COS contributor Sean Quinn puts the spotlight on ‘pundits’ who are playing a dangerous game and how an Emirates youngster paid the price for ‘culture of confrontation’.
“It’s all part of the game, and we don’t want to lose the art of tackling.”
It’s a good job for we football fans that at the highest level the game is run not by ex-player pundits who talk euphemistically about passion, commitment and “taking the man as well as the ball”, but professional people whose motivation is the long-term appeal and development of a game that is part of an increasingly competitive world of entertainment. Otherwise we would probably still be standing on ramshackle terraces, munching Wagon Wheels and watching hardmen defenders clatter through the back of the skilful player many of the spectators have specifically paid to see.
The response of many pundits to the appalling injury suffered by Arsenal’s Aaaron Ramsay is typical of the kind of comment we have become so used to that we are in danger of becoming immune to its pessimism. Instead of saying “what can we do to avoid this happening again?”, they effectively say “it will happen again, and there’s nothing that can or should be done to avoid it.” It’s hard to think of another walk of life, let alone sport, in which such complacent negativity is as culturally endemic as it is in British football. We remember with affection the wonders of Italia 90. But that World Cup, characterized by a defensive sterility that produced the lowest average goals per game of any tournament, so alarmed FIFA that for USA 94 it introduced three points for a win in group games, banned the backpass, and made tackling from behind a red (instead of yellow) card offence. It wanted to give greater influence to the Baggios and Hagis and Valderramas who attract new fans to the game, and diminish the influence of the journeymen destroyers whose names we cannot even remember. The merest risk that a Ramsay, an Eduardo, a Diaby, should have their careers jeopardized by a Ryan Shawcross, a Martin Taylor, a Dan Smith, must be enough for the lawmakers to now step forward and take definitive action.
Clearly Shawcross did not intentionally break Ramsay’s leg, but the blind ferocity of his 6 foot five, 14 stone challenge exposed not only Ramsay but Shawcross himself to the risk of serious injury. And it is the potential for injury that should now be taken as seriously by referees as injury itself, with the long-term objective being cultural change and an improved duty of professional care. It is no longer good enough for us to say it’s all a part of the English game, that tackling is an art, when its repercussions leave the victim’s career at the mercy of medical science. It is not enough to say that no malice was intended, that “he is not that kind of person”, that his subsequent distress is some kind of proof of innocence, even if all of that is true, when his actions are as destructive, for with actions must come responsibility.
The driver who loses control of his car at 50mph in a 30mph zone and as a result injures a pedestrian cannot successfully defend himself by saying “I didn’t mean it – I am not that kind of person.” And nor should it be allowed to be said, in some kind of defence, as it has been before, “he was just too slow –Arsenal move the ball so quickly.” Enough is enough. When you see an injury such as Ramsay’s the old line “I got there as quick as I could, ref” just ain’t funny any more.