FA Cup 5th Round Replay: Blackburn 1 – Arsenal 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
March 1st, 2007 • 12:10 pm

We didn’t get to see last Sunday’s Carling Cup final here in Canada, but of course I followed it on-line and we got to see the highlights on TV later on.

It was a bitter defeat, but it was nowhere near as depressing as the FA Cup 5th round replay last night. This match was particularly depressing for a variety of reasons, and the fact that it effectively marks the end of Arsenal’s season (barring a somewhat miraculous recovery in the Champions’ League) is only one of them.

What was most depressing, I think, was that this game was a rather perfect illustration of all that is wrong with the game in England these days. It is quite clear that negative tactics and physical bullying are the way to achieve success these days. Referees consistently turn a blind eye to blatant fouling and make absolutely no effort to promote actual football playing in the game in England.

Is it really any surprise that there are so few English players playing abroad, and that England has had so little success on the international stage in recent times?

Arsène Wenger is indeed to be commended for his persistence and convictions, but really, it is becoming quite clear that, without widespread respect for the basic rules of the game, there is very little hope of success for his particular brand of football in England.

Yes, physical battles can be entertaining in their own right, from time to time. But ultimately they are not what the game is all about.

And when you then see the hugely unfair treatment applied to Arsenal players following the overblown “brawl” at the end of the Carling Cup final on Sunday, you can only shake your head in disbelief. If Éboué is indeed guilty of a slight slap on the back on Wayne Bridge’s head, why is Wayne Bridge not guilty of blatant exaggeration of his resulting “injury”? How is the latter any less obvious in video replays than the former?

It makes absolutely no sense. What is happening today, with Frank Lampard having actually just enough decency to admit that he was not hit by Adebayor, is indeed mildly interesting, because it puts the FA in a very awkward situation, but there is little doubt of what the ultimate outcome of all this will be. The Arsenal players will be punished disproportionately, and the big bullies will continue to get away with both cynical fouling and blatant theatrics.

I am not saying that the issue of arbitration based on video replays is an easy one. But surely if the FA can punish players retrospectively, based on video evidence, for violent conduct that was not caught by the referee during the game, then similarly the FA should punish players retrospectively for blatant theatrics for which the video evidence is unequivocal. Otherwise, the spirit of the game might just as well be flushed down the toilet.

I am also not saying that Arsenal players are not occasionally guilty of theatrics themselves. But we have to look at the whole picture here. The whole picture is that quality football is being killed by big, “efficient” bullies who make full use of a wide spectrum of cynical behaviours, and that the authorities are not doing anything about it. It is how Mr. “Special One” Mourinho won his Champions’ League title (surely no one has forgotten the outrageous theatrics of his FC Porto players?), and it is how cynical twits like Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Frank Lampard continue to destroy what’s left of the actual art of playing football.

Ah yes, but they are English, you see. So they are untouchable—at least in England. However, as soon as you reach the international stage, things become slightly different. The cynical experts are the Portuguese and the Italians, and they are better at it. And the referees have much less patience for England’s crude version of the strategy.

Of course, occasionally you do get an exciting game in England, or on the international stage. But that usually requires two like-minded teams who are actually trying to play football, and a team of referees that don’t screw up faster than you can say, “Offside!” These are very rare conditions indeed.

I obviously don’t have any easy solutions, but I do know that the entertainment value of what’s being shown on TV these days, in England and around the world, is disappearing fast. And authorities such as the FA and the FIFA are playing a very large role in this. (Obscenely rich businessmen with nothing better to do than to spoil the game are obviously another very big factor.)

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