April 16, 2012

I love football … well, I love watching it; I’ve never really been much good at it (even when I was young and thin) but this past weekend seems to have brought to the fore a number of issues that, in truth, have been dogging the game for some time. I’ve had an opinion about what we should do about them (in some instances, for years) but never had the forum, other than post-match chats in pubs or walking to the car, to share them with much of an audience. Well, now there’s Twitter and Blogs – Hello, world! So, 4 problems and a solution to each of those problems….

1. Football seems to think that it doesn’t have to operate to the normal rules of society.

If you get convicted of burglary you might get a suspended or community sentence if it is a first offence. However, get caught and convicted a second time and you will usually face prison. That makes common sense – and escalation of punishments as you show that you are unrepentant.

Seamus Coleman fouls Steven Gerrard - second yellow card?

In the incident that led to the free kick (from which Andy Carroll scored the winning goal for Liverpool  at the FA Cup Semi Final against Everton) Seamus Coleman fouled Steven Gerrard. The summariser for ESPN, commentating on the match, said, “Had he not already been on a yellow card he would have been booked for that foul challenge”. Where else other than football do you get a more lenient sentence for a second offence? This isn’t the first time such a comment has been made – it probably won’t be the last but, however you look at it, it is clearly ridiculous.

Solution: Referees need to grow a pair and realise that the football pitch is no different from anywhere else – second offences get punished MORE harshly than first offences.

2. More and more players are ‘simulating’ in order to gain an advantage.

Ok, let’s be blunt – by simulating I mean cheating. It is, potentially, the biggest threat to football in England since the hooliganism of the 70s and early 80s. It ruins matches, causes bad feeling between players, between supporters, between managers. It costs people their jobs as managers and coaches are sacked because their team wasn’t able to beat a team with a cheat in it.

I’m not in any way blind about this issue – just a fortnight ago, a player for my own team (Liverpool FC) decided to try and gain an unfair advantage by pretending that he’d been fouled by the opposition goalkeeper. You can judge for yourself if the keeper got anywhere near him or whether he dived …

Simulation? No; it's called cheating ... click on the pic to watch the video

But Carroll is not the only one. For two games in a row Ashley Young has deliberately dived in order to gain an advantage for his team. In the first game he was awarded a penalty AND had an opposition player (a fellow professional) sent off. In the most recent instance, he was awarded a penalty. On both occasions his team went on to win the game. In truth, young has history of trying to gain an unfair advantage – he was known for it when he played for his previous club, and has exaggerated contact when playing for his country, too. And we can’t pretend that these are the only 2 examples in English football…

Arsene Wenger (Manager of Arsenal FC) believes that the best solutions is a 3 match ban for any player who dives. But surely he, as a manager, should have the authority to tell his players NOT to dive – and, if he wants, he can ban his own players for three matches (unless the sanction doesn’t apply to him). For me, that is not enough. I have a solution that will eradicate the problem overnight…

But here’s the problem: I expressed my opinion that yesterday’s incident in which Young exaggerated WAS a penalty, which was rightly awarded, but that Young should have been booked for simulation as well. I got into conversation with someone who claimed to have refereed at international level who said that, had he awarded a penalty in an instance where a player had stayed on his feet, he would have lost his referee’s licence. I find that difficult to believe but, if players think that referees won’t give decisions unless they’re writhing on the ground ….

My Twitter conversation with Eric Ackermann, allegedly a referee.

Solution. If a player is shown to have simulated, dived, exaggerated to gain an unfair advantage then the team for which he plays has a 3 point deduction in order to penalise them. For example. Liverpool win 1-0 as a result of a free-kick awarded following a dive by a player. Video evidence is used retrospectively to prove that the player simulated. Liverpool lose 3 points (opponents are awarded 1 point). On another occasion, Liverpool win 2-1. Video evidence is used retrospectively to prove that a Liverpool player simulated. Liverpool are deducted 3 points, the opposing team gain a three points. On yet another occasion Liverpool lose 1-0. Video evidence is used retrospectively to prove that the player simulated to try and gain an advantage (even though none was gained – Liverpool have been rubbish at penalties recently!). Liverpool are deducted 3 points, the opposition retain their three points.

It is my contention that, faced with a situation in which clubs know that they will lose points if a member of their team dives/exaggerates/simulates then managers and coaches (and owners and chairmen) will ensure that it does not happen and, if it does, then a player would be unlikely to play for that club again. No other team would be tempted to buy him – cheats will be out of football very quickly. Problem solved.

3. Referees are unable to use the technology which is available to assist in their decision making

Chelsea’s second goal in their FA Cup semi final against Tottenham Hotspur was , to say the least, contentious. Did the whole of the ball cross the line? Did it heck. Within seconds of the goal being awarded, TV replays had proved that the ball didn’t cross the line (one could argue that the ball didn’t GET to the line, let alone cross it) but referee Martin Atkinson was unable to call on that evidence to back up his decision (or, in this instance, overturn it). Why not? I don’t accept that we need specific goal line technology for this. the normal TV cameras picked it up and provided proof with in seconds – certainly before the game re-started. A gross error of judgement has, again, changed the course of a football match.

The whole of the ball crossed the line? It didn't even GET to the line!

The argument against the use of technology is that it slows the game down – I reckon that if you were a player who truly believed that your goal attempt had crossed the line then you would very quickly hoof the ball out of play to engineer an opportunity for the 4th official to have a look.

Solution. a 4th official in the stands with access to the television camera feed (and there are cameras at every game now, remember) who can relay a decision based on tv evidence to the referee in seconds. If a decision is that close that it needs specialised goal line technology to prove something one way or another then the referee’s first call stands.

4. The Football Association Board  consistently fail to modernise the rules and laws (and their application).

Solution: Sack ’em


A Tough Week To Be Me…

April 13, 2012

There are times when it isn’t easy to be a Liverpool FC supporter. There are times when it isn’t easy to be a Christian. And if you’re both, well…

This week I have been tarred by two different brushes – one assumes that I’m a vile troll who wishes Alan Davies dead (and visited all kinds of nasty, indefensible abuse on the man through Twitter). The other assumes that, because I am a Christian, I am a homophobe who believes that being gay is an illness and can be cured. Both views of me are wrong – but you wouldn’t think so if all you knew about me was that I was a Christian Liverpool FC supporter and you read some peoples’ posts on Twitter!

Comedian and Actor - Alan Davies

Comedian and Actor - Alan Davies

Unlike, it would seem, many on Twitter, I quite enjoy ‘Jonathan Creek’ – a gentle, usually humorous, crime series in which Alan stars (starred?). He is also a regular on the massively popular quiz show ‘QI’ as well as being a stand-up comedian. As a ‘celebrity’ he is relatively high profile – and his love of Arsenal Football Club is well known. He’s a celebrity ‘gooner’ and regularly contributes to an Arsenal podcast. In the most recent episode, Alan made some crass, ill-advised, insensitive (in my mind) comments about Liverpool Football Club’s desire not to play a game of football on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster:

“Liverpool and the 15th, that gets on my tits that shit. What are you talking about, ‘We won’t play on the day’? Why can’t they? My mum died on 22nd August. I don’t stay in all day on 22 August.

“Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on? Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was – 1971?”

“Every interview [Dalglish] has given this season he looks like he wants to headbutt the interviewer. This tight-mouthed, furious, frowning, leaning-forward, bitter Glaswegian ranting: ‘Liverpool FC do not play on April 15th.’”

“Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life, in terms of football. It’s one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history. But it’s ridiculous that they refuse to play on that day any more.”

Maybe he didn’t know that the club always hold a memorial service on the anniversary – which ALL players and staff attend which would make actually fielding a team impossible. Maybe he was unaware that the fight for justice and honest answers has been on-going for 23 years, that the lies told about the fans were perpetrated by those who were supposed to be public servants or guardians of football, or maybe he just thought it was funny … whatever his reasoning he got it badly wrong. He apologised quite promptly. I tweeted him to say that I had accepted his apology and to apologise, on my own behalf, for those morons who were supposedly supporters of Liverpool FC who continued to rain horrible abuse down on him and his family.

(For anyone wondering why I think I have a right to accept his apology; read this blog post)

Alan chose not to retweet (RT) any of the messages from Liverpool fans offering apology or support although he flooded my timeline with RT after RT of disgusting comments directed at him. I suppose that is his right. But it distressed me to think that other people reading his RTs would assume that the morons threatening and abusing him were representative of the millions of Liverpool FC fans around the world (including me). They aren’t (and I suspect that many aren’t even LFC fans – just trolls). Still it’s not for Alan Davies to be concerned about me feeling upset – I can certainly understand how HE was feeling upset after reading some of the bile directed at him. Alan is entitled to his opinion. I’m entitled to disagree with it. Nobody is entitled to send disgusting abuse and death threats to someone else just because they disagree with what’s been said, or the way in which it’s been said. I didn’t do anything when he later posted a ‘joke’ picture via Twitter which could be taken to suggest that his apology wasn’t entirely sincere, but I got over it (remember that phrase!) I guess that’s life on Twitter. It’s clearly not always easy to be in the public eye. It’s also not easy to be a Liverpool FC supporter when you can’t get a ‘balanced reporting’ situation.

Some people are gay. Get over it.

And then yesterday I spent time watching all Christians being lumped together in one boat (I’ve digressed from the ‘tarring with the same brush’ theme) by those who assumed that the ‘Core Issues Trust’ and ‘Anglican mainstream’ represented the views of ALL Christians in the UK. These two groups had rented advertising space on some of London’s most travelled bus routes to respond to an advert that was placed there by Stonewall promoting equal marriage in the biggest advertising campaign of its type in the UK. Apparently believing that being gay is some sort of disease which can be cured by therapy, ‘Core Issues Trust’ and ‘Anglican mainstream’ (a misnomer if ever there was one if the Anglicans I know are anything to go by) the proposed bus adverts read “Not Gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” (did you remember that phrase I asked you to?)

the Core Issues Trust advert

The advert was, thankfully, pulled before it made it to the streets – although how that sits with my ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion however odious I might find it stance’ I’m not really sure. (actually, I am: they have a right to their opinion – I just don’t think they have a right to force their opinion on everyone else, Although I suppose the same should go for Stonewall … ) Maybe I’m just too liberal and wishy-washy for my own good. I should have learned after voting Lib-Dem in the last election…

In both these instances it’s the way that ‘twitterati’ assume the few speak for the many and can, therefore, ridicule everyone who shares any connection, however tangentially, with the extremist tweeters. And the retweeting of the extremist propaganda and/or bile merely exacerbates the situation and allows those who, I assume, are normally quite balanced in the usual day to day life to start swinging the lead with condemnatory/belittling/dismissive assumptions and pronouncements about ALL Christians and ALL LFC fans.

If anyone is wondering exactly where I stand on either of these two issues:

Firstly, I think Alan was wrong to say what he did in the way he did but think that not having the full facts (and thinking things through) was his only error. I would rather Liverpool FC forfeited the game than play on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Maybe Alan should have read this article or one of the many like it to get a bit more perspective.

Secondly, I believe that God loves us all, equally. Whether we are Gay or straight, Jew or gentile, slave or free, Mother Theresa or Osama Bin Laden. That’s difficult to understand sometimes, but I believe it. After all, if God hates gays so much, why does he keep making ’em?

So tomorrow will be the end of a tough week being me. And it’ll be the start of a long day – setting off in the early hours for a long drive.

Tomorrow I will be at Wembley on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. An all-Merseyside FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool versus Everton. I will be one person in a crowd that includes reds, blues and neutrals; a crowd that includes people of many faiths and people of none. I pray that we all get there, and get home, safely.

You’ll Never Walk Alone. Justice For The 96.

Job Opportunity – Children and Young Families Worker (Altrincham United Reformed Church)

April 11, 2012

One of the most satisfying aspects of my role is helping churches work through the process of whether a paid employee would benefit their mission to children and young people.

Altrincham URC

Altrincham United Reformed Church are nearing the end of that process and below are the details of the post.

The Children and Young Families Worker post is, initially, a three year contract and salary is in the range £18-21K (depending on experience/qualifications)

To apply, or to find out more details, click the link for an Application Pack (right click, Save Link As – to download a copy of the document to your computer.)