Virgin: a person who is naive, innocent, or inexperienced in a particular context.
Something about the silence of football fans as Mike Riley, the PGMOL and the Premier League currently screw-up the implementation of VAR has convinced me most fans are naive or inexperienced in how these powerful organizations go about their business. Through the media they tell us we will have VAR next year but in their current trials the PGMOL and Premier League are doing everything to not follow IFAB’s 12 principles of VAR. At this rate it is my prediction the VAR we get in the PL next year will be worse than the status quo.
To understand how the football authorities are scheming and deceptive we must first shed our football virginity. As a football fan of over forty-year standing, I did not loose my virginity overnight. It was a long slow process. Through the years I came to the slow realization that organized football is not fair. Cheating is endemic. If we the fans don’t demand fairness the authorities will allow dishonesty and general underhandedness to continue without serious reform.
The following are some of the seminal events in loosing my virginity.
Cheating on throw-ins and free-kicks
Playing my first competitive football game and having my coach/team-mates urge that I cheat; to never concede a throw-in or free-kick and to verbally protest to the referee whenever a decision goes against our team. Such gamesmanship is part of the DNA of competitive football at every level. At the professional level, failure to compete for a throw-in or free-kick is a virtual guarantee the referee will side with the most vociferous party.
Biased refereeing away from home
Playing away in a competitive game and having the referee give virtually every major decision to the Away team. Realizing for the first time that referees are not always unbiased and many are weak and corrupt.
African teams getting shafted
Seeing the first African teams that got to the world cup finals shafted by traditional powerhouse teams and referees. A lasting memory was witnessing on tv the “Disgrace of Gijon” match between West Germany and Austria in the 1982 world cup finals at the Gijón stadium in Spain. With Algeria on the cusp of going to the 2nd round at the German’s expense, both European neighbors virtually fixed the results of their final group game so they each would qualify for the second round. So blatant was the conduct of the teams that FIFA was forced to legislate that henceforth the final two games in each group would be played simultaneously.
28 years later, in the quarter finals of 2010 world cup in South Africa, we witnessed something just as scandalous when Luis Suarez of Uruguay stood on the line with outstretched arm, goalkeeper-style, to prevent a goal being scored by Ghana vs Uruguay. The resulting penalty is saved, as Ghana goes from victim to goat for missing their big opportunity.
But the ultimate victim of these scandals was the complete demolition of the belief there is fairplay and sportsmanship by the traditional big football powers when it came to being defeated by new, upcoming nations.
The Hand of God is political
Fast forward to 1986 and the infamous “hand of god” goal by Maradona for Argentina versus England in the quarters of the 1986 world cup finals removing all illusions that modern football is free from politics and geopolitical intrigue. As a political and football virgin at the time, this appeared to be simply the cheeky behavior of the greatest footballer of the time despite the clear echoes of the Falklands War between both countries two years earlier. Thirty-three (33) years later Maradona’s goal still holds political significance to both the English and Argentinians. While nobody in modern football, not in the era of VAR, would ever countenance such a blatant handball goal, it is a demonstration that politics and football are joined at the hip.
Mike Riley favors United and becomes PGMOL head
Game 50 between Manchester United and Arsenal in 2004 when, in front of a worldwide audience, according to Wikipedia, the world saw:
“….a series of unprofessional fouls that were overlooked by referee Mike Riley, such as Rio Ferdinand on Freddie Ljungberg in the 19th minute and striker Ruud van Nistelrooy’s studs-up challenge on Ashley Cole. …
“The home team were awarded a controversial penalty in the 73rd minute, as Wayne Rooney allegedly tumbled over Sol Campbell’s outstretched leg. Van Nistelrooy converted the penalty kick…
“The result ended Arsenal’s record-breaking 49-match unbeaten run. Many Arsenal fans were disgruntled, as they believed Rooney had dived and the penalty should not have been given.”
Two years later, Mike Riley was made head of the the PGMOL, the top refereeing organization in England. Only a football virgin would regard this as mere coincidence.
The lunge that broke Eduardo in two pieces
On February 23, 2008 Arsenal are atop the premier league table at 62 points with only one defeat after 26 games. With 12 fixtures remaining, they headed to St Andrew’s on 23 February to face bottom dwellers Birmingham. Eduardo Da Silva is coming along nicely after his recent transfer to the club having scored 12 goals in 30 games across all competitions. With three minutes gone, the Croatian received a pass from Clichy on the half turn. As he nudged the ball towards a teammate, Birmingham defender Martin Taylor according to one newspaper “lunged for the ball”. Such is the “lunge” Eduardo suffered a broken left fibula and an open dislocation of his left ankle. Here is a newspaper report:
“It was only when Cesc Fàbregas started urging towards the bench that a sickening realization spread throughout the ground, the Spaniard visibly shaken as the nauseating scene unfolded. Alexander Hleb turned away, putting his hand to his mouth as though he were about to be sick. Mathieu Flamini raged at the referee, whilst Emanuel Adebayor shook his head in quiet, disbelieving horror.”
According to BBC commentator, Jonathan Pearce”
“I’m told the injury is so disturbing we cannot show pictures of it,
“Rarely have I seen such collective anguish amongst football players.”
Needless to say Arsenal’s league leadership evaporated in 3 games and they barely held on to 3rd place eventually. But according to the media and football virgins it was all accidental. Arsenal was too soft, not tough enough to last the distance.
Ramsey’s double fracture from a “touch”
Just over two years later, on February 27, 2010, Arsenal journeyed to Stoke for a PL encounter. This time they were 3rd in the league, six points behind leaders Chelsea, and separated from 2nd place United by five points with a game in hand. This was the era when Arsenal always made top-4, contrary to the predictions of a large number of pundits. They went into the game on a 2 game winning streak and were leading in the second half, when according to the BBC:
“Shawcross took a heavy touch and caught Ramsey just above the ankle as he stretched for the ball.
“The Welshman collapsed on contact and he was left writhing on the floor, with his right foot appearing to hang at an unnatural angle.”
This “heavy touch” caused fractures to both the tibia and fibula.
As many football fans asked at the time, not merely supporters of Arsenal Football Club, how many more broken bones (added to that of Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey) would it take for the FA and the footballing authorities to enforce the rules against dangerous and reckless play in the league.
Will fans be screwed again?
After a lifetime of experience of the ugly side of football, the above being only a few examples, I have absolutely no trust in the footballing authorities to do the right thing unless they have been scandalized and are on the verge of losing control of the game. I am no longer a virgin.
When it comes to the premier league, rather belatedly it appears the PGMOL will no longer countenance those studs-up tackles that cost both Eduardo and Ramsey broken bones. Unfortunately, under the pretext of letting the game flow, the PGMOL has a culture of not enforcing long established international rules that make football a game of skill rather than which club can best kick the opposition and make it a game of cheats.
Just as it took almost forever for them to better protect players from dangerous leg-breaking tackles, the PGMOL and Premier League are behind almost all the European leagues in introducing the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Under pressure to implement VAR in 2019, they are doing everything to screw the process. They are trying to implement a VAR that is divergent option from the IFAB principle which stipulates that the on-field referee is responsible for the final decision. To achieve this, except for one round of trials in 2018, they have refused to provide a pitchside monitor for review by the on-field referee. This violation of the principles of VAR is being conducted without a word of protest from most fans, not to mention virtual silence from mainstream media.
Will the majority of fans act like football virgins and let Mike Riley and the PGMOL screw us over again?