Mistakes not permitted – modern life influences football’s intolerance

GRAEME Souness wasn’t being deliberately dismissive of women’s football, he’s never been a man to shy away from a tough challenge and he’s forthright, opinionated and knows the game inside out. His comment at the Chelsea versus Tottenham game was careless, no doubt about it, but it was blown up out of all proportion like so many comments and attitudes that get pulled apart on social media. Most abuse was, typically, made behind the shroud of anonymity, but as soon as Souness talked of “man’s game” it was only a matter of seconds before the first reaction. He made a mistake, for sure.

Meanwhile, after that same game, Chelsea fans (of which I am one) were getting ready to demand referee Anthony Taylor never officiates another fixture involving their team. True, there were some suspect decisions, but these things level out over a season, don’t they? A petition was created and thousands signed it. Taylor was as popular as a mass murderer among Chelsea’s frustrated followers.

And then we have Martin Tyler, a veteran commentator, who inadvertently linked Hillsborough with the problem of hooliganism in talking about the changes in the game. This was a very unfortunate remark to make even though we all knew what Tyler was trying to say. Liverpool fans were outraged and insisted Tyler should never be allowed anywhere near Anfield. Tyler apologised for his mistake and was going to meet with Liverpool to explain himself. Still the abuse continued.

In each case, errors were made just as mistakes are made on the pitch and in every walk of life.  Football’s audience is unforgiving to the point where nobody seems to get a second chance, apart from the local hero who commits an offence on the pitch. Quite often the fans’ favourite is a clenched-fist, sweat-soaked battler who might well be a persistent offender and a controversial character, but he’s pardoned because “he’s one of our own”.

Today, you are not allowed to slip up, even if you apologise profusely. Some fans still jeer an opponent who once upset the opposition years earlier. They don’t forget. It’s not just football, it’s also in the workplace and in societies – some years ago, I witnessed a top finance professional who had screwed-up a trade get sacked on the spot in front of a dozen people. He was then escorted off the premises with a black bin liner. I’d like to think that doesn’t happen anymore.

But do we tarnish the perpetrators for ever and a day? For example, criminals pay the penalty for their actions by going to prison, but do they get the chance to rebuild? The reaction to any halfway house or rehabilitation centre being placed in the heart of the community is generally negative and comes with opposition from the neighbourhood. Little wonder that we seem unable to forgive mistakes, be it a comment, an action, a misjudgement or an act of self-preservation. We are quick to judge people, but most of us do actually live in glass houses.

People are passionate about football and frankly, they place too much importance on a single incident rather than look at a broader picture. Chelsea against Spurs was a cracking game with plenty of controversy, yet the worst thing that happened was the childish behaviour of two grown caught up in the heat of the moment. Martin Tyler and Graeme Souness have given so much to the game of football over the years, they really deserve the benefit of the doubt. Both should be more careful, but apologies and explanations should be accepted rather than continued drama, accusations and foul-mouthed abuse.

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