Saturday, 3 July 2010

Breaking rules: doing and being

I wasn't going to come back to football. Vain hope! The competition is still on and I watch when I can. But this post is not entirely about football. Football is just the occasion.

As I said earlier in a comment box my affections had been transferred to Ghana for much the same reasons that the affections of many others had. The competition is in Africa, Ghana was the last African team, and they were very good, in fact quite spectacularly good in patches - tough, fresh, full of skill, intelligence and heart while remaining touchingly vulnerable. Yesterday evening they were playing Uruguay

It was a marvellous and dramatic match, now one, now the other side in the ascendancy, the greatest drama coming with the last touch of the match in extra time. Ghana were awarded a dubious free-kick, the ball pinged around the penalty area at very close range and as the ball was about to go over the line, the Uruguay forward, Luis Suarez. handled the ball to keep it out. The ball was coming from close range. He raised his hand (distinctly not the Hand of God) and knocked it away. Suarez was immediately sent off, Ghana were awarded a penalty and that should have been that. It should have been but the leading player on the Ghana side, the admirable Asamoah Gyan, missed it. The ball hit the bar and went over.

So it went to penalties and Gyan, with remarkable courage took the first and scored. But others missed so Uruguay won in the end.

What followed was odd. It was far from the first time in football that an outfield player had handled on the line to prevent a goal. Such incidents are not uncommon and every supporter of every team will recall such occasions. What normally happens is that the player gets sent off, a penalty is awarded and either it is scored or it isn't. Those are the rules. There aren't any other rules.

What followed on this occasion however, was cries of CHEAT! and demands for the goal to be retrospectively awarded. The cheat story ran and is still running this morning.

Suarez can have had less than a second to do what he did. He was behind another player who had instinctively raised his hands. He raised his. He cannot have thought through the consequences because there wasn't time. People break the rules of a game and they are punished for it. Suarez did wrong and was punished.

The terms for breaking a rule in football are committing a foul or committing an infringement. The word cheat is not used because it has moral implications beyond the occasion. It refers not to action but to character.

The point is this. Had Suarez not been South American, had not most people wanted Ghana to win, there would have been nothing of this. If it had been Ashley Cole or Matthew Upson on the line he would not have been called a cheat. If it had been one of the Ghana backs he would not be called a cheat either. But then Suarez is a villainous South American isn't he, a (whisper it) greasy dago. So it is not what he did but what he is that counts. He did not commit a foul. He is a cheat.

We know what the rules are. But we take a normal incident and direct all our hatred at the 'greasy dago' we want to disgrace above and beyond the rules. That is called prejudice.

We know the rules regarding handling on the line. But we want the rules changed just on this occasion so it suits us. That is called cheating.


Adrian Slatcher said...

I was puzzled by the "cheat" thing - as it surely only applies (if even then) when its deliberately hidden from the referee. What happened here was that the punishment - which would usually be a goal and a player down for the rest of the match didn't happen because the shot was missed and it was the last minute. And as you say, it was a dubious free kick! Great drama though - reminder of what football is always capable of down to the last kick.

J.Marles said...

I agree, it was just a mistake. Yes, it would have been nice for an African side to get through to the semi-finals for the first time but I thought the UK media coverage was a bit over the top in its bias towards Ghana. What about Uruguay? It's won the World Cup twice, yet it only has a population of three and a half million. That's the same as Wales. Uruguay must be one of the greatest sporting underdogs of all time. Plus, they invented tango along with Argentina. What's not to like?

(On the other hand, fans and media in the Hispanophone world can be equally bad. In the Valencia Grand Prix last weekend, Lewis Hamilton accidentally overtook the safety car and was penalised for it but the penalty didn't affect his position in the race. His Spanish rival Fernando Alonso - who lost out - was furious, claiming the grand prix had been "manipulated" and the Spanish press has taken up his cause. Since Hamilton happens to be black as well as English, there are some nasty comments from some of the nastier Spanish fans out there about the alleged "dirty cheat". But the truth is he just made an instinctive mistake like Suarez and Alonso, like Ghana, was the victim of bad luck).

George S said...

Agree with both obviously.

Despite tradition I don't claim hypocrisy as a peculiarly English vice, JM. There other hypocrisies far more vicious than the English kind. It just sits a little too comfortably with roast beef and plain boiled veg.

A marvellous match with much the marvel at otherwise, BR.

The Plump said...

There is a case for football to learn from Rugby League - play continues when injured players are treated on the field, dissent is punished by the penalty being moved forward 10 metres, video replays are used etc. But football could also consider the equivalent of a penalty try. If foul play has prevented the certain scoring of a try, then a try rather than a penalty can be awarded. It would be nice to see a penalty goal in such instances.

The referee did everything right, but the punishment did not fit the crime as the match was effectively decided by the handball.

A wonderful match though and weren't Germany magnificent today? Much for English football to consider.

George S said...

There is a lot that could be considered. Technology is already used in rugby, cricket and tennis and there have been cameras at the end of 100 metres / yards sprints for a very long time. You could have all the things mentioned, Plump, including penalty goals. I'm all for that. But you'll only get them if FIFA, meaning Sepp Blatter, wants it, and Blatter looks to me to be the last word in smug, lazy corruption: conservatism out of laziness.

The punishment could, of course, have fitted the crime if Gyan had scored the penalty. It would have been terminal punishment too as the last kick of the match at a time when Uruguay had been doing most of the attacking. And, of course, the free kick that led to it wasn't a free kick.

I don't think the rules in themselves provide fairness - it is the equal application of the rules that provides that. The rest is just the game.

Very very sad for Ghana. But it is not as if something especially bad or unfair had happened to them. Only in dramatic terms. Don't do it, Hamlet! Don't drink the poison! Don't take the penalty!

George S said...

Oh, and Germany. 4-1 doesn't look quite so bad now, does it. No, but it makes the Germans look very good, which they are.

I think that spirit, confidence and teamwork are the product of youth that has nothing to prove and has no huge reputations to shelter behind. And cool heads.

Then you begin to roll out the traditional, clichéd German virtues, which I would admire had they only been applied in more admirable ways in the past.

Gwil W said...

When I left the porty-mic I walked round the corner and saw a crowd gathered on a footpath outside the large window of a pizza restaurant. There was a large TV screen behind the bar and the penalty shootout was just about to begin. Naturally, George, I "held my thumbs" for Ghana, as I remembered an earlier one of your posts in which you said you were supporting them. Unfortunately I didn't see the 'cheat' incident. But there are rules in football, as in every other sport. And the referee and his touch judges are there to enforce them to the best of their ability. I think the standard of refereeing has been very good on the whole.
I like the attitude of the Brasil manager (at least I think it was the Brasilmanager but it doesn't really matter who it was) when asked for his comment after the defeat by Holland: That's football. Somebody has to win.

Note that, George. Somebody has to win. Not the negative Somebody has to lose, attitude.

And I have also liked Maradonna. I shall miss his antics. His jumping up like a spring and holding his head. But he hugged his deated players. That's important. It's important for the fans to see that.

So far, I'm pretty impressed with this world cup. It's one of the better tournaments.

Billy C said...

So, a goal is awarded because it hits the hand of a player. Then we come to the decision as to whether it was deliberate or instinctive or ball to hand. So, what could well happen is that a ball to hand incident would be punished by a penalty goal. It would happen. And then the furore goes on.

1) I'm of the opinion that the free kick that was awarded to the Ghanaians was not a free kick. (Call for video evidence because it was part of the build up to the goal.)

2) The handball was instinctive and there is a case that had he not parried it with his hands, it would have hit his head and ricocheted over the bar. (Call for video evidence and technology like they have a cricket to determine the flight of the ball and how it would have reacted had his hands not made contact.)

3) Let things lie and just get on with the game or we'll end up with a sterile, stop-start game that is constantly interupted by calls for video evidence.

And, just where do you stop applying video evidence? It is as legitimate to call for a re-run of a foul because of the amount of cheating that goes on in the game as it is to determine whether or not a deliberate handball is deliberate or not.

We might as well have no referees, no assistant referees, and instead, have someone watching a tv screen and blowing a vuvuzela every time an infringement is spotted :)

George S said...

We might as well have no referees, no assistant referees, and instead, have someone watching a tv screen and blowing a vuvuzela every time an infringement is spotted :)

I volunteer, Billy. Just pass me that vuvuzela and I'll give them va-va-voom.

I don't think we need have video evidence throughout. For big games that were being covered by television we could have three appeals per side per game, or have an official just watching that allowing communication with the ref. That's not hard. It works in rugby, as Plump say.

The difficulty would be in games not covered by smart cameras, games that would become second class from a technological point of view. But maybe we all know that there are such games.

And I looked at the Foster blog and noted the piece of Stoke on YouTube.

Incidentally, every time I looked at Paraguay I thought I was watching Stoke, because of the similar kit.

Could that be the new Stoke chant? Not 'It's just like watching Brazil!' but 'It's just like watching Paraguay!'

Billy C said...

We've got a new kit this season, George. We look like Paraguay from the front and Liverpool from the back. Ugh to the latter!

I understand your reasoning re video evidence etc, and I'm not against it outright. But I think the incident we're debating wouldn't come under that remit. I don't say this because I'm English, but a ball crossing the line is, probably, the only video evidence I would allow into the game.

Yes, the video I put on Stephen's site shows cynicism and I have no problem with that particular foul being punished by a red card as it is today. That's sufficient, just as the red card and awarding a penalty is sufficient for the offence Luis Suarez committed. And, like you, I was disgusted at the media reaction to what happened for the same reasons you were.

I wouldn't trust you with a vuvuzela. Like me, you're mad enough as it is. :)

Billy C said...

"I understand your reasoning re video evidence etc, and I'm not against it outright. But I think the incident we're debating wouldn't come under that remit. I don't say this because I'm English, but a ball crossing the line is, probably, the only video evidence I would allow into the game."

I should have added that if video evidence for other things had been allowed at the time, Stoke would have played at Wembley in an FA Cup Final. We had to suffer a late equalizer against Arsenal when the linesman ignored the most blatant offside decision of all time when an Arsenal player was ten yards offside, but was deemed to be onside because a man walking at the side of the pitch selling ice creams, wearing white the same as Stoke, played him onside. That was 1972 and it still rankles today with every single Stoke fan who was around at the time. But, such is football, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Gwil W said...

Holland (my tip, as George will verify) now in the final - courtesy of an offside goal.

That's football.

"It's a funny old game," as Fergie said at Bayern, and he's right.

George S said...

Yes - and I must admit I was rooting for Uruguay, a country the size of Wales (nota bene Gwilym). The Dutch just about deserved it but I was delighted the Uruguayans got a second.

And I reckon Forlan is a good shout for man of the tournament.

The offside - one of those sometimes given, sometimes not. Probably more often given than not.

Gwil W said...

I applaud Uruguay, winners of the very first World Cup, and today deservedly into the 3rd place playoffs.

Come on Wales! Where's the spirit of 1958!

Ivor Alchurch, John Charles, Mel Charles, Jack Kelsey ....

Gwil W said...

Viva L'Espana!

So now we know: Spain v. Holland.

The two best teams in the finals. Just like it should be.

I'm sticking with my original pick Holland - what else can I do? - but Spain are class. It was pure chess and Spain were Bobby Fischer.

Inthe final I think Holland will nevertheless nudge it. Benefit of an extra day of rest.