Welcome to my blog. There's no particular theme I'm just posting random thoughts and things that interest me

Sunday, 15 April 2012

I wrote this in March 2010, a few months before Frank Lampard's 'goal' against Germany in the World Cup was not given. In spite of that incident, and the others that have followed, including the one today at Wembley by Chelsea against Spurs, I stand by my view...

Say NO to video evidence in football

It’s Sunday 13 July 2014. The World Cup Final at The Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro. England v Germany.

It’s the last minute of extra time with the teams locked at 2-2 and England substitute Daniel Sturridge is clean through on the German goal. As he’s poised to shoot the referee blows his whistle and brings play back. Germany have called for their last video referral.

They’re claiming a goal after Lukas Podolski’s snap shot cannoned off the bar and bounced towards the line moments before 'keeper Joe Hart’s long clearance released Sturridge. Germany are convinced they’ve scored but England are also considering a referral as video evidence has revealed that the corner that led to Podolski’s shot should have been a goal kick after brushing a German boot on the way out.

After viewing video replays from 9 different angles over 4 minutes the goal line evidence is inconclusive and play resumes with a drop ball in the centre circle. The match peters out and the Germans go on to win on penalties.

Far fetched? Maybe the bit about England getting to the World Cup final but the video referral? Not if FIFA bows to the views of the likes of Arsene Wenger, Terry Venables, Mark Hughes and Alex McLeish to name but four of the managers calling for football to follow the likes of cricket, rugby league and American football and use video technology in some form or other.

After Thierry Henry’s infamous handball knocked the Republic of Ireland out of the World Cup, Wenger insisted that referees can't cope and need external help: "Football accepts that a billion people see it, one guy doesn't see it and it is the one who prevails. It cannot work."

Last Saturday, after his Birmingham side were denied an 81st minute goal after Liam Ridgewell’s header was adjudged not to have crossed the line, manager Alex McLeish said: “In key moments like that, they are actually doing the officials a disservice by not using [video technology].”

Ironically, McLeish’s rant came on the same day that FIFA announced that they'd ruled out the introduction of video technology to assist officials during games thereby ending all further experiments with goal-line technology. Most of the response of the press was that this was just another example of how out of step FIFA is with what football fans really want. The Daily Telegraph’s headline read “What are FIFA’s technophobes afraid of” and sarcastically mocked FIFA by suggesting that FIFA thought football was already perfect and couldn’t be improved.

Football isn’t perfect but I think FIFA’s decision is nothing less than the saviour of the game we love. If goal line technology was introduced it wouldn’t be long before teams were allowed a set number of video reviews similar to those already in place in American football and recently introduced in cricket – farcically in the case of the non dismissal of Graeme Smith in the final England v South Africa test match in Johannesburg.

FIFA’s main reason for rejecting technology in football is that it would disrupt the flow of the game. Of that there can be no doubt. The great genius of football is the fact that the game can change so quickly. Brian Clough famously said it only takes a second to score a goal. He was only exaggerating a bit. Wayne Rooney’s brilliant goal against Arsenal at The Emirates this season was scored a mere 9.2 seconds after Ji-Sung Park had won the ball in his own penalty area.

Advocates of technology say that the money in the game means you have to move with the times and that’s it’s too important not to use because football is now big business.

But football isn’t about money, it’s about sport. That’s the whole point of it. It’s not the fact that football is big business that makes us go straight to the back page of the newspaper every morning or tune to Sky Sports news every time we turn on the TV. And it’s not because football is big business that people like Southampton fan Vince Reeves recently risked missing the birth of his first child so that he could keep his place in the queue to get tickets for the recent 5th round FA Cup match against Portsmouth.
Football isn’t real life, it’s a long running soap opera that brings out every human emotion: joy, despair, frustration, deceit, respect, love, fear….the list is endless. It appeals to us on an instinctive level. A teams of humans against another team of humans officiated by humans.

The call for technology is just an attempt to bring football into real life. To bring order to chaos, to impose the CCTV culture of our age onto sport. FIFA should be applauded for standing firm against this. What makes football so compelling is its innate unpredictability. Maradona’s “hand of god” and the referee’s failure to spot it are as much part of the game as the sublime goal that followed.

Football teaches teamwork, loyalty and discipline but most of all it teaches everyone who has ever watched or played a game that football, like life, is not fair. Sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. You can appeal to a higher being, in football the referee, and sometimes he answers your prayers and sometimes he doesn’t. On occasion he get’s it plain wrong just like in life the big man upstairs doesn’t help when your wife runs off with your best mate or your prized BMW gets nicked.

Pundits on TV say things like the referee “should” have awarded a penalty or free-kick or a player “should” have passed or “should” have scored. It’s as if there is a blueprint that ought to be followed. One day a game will be played when technology will make sure that every refereeing decision is correct, every pass will be perfect and every chance that “should” be scored will go in. It will be the most perfect game ever, and also the most boring. Football will have died.

Fast forward again to the Maracana. The referee hasn’t blown and Sturridge coolly rounds the keeper and slots the ball into an empty net. England have won the World Cup for the first time in 48 years. Video replays show that Sturridge was marginally offside when he received the ball but hey, that’s football.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

London 2012 hype is getting to me

Cynical Londoner I may be but I think I'm coming down with Olympic fever

Ben Johnson stole my Olympic innocence in 1988. Along with the rest of the world, I watched open-mouthed when the Canadian sprinter won the 100 metres gold in Seoul. He hadn’t just beaten his bitter rival Carl Lewis. He had destroyed him and crushed the world record in the process. The greatest run in history! 

I can still see him now: whirling Road Runner legs, right arm raised high in victory and huge bulging eyes, blazing like burning cannonballs. Except a second glance at that crazed glare and his sideways smile and you didn’t need a scientist to tell you he was a drugs cheat. 

It was as plain as when you looked at one of the syringed East German swimmers who were as big and scary as grizzlies and almost as hairy. Johnson was banned for a while, then ran in the next Olympics, and later got banned again. I had already stopped watching.

It wasn’t only the cheating. It was the fact that just because a couple of nerdy looking blokes from Lymington had won the Men’s Star Team Sailing (whatever that was) we were a nation of Nelsons all of a sudden. Plus the way old women at bus stops would claim they had always loved hockey and didn’t Sean Kerly have nice legs, to say nothing of his stick work. 

So when we were given the 2012 Olympics, I wasn’t the only cynical Londoner rolling his eyes. I knew we were in for five years of propaganda. Forget the cost and the chaos.  This was the greatest thing to happen to Britain since Henry V was practising his archery at Agincourt. Or so we were told.

Once the Games start, the roads will be blocked, the Tube jammed and annoying tourists will stop you every few yards asking how to get to the Olympic village. Some chance - as if any self-respecting Londoner even knows where Stratford is, or would admit it in public if they did.  

For all that, the Olympic hype is starting to get to me. I still know the opening ceremony will be an embarrassing fish supper compared to Beijing’s delicate banquet. But the aerial shots of London will be breathtaking. Half the world will wish they lived here. St. Paul’s, conveniently cleansed of Occupy protesters, will look magnificent. 

I almost feel guilty now when I see wholesome Becky Addlington and shy Jessica Ennis staring at me from the back of cereal boxes. Maybe not all the competitors will be injecting steroids behind the bike sheds after all. 

I am coming down with Olympic fever and once the Games start, I may have to take to the sofa. 

I’ll fight it of course, like a true Londoner. But then one day the TV will be on and the commentator will be yelling that plucky Kerry from Kidderminster has just won a gold medal and is the best in the world, THE BEST IN THE WORLD, at Greco-Roman canoeing or short course artistic pistol shooting or something. All those early mornings practicing her triple drainpipe were not in vain.

And the BBC will play a montage of our Kerry’s proudest day, with dreamy shots of the Mall or Tower Bridge, set to a swooping anthem by Elbow. The crowd will be singing God Save the Queen and waving those silly little union jacks and I won’t be able to resist anymore. I’ll be staring at the screen as bug-eyed as Ben Johnson, with a lump in my throat, holding back the tears. Innocent once again. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Where are the Protest Songs?

Rioting youths, economic chaos, Margaret Thatcher everywhere you look – it’s like the 1980s all over again. Except for the music.

Margaret Thatcher is hard to avoid at the moment. First there’s Meryl Streep giving the Iron Lady a humanity she never showed in 12 years as Prime Minister. And then there are the newspaper columns by grey-haired old Tories calling for a state funeral when Lady T, (or if reports of her mental health are anything to go by, “Lady gaga”), finally keels over.
For many, her death will come thirty years too late. In the days when striking miners were burning her effigy and anti-poll tax marchers were battling the police up and down the country, millions would have celebrated Thatcher’s funeral like the winning of the World Cup.

Musicians wrote songs fantasising about her death. Morrissey dreamed about seeing “Margaret on the guillotine”. And Elvis Costello spoke for many with the lyrics:

“And when they finally put you in the ground
I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”

Of course that was back in the bad old days of the 1980s when British soldiers were dying in a pointless war thousands of miles from home, the country was in economic disarray and out of control youths were rioting in our city centres. How times change…

Musicians weren’t just singing about burying Maggie though. They were singing about their lives and the society they lived in, too.

When rioters sent the Liverpool suburb of Toxteth up in flames in 1981, the UK’s number one single was Ghost Town by The Specials, who sang:

“This town, is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place, is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can't go on no more
The people getting angry.”

During last summer’s riots, as kids in designer hoodies looted shops for flat-screen TVs and the latest Nike trainers, Cher Lloyd’s Swagger Jagger topped the charts. It opened with the words:

“Swagger jagger, swagger jagger
You should get some of your own
Count that money, get your game on
Get your game on, get ya, get ya, game on.”

I’ll admit, I have no idea what “swagger jagger” means so I may be missing the point - perhaps Simon Cowell’s protégé was making a heartfelt political statement.

Life in Britain in 2012 is like life in Britain in the 1980s in a lot of ways, but not when it comes to music. When the Sex Pistols yelled:

“I am an anti-Christ,
I am an anarchist”,

millions of alienated Britons, bitter about their job prospects at a time when there were three million people unemployed, screamed out with them.

Where are today’s protest songs?

Occupy London and the recent student marches show that people care about what is going on. But their dissent will never get support from the mainstream media. That’s why music is so important. It’s a rallying cry for anyone trying to challenge the established order, just as it was when Billy Bragg growled his anti-Falklands war song Islands of No Return and The Jam railed against social injustice on A Town Called Malice.

I’m not saying Rizzle Kicks shouldn’t “do the hump” or Coldplay sing about Paradise. But who is giving a voice to the ASBO generation? Or the students with debts they’ll still be paying in middle-age and the soldiers coming home in body bags?

If we want music that is going to try to change the world, do we really have to wait for the next Margaret Thatcher?

This post is reproduced from the article in this month's edition of Kingston University's Mouth magazine  www.mouth-online.com