Being good at football is not an act of provocation
10:03 GMT, 12 December 2012
Say you could win a thousand pounds, right here, right now, and all you had to do was hit a bloke on the nose with a 2p coin from 20 yards.
Chances are, you couldn’t do it. It is quite hard to throw a 2p with any accuracy. It isn’t a cricket ball. Copper is quite light, but the surface area of the coin relatively large, meaning there is resistance and wind factor, plus your target is moving.
All things considered, if your financial well-being depended on a tuppenny vice you would end the day as poor as you started it.
Ready, aim, fire: Manchester United players were pelted with missiles as they celebrated the win over City
Abuse: Wayne Rooney was subjected to a torrent of bile by City fans as he prepared to take a corner
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So, there was in all likelihood significantly more to Rio Ferdinand’s injury, struck by a missile thrown by a member of the crowd in the Manchester derby, than mere dumb luck. The law of averages would have been at work, too.
For if the same prize was up for grabs but you could have a hundred shies with that 2p piece, well, the balance of probability would produce a different set of figures.
And looking at the footage from behind one goal on Sunday, Ferdinand would not have needed to dodge a single coin after Robin van Persie scored Manchester United’s winning goal, but a whole monetary shower.
At one stage in the second half, Wayne Rooney goes to take a corner from the left. Clearly visible is a hail of tiny missiles as he stands, back to the fans, ready to restart the play. And it is this bit of footage that kills, dead, the idea that player provocation played any part in the events of Sunday.
Rooney wasn’t taunting the home fans, he didn’t even turn to them. Met with the standard sea of angry, contorted faces as he went to take his kick, he merely rounded to face the game and got on with his job. So there was no excuse, no mitigation beyond hatred and jealousy.
A section of modern football supporters do not need a trigger to demonstrate their brutal irresponsibility. And celebrating an emotional late goal isn’t a trigger anyway.
A caller to the BBC’s 606 phone-in show on Sunday attempted to shift the blame for the events at the Etihad Stadium on to Manchester United’s players, for the way they responded to victory.
Incredibly, he was indulged by Alan Green, who allowed him his platform unchallenged, and even supplied a supporting anecdote.
He recalled the way Gary Neville once ran the length of the pitch at Old Trafford away from his team-mates, to celebrate a late winner, from Ferdinand, in front of Liverpool’s fans in the away end. Green was appalled by this. He painted a very moralistic portrait of how he would react, if he was ever in Neville’s position.
Cut: Rio Ferdinand was struck by a 2p coin, splitting the skin above his eye and drawing blood
Provoked, much: Gary Neville famously celebrated late United winner in front of Liverpool fans
Which, of course, he won’t be. None of us will. For what Green neglected to mention in his recounting of the incident, was the song the Liverpool supporters had been singing about Neville for much of that match, to the tune of London Bridge Is Falling Down, implying that he enjoyed a sexual relationship with his mother.
We can’t print it here and this is a pity, as to appreciate the full horror, one really needs to spell it out.
Those with vivid imaginations and strong stomachs may wish to deduce more from the fact the final word rhymes with glitter. Now we’re getting there.
So Green, and others, can pontificate and judge, but until they have had several thousand people inserting their name where Neville’s is, they have no clue how they would react to an event as vindicating and cathartic as a last-minute winning goal.
If thousands of people were insulting you and, mid-sentence, an event happened that silenced those voices and caused them great upset, might you not revel in it, just a little
And might you not, as Neville did, jump high in the air in pure elation and run towards the tormentors, gripping your Manchester United shirt and holding its badge out in defiance, while emitting a roar of pure rage
In John Carpenter’s film Escape From New York, a kidnapped President played by Donald Pleasence finally gets his revenge on the preening gangland overlord who captured and tortured him (see below). As he guns him down, he screams in mockery and vengeance the words he was made to recite under duress: ‘Aay, number one! You’re the Duke, you’re the Duke! You’re ‘A’ Number 1.’
Carpenter wanted to show the savage inside every man. That goal against Liverpool brought out the darker side of Neville. Pushed to his limit, he reacted. Yet players did not start this war.
John Carpenter’s Escape From New York
Being good at football is not in itself an act of provocation. Nor is scoring a goal and celebrating it.
Some of us would like to see more smiles and less snarls when this happens, because Sir Alex Ferguson gets easily as much grief as his players but always reacts to a Manchester United goal with untrammelled glee, but as long as no scorer deliberately instigates a riot, then all’s fair.
On Sunday, United celebrated in front of their own fans, who happened to be adjacent to a Manchester City section. There was nothing provocative in what they did, unless winning a contentious derby match late is now reclassified as incitement.
Maybe if the scores are tied, or close, with 10 minutes to spare, the referee should blow early to prevent anybody getting overwrought.
The reaction of Phil Jones has been mentioned by some City supporters, and it is true the defender did run the length of the pitch to join the celebrations, looking at the home fans and gesturing for them to now be quiet; but a couple of observations.
First, Jones was deep on the right, and United’s little party took place high on the left. So the idea that Ferdinand was hit by a coin because of something Jones was invisibly doing on the other side of the field is preposterous.
Second, Jones had spent the bulk of the match, 85 minutes, on the substitutes’ bench where, one imagines, he had heard and felt the full force of hatred from the home support. Might this be why he was a little more caught up in the moment than usual
Nobody goes to Paddy Crerand for the impartial take on United, but his outrage during a radio interview when confronted with a lot of mealy-mouthed questions that appeared to place the blame on the visiting players was understandable.
Yet this is not about United and City or United and Liverpool. This is not about any individual club at all. Only a fool believes that what happened on Sunday is not repeated, in varying degrees of intensity, around the country each weekend.
Reaction: Phil Jones has been accused after he ran to join his delighted team-mates
This is about players and fans. It was United under attack this week, it could be City on the receiving end in the return fixture later this season.
(When Ferguson recalled the venom recently directed at his players in the derby and at Chelsea, he conveniently forgot that a City player had been hit by an object thrown at Old Trafford in 2009.)
And what is the crime these young men have committed They’re good at football. They can put the ball in the net. They achieve the point of the game. They possess the dedication, the discipline, the work ethic and talent, to stand on the pitch and perform.
And when they do, apparently, their skill is too provocative for some tastes. What a perverse little society we have become.
Handball’s plight proves legacy talk is a sham
So, as predicted, it meant nothing. Handball, volleyball, water polo, all the other team sports that Great Britain embraced during the Olympics, entering inferior home teams so we could pointlessly tick boxes for participation, have ended in a funding dead end.
A policy that rewards success and starves failure was always going to splutter out this way.
What was the point of starting a handball team from scratch and taking up a place that could have gone to a stronger, deserving nation if the journey ended after 2012
This was a gimmick; a publicity exercise; an act of sporting theft, considering some deserving athletes will never compete in the Olympics now because Great Britain blocked the way.
It is also very harsh on administrators. If only success is going to increase funding for volleyball, then the sport has no chance of growing. Volleyball is played across 218 federations —more than football — with participation estimated at 998million 10 years ago.
No way past: GB handball teams, built from scratch for the Olympics, have reached a funding dead end
It is fair to say the rest of the world has a head start.
Some sports are harder to crack.
Take rugby union. A small country like Georgia, with reasonable investment, could grow quite quickly on the world stage because rugby participation is limited. Georgia could not make the same impact in football because so many countries play it, and have strong development systems in place.
So when Britain got serious about track cycling it was in the knowledge that the performance ladder could be climbed relatively quickly due to lower participation numbers.
Not true of volleyball, nor even handball, played by nine times as many people as rugby. So, unless different funding rules were to apply post-Olympics, it was all pretence.
The cheerleaders will keep waving their little flags and telling us the Olympics were the days of our lives, but strip away the euphoria of the moment and much of the legacy talk is a sham. The sports were had, the athletes were had and so were you, if you thought it would end any other way.
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT
The pressure felt by India’s cricketers going into the fourth Test in Nagpur will be very familiar to England’s underachieving footballers.
Blame for the first back-to-back home Test defeats since 2000 — India have now lost 10 of their last 16 Tests — is being placed on the riches of the Indian Premier League.
It's your fault: The IPL and its big contracts for foreigners has been blamed for India's poor form
Earning too much and caring too little. Now where have we heard that before And, yes, it seems a compelling argument when young players who have not even faced a ball in Test cricket have already earned over 4million from the IPL.
Yet, just as with English football, it is a sweeping rationalisation. India’s problem is that the qualities in which they excel — batting and spin bowling — are among England’s strengths, too. Wickets prepared to get the best out of the home side equally suit the visitors.
The ferocity of the criticism levelled at India’s cricketers in defeat suggests it is rather simplistic to claim that the money from the IPL, like that of football’s Premier League, makes losing palatable. It just means India’s players can afford bigger gates on their houses; which they are going to need, by the sound of it.
Usual suspects in line 2020
Remember when English football stood tall against Sepp Blatter and FIFA That didn’t last long.
Now Football Association chairman David Bernstein greets the old fraud like a long-lost pal, and cosies up to his UEFA equivalent Michel Platini at every opportunity.
2020 vision: Michel Platini has announced the European Championships in eight years will be cross-continent
The FA reaction to Platini’s plan to hurl the 2020 European Championship across the continent was not a denouncement, more like an excited squeal.
‘Ooh, can we have the final and the semi-finals, Mr President Ooh please, please, please, please, please.’
Yet the only way Platini’s idea would have any worth at all is if it took the competition to the parts of Europe that have never hosted it, and probably won’t get the chance now the format has expanded to include an unwieldy 24 teams.
Cities such as Dublin, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bucharest, Tblisi, Prague or Istanbul. This, however, is the option that makes it super-expensive for supporters.
So London has a good chance of reward, as have Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Rome, Paris. You know, the usual. Not that the FA care. They tried having principles once. Turns out there wasn’t enough money in it.