Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Myth-match for the understrappers

One last - I promise - glance back at the World Cup, if only because I have read some of the press since, particularly the press on the English referee, Howard Webb.

It seems both the Dutch team and the Spanish team are angry at him for being too soft on the other side. The Dutch were awful and were lucky to be left with ten men on the pitch instead of eight. That is what the Spanish regret.

What the Dutch regret is that Iniesta, the best Spanish player on the night, might well have been sent off for retaliation, and the referee might possibly have awarded the Dutch a dubious penalty, not to mention the Dutch corner that was not given just before the Spanish - thank heaven - scored.

Seeing that both sides accuse Webb of bias towards the other I think we can treat his performance as even-handed.


Oh yes, and Webb was (have I mentioned this?) English. The Guardian reporter got his retaliation in before anyone even ventured near displays of vainglorious national pride, not that anyone did because The English press was not in the mood for whooping it up.

But why let that get in the way? The minute-by-minute reporter galloped on with happy self-satisfaction, showering Webb with ironic epithets from the start. A Guardian man must keep flashing his credentials otherwise people might think he was entirely the wrong sort...

There is little more loathsome in life than the flashing of credentials. In literary terms it is what Larkin called 'the talk of literary understrappers letting you see they know the right people.' He was talking - wrong-headedly I think - about what he termed the 'myth-kitty' that is, the use of Classical allusion and the quoting of other poems.

The football writer's myth-kitty is a lot less interesting than the one Larkin was dismissing, of course, but it does exist in a number of varieties not altogether detached from life outside football. Outside of the 'tabs', The Guardian is the place to go for it. It is the home of perfectly-pitched understrapping: the author of this particular minute-by-minute piece is the understrapper of understrappers.


Webb made one mistake that I saw: the corner. Otherwise he tried the best he could to keep the occasion going by not sending people off, especially since some of the most violent incidents happened early in the game. At this he was successful. The occasion did keep going. As for the spectacle, that never got started. Whether he was English or not Webb was perfectly competent.

And the Dutch, of course, have no right to complain about anything. Complaining compounds the disgraceful thuggishness and negativity of their display. It was definitely not like watching Brazil. Especially since they beat Brazil to get to the final.


Poet in Residence said...

I had this Webb business out with a friend of mine this morning.

On the morning news an Austrian sports so-called expert reckoned that Webb should have sent 3 Dutchmen off before half time.

Imagine the scenes in that stadium of 85,000 spectators, perhaps including 30,000 plus partisan Niederländer if that had been done!

It would have been not only a complete farce as a contest but it would have brought with it the high possibilty of a serious disturbance either in the stadium or outside afterwards.

For me, Webb played it exactly right, except for two mistakes: (1)he didn't show a red card for dangerous play when he should have done: the karate kick to the chest. (2) he was too hard with the sending off he did make.

Interesting that the SF2 (Swiss) commentator pointed out that Webb was 2009 Referee of the Year. This wasn't mentione on the Austrian news item of course. Mind you, ORF aren't exactly known for their research.

puthwuth said...

I'm sorry, but as a lifelong Guardian reader who finds more than enough to grumble about in that paper, I just don't see this, at all. Scott Murray refers repeatedly to 'England's Brave Wise Faultless Hero Howard Webb', which I don't see as Guardian condescension -- it's straightforward joshing of the not-just-tabloid instinct to see the Englishman as forever surrounded and done down by cheating foreigners (Uruguayans, for instance, are cheats, as the English media have decided, much to your justifiable outrage, George.) The wags who write the Fiver (and this is humorous writing -- it's not meant to be the serious match report) refer to 'England's Brave John Terry' in the same spirit. It's an amsuing antidote to the idiotically inflated register of Sky Sports, that idiot on ITV, and wotsisname on the BBC who isn't much better. What's wrong with that? And in fact if you scroll through the minute by minute commentary on the game, the writer *agrees* with Webb's decisions, most of the time. When he did get something badly wrong, like the neck-high challenge on the sainted Xabi Alonso (one of the three or four most skilful players I have seen in my life), our Guardian man writes 'Another minute, another yellow, De Jong sticking his studs into Alonso's chest! That could easily have been a red. Spain were three on one down the right before the whistle went, so that's doubly fortunate for Holland.' Again, what's so smarmy or stuck up here? I'm at a loss. A lot of sports writers in this country have some soul-searching to do now about the culture of absurd hyperbole (greatest league in the world etc) that made people believe England were about to win the world cup, but in the league table of journalistic villians I think Scott Murray is way, way down the list.

George S said...

Hmm, Puthwuth, you come close to convincing me but I still don't quite see the point of:

"MBM of England's Brave Wise Faultless Hero Howard Webb," writes Phil Sawyer, mistaking the concept of 'nation' for 'jingoistic media'.

15 min: Speaking of England's Brave Wise Faultless Hero Howard Webb, he gets his cards out for the first time. And it's a no-brainer of a decision, a yellow for Van Persie's second terrible challenge of the match, a late and high tackle on Capdevila.

17 min: England's Brave Wise Faultless Hero Howard Webb gets his yellow out for a second time, Puyol coming through Robben's right foot in order to clear the ball....

...There's a case to be made for letting play continue, what with this being a contact sport and all, but instead Webb rushes in waving his hands around like someone who has been on fire for three minutes and is running out of ideas re extinguishing the flames....

... "Do you still have a copy of that picture of Webb as a clown?" asks Oliver Pattenden. "I think I'd like to see it again." Happy to oblige, Oliver.

No brainer, running out of ideas and clown doesn't sound like praise to me. Not even approval. Not exactly.

I frankly hadn't heard anyone refer to Webb in jingoistic terms, or anywhere near. He is not even a much liked referee in England (but then which referee is?) Granted I was in Prague and listening to a German language commentary but if you can point me to the jingoistic media in which Webb is treated in heroic terms, I'll check it up.

Actually the English tab press is no more jingoistic than the tab press of any other country that is in with a chance. It's just that the terms of jingoism change from place to place.

The point about the EPL and the hype about that:

a) The EPL employs a great many foreign players for a start so the hype isn't about nationalism;

b) The teams employing the foreign players have indeed been very successful in international competitions, so that's not hype;

c) It isn't only the English press who say it is the best league in the world. Personally, I don't know about the best but it is one of the best. The reason some might claim it to be the best is that the top teams are likely to be given a decent challenge by the weaker ones, which is less likely in Spain or Italy.

d) One hyperbole, which is the usual Guardian myth-kitty reaction (it's crap) is no answer to another (it's the best).

dearieme said...

"Seeing that both sides accuse Webb of bias towards the other I think we can treat his performance as even-handed": oh bollocks; that's always a weak argument. The way to assess his performance is to watch it.

George S said...

Which I did. I thought it fair enough. Point out the weakness please.