Do footballers harbour a secret longing to be thespians? Modern footballers give such convincing Oscar-worthy performances in surreptitiously manhandling their opponents and theatrically conning referees into giving them decisions, they put real actors to shame. Is it any surprise then that their mendacious antics should result in frustratingly inconsistent refereeing, as occurred in Sunday’s controversial encounter between Leicester and West Ham at the King Power Stadium, where the hapless referee Jon Moss was slated for his performance.
First, he incurred the wrath of the home supporters by sending off star striker Jamie Vardy for diving; then he infuriated them by awarding West Ham a penalty, and finally he compounded their rage by denying Robert Huth a penalty when the Leicester defender seemed to become the meat in a West Ham sandwich (geddit?). Perhaps fearing he might not get out of the stadium alive and in one piece, the referee duly succumbed and granted Leicester a reprieve penalty at the death, which Leicester’s Leonardo Ulloa bravely converted – with extraordinary nerve – to salvage a precious point in the title race. Cue delirious scenes from Leicester supporters, but subsequently, self-righteous indignation from West Ham and scathing criticism from the pundits – those leviathans of intellectual debate otherwise known as ex-footballers – who castigated the referee for inconsistent officiating.
Every decision he made, or didn’t make, was minutely scrutinised and peremptorily condemned as either too lenient or too harsh. However, no reference was made in mitigation of the players pushing, pulling and grappling each other like WWF wrestlers and diving around like Tom Daley wannabees, making the referee’s job a complete nightmare. No, it was all the referee’s fault, and the players were mere innocent victims of poor officiating.
To add to the scapegoating, yesterday the England manager Roy Hodgson waded in by defending the blatant dive by Vardy which saw him sent off, suggesting he was ‘unbalanced’ and fell. Really? So unbalanced that as fell he also managed to raise both hands in the air in a lame appeal for a penalty? Even worse, Hodgson then inexplicably chose to excuse Vardy’s consequent, frankly disgraceful, berating of the referee. Apparently, the striker’s reaction was understandable. So, verbally abusing the referee and disrespectfully jabbing his finger in his face is ‘understandable’? Roy Hodgson seems to think so. According to Hodgson: “He has reacted like human beings sometimes react….He has called him a few names. But he is a human being and that can happen.” So as far as the England manager is concerned, it’s ok for a footballer to harangue a referee because he’s only human. But it’s not ok for the referee to get perhaps a few marginal decisions wrong because he’s human as well? Then he deserves all the opprobrium he receives?
If footballers didn’t cheat, dive, push, grab, yank, strangle and otherwise assault one another and actually played to the spirit of the game, perhaps they wouldn’t get so many decisions going against them. If managers admonished players instead of defending them for egregious behaviour, perhaps players would be better behaved and the referee’s job would be made easier. If the footballing powers that be relinquished their antediluvian mentality and belatedly entered the 21st century, and joined the rest of the sporting world by bringing in video replays to help beleaguered referees, then perhaps we might have less refereeing controversies and fairer results.
But then what would the football community have to moan about? Where would they hang their grievances? Who would fans and managers blame for their team’s bad results, who would the players take out their frustrations on, and what would the pundits have to argue about? Sadly, it would seem everyone in football prefers to play the blame game rather than the beautiful game.