Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why is football so soft?

When Kevin Morgan walked off the pitch at Murrayfield on Saturday, it didn't look like he would be coming back. He walked gingerly to the touch line, cradling his jaw, but at the same time afraid to touch it. His mouth was stained with dark blood and it hung at a strange angle. Yet ten minutes later there he was, diving at the feet of a 19 stone forward, and bravely trying to assert himself in an already beaten side.

Meanwhile, across Europe, at the same moment, a hundred different footballers are screaming in agony, rolling on the turf after being lightly pushed in the chest, nudged by a shoulder, or tickled playfully under the armpit.

Now Kevin Morgan is not a hard man. He is polite, well-spoken and generally tries to avoid any roughness. But the culture of his sport is such that he returned to the field with a broken jaw because he didn't want to let anybody down.

Later that evening, the multi-millionaire Samuel Eto declined to take the field as a substitute when requested to by his manager Frank Rijkkard. He was tired apparently.

How did it get like this? What happened to football along the way? When did it become acceptable, if not condonable to make a big fuss over a slight knock? It wasn't like that in the until the 1990s was it? I certainly don't remember Phil Dwyer going down unless he had been assaulted with a weapon.

So who wants it to be like it is now? The fans? No, the fans hate it. The media? Well, it can lend a certain controversy and drama to the game. But overwhelmingly, I'm afraid it boils down to coaches and managers.

In days gone by they might have been former schoolmasters, academics, and since the sixties, pulled from the working class - people who generally had some respect for a person's moral fibre. These days they are almost always former players, former cheats.

And FIFA can take a share of the blame. Whilst I fully support the harsh penalties dished out to professional foulers, why has it become a red card offence to "raise your hands"? What is the big deal about giving someone a clip round the ear after he stamped on you, or pushing someone in the chest after he spat in your face?

The more I see of how the two sports are developing, the more I hope that my children take up the oval ball game. Yes it is more dangerous, less popular, and the financial rewards are much smaller. But I think that rugby will make them bettter people. I can't say that about football.

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