Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Is the Football Association Bringing Our Great Game Into Disrepute?

Following the debacle of the Carling Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea I can sympathise with Arsene Wenger entirely at the way the Football Association conducted their "investigation". In the now well screened handbag incident it would appear that the linesman (sorry referee's asssisant) was telling porkies when he said Adebayor had thrown a punch. It could mean that the assistant needed to change his optician because he certainly couldn't tell the difference between a player with a kind of dreadlocks hair style and a player who has been almost scalped. Adebayor had every reason to be angered, refusing to leave the pitch after a dismissal that was blatantly wrong. So too did Wenger after the FA had failed to accept the television evidence to back their appointed "line judge" instead. Wenger was further angered by the suggestion that the two managers had trespassed on to the pitch without permission in order to add to the incident. From my viewpoint in my comfortable lounge at home I immediately came to the conclusion that the intention of both managers was to try and separate the players and not to add their weight to the fisticups.

But isn't the truth something the Football Association always tries to avoid in favour of their own version of what they decide has happened? The Association, it has to be said, does tend to favour a certain club from Manchester while Arsenal (and I admit to a certain biase) are always branded the villains. Arsene Wenger is often accused of allowing his players to be out of control, an endearment that has led to so many red cards over the last ten years. But, if we are honest, and we stop to analise each and every one of these incidents you have to reach the conclusion that a high percentage of the dismissals were completely unjustified. How many times can we also conclude that the referee brandishing one red card after another has got it completely wrong? Referees however are rarely brought to task for their mistakes; to the contrary the FA will back their trustees to the hilt.

The problem of money; far too much of it, must be introduced to the equation. It has become far too important and this has created a win at all costs attitude amongst managers and their players. Of course football is a business, a business that plays to high stakes like Monopoly money and players will fight each other in order to win an advantage. But although this might be the case very few football "punch ups" are serious and most are caused by a rash, spur of the moment, action by one player on another. If a player is through on goal and is pulled back by the cuff of his shirt then surely it is little more than a human reaction to turn and retaliate? Ask yourself; if somebody pulled you away from a bar by your shirt tails as you were about to buy a drink wouldn't you turn on that person in anger? I think so. Football is and has always been a highly charged game that is played by men (sorry girls)and a certain level of retaliation has always been, shall I say, a "healthy" part of the game. In the 1960s when i first started to take an interest in the game you could witness some appalling fouls but seldom did anyone get sent off. The first time I saw a player dismissed, in fact both were given their orders, was when Ron Yeats of Liverpool and the late Joe Baker were sent off at Highbury after the former pulled the other down in the centre circle. Baker's natural reaction was to swing a punch at the Liverpool centre half because little Joe would have been through on goal. This was the only time I saw a player dismissed in a period spanning many years. But now of course almost every match has at least one player given his marching orders and the dismissals are ruining the game. Is the game any more violent than it was fifty years ago; I think not. It is probably true that modern day players have become a little bit more crafty, able to con the officials more easily, but violent, no.

I think that it is time that the FA took a break and stepped back to review the conduct of the players that fall within its' jurisdiction. They should take stock of the situation and review the hows and whys of red card incidents to reach a conclusion as to whether or not they were all really necessary. The great game is certainly losing out from players recieving bans, more especially those players that are subsequently proved to be unjustifiably sent off or cautioned. With every decision resulting in a fine for those deemed responsible everything becomes answerable to the cash cow. Results obviously suffer when clubs are missing key players and the fans are also deprived of seeeing the strongest teams being fielded.

I believe that the time is right for the FA to withdraw from the process of punishing clubs and players. Instead I propose that any disciplinary measures should be metered out by a body that is independent of any FA biase. Perhaps this way the system might become a good deal fairer although it would lead to a lot less money from fines falling into the Football Association's laps.

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