a football match may be affected byrefereeing errors, but my blood boils when I see blatant cheating exemplified by diving.

  12. Brad Carr says:

    Dammit, Phantom! I finally stopped having the recurring nightmare about Kennelly holding Sampi’s jumper, you just had to send me back there didn’t you.

    Back on topic, and all sports need to get serious about diving – eg. actually enforce suspensions (and lengthy ones at that) to deter such behaviour. The kind of the thing that the AFL likes to annoucne that it’s going to do, but never does…

    I watched about 10 minutes of an A-League game in the 2008-09 season, and got to see a similar dud penalty when someone dived, the replay clearly showed that there had been no contact, and the Fox commentator revealed soccer’s true culture by declaring the penalty to be “a good decision.” I had avoided watching any A-League for 3 years, but (given that the AFL alternative was the dud Melbourne-Bulldogs bore-fest) relented for about 20 minutes on the weekend. I won’t be giving it a 3rd chance.

  13. Richard Naco says:

    I know of no other sport in this country with pretensions of being a major competition, that would appoint as the dominant official in the championship game somebody whose spouse was an employee of one of the two partipating teams. That said team profited so massively from an alleged ‘error’ by that official compounds the problem of his appointment in the first place.

    The A-League, like my once beloved NBL, is doomed to fade away into insignificance in this country. Any sport where each season is marked by teams disbanding or being kicked out, will ultimately lose all credibility in a congested sports media market.

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