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.

The heat is on – and football has to take note

ALTHOUGH some might be in the denial camp, the world is over-heating and a combination of influences – covid, war, Brexit, politics, corporate behaviour – are also making our lives just a little more difficult. While the current season faces disruption because of the Qatar World Cup, football in Europe is being subjected to unprecedented weather conditions. The 2022-23 season has kicked-off early, although why non-league games are being played at the end of July and first week of August is a mystery. It would seem unlikely that any Southern League players will be making the trip to Qatar.

Some sceptics believe that the weather, like so many aspects of life that offer some inconvenience, is being over-played, that our ancestors coped when they had to deal with scorching summers (don’t forget that our distorted memories tells us that summers were hotter, winters had snow and milk and newspaper deliveries made for a better world) and there was no such thing as a water break for footballers. True, but we also sweltered in our formal clothing, froze in our coal-fired homes and everyone walked around with a cigarette screwed between their lips. We now know smoking is bad for us, too much salt damages your health and the sun can give us skin cancer. Science has allowed us to progress and take precautions where they are needed.

Therefore, we are aware that playing football in 35 degrees is a potential killer. Not just for people, but certainly for the quality of football on offer. We don’t have to do it because we know what dehydration can do to people, but we clearly do not take it seriously enough to follow a pragmatic and precautionary path. Too much sun makes for bone-hard pitches. When it is bone-hard because of sub-zero temperatures, games are postponed, but nobody seems to consider that a bone-hard pitch in high temperatures can also cause problems. Furthermore, if among the reasons for cancelling games in cold weather are spectator concerns, then why isn’t a heat wave also deemed to be a hazard?

In the UK, we are short of reservoirs and that’s appalling for a country renowned for rain and grey skies. Perhaps we could use some of the golf courses that proliferate the south east for reservoirs because they may not be much use for golf if the current trends continue. Golf courses, for some peculiar reason, are exempt from hose pipe bans, which given the size of a course, seems an extravagant use of water reserves.

On the evidence of the Hitchin Town versus Rushall Olympic game at sun-baked Top Field, even young and fit players are affected by the tropical conditions. If this is something we are going to have to live with (and all the science and math seems to point in that direction), then football needs to adjust its model. Earlier or later kick-offs, hydration points in the ground (and I am not referring to junk food drinks) and more shaded areas need to be considered. Also, is it really necessary to start the season in the height of summer? If there are too many fixtures to accommodate then make the leagues smaller and maybe more localised. Shift the start to September and the difference may be startling.

Sadly, water is only part of the story. Energy prices are on a spiral and even when the drama subsides – in 2024 perhaps – fuel prices will undoubtedly be higher than they were two years ago. It may be time to restrict the use of floodlights because some smaller clubs may get absolutely clobbered by energy bills. All of this is in the hands of football administrators, it is not a Harvard-level discussion.