Stop looking for excuses

There’s going to be a whole lot of fall out after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. A load of soul searching, star gazing. What I’m fearful of is that everything else other than the obvious will be blamed. The number of foreign players in the Premiership, the pitch, the occasion, the position of the planets, biorhythms. Whatever. The bare fact is that, we do not have enough players of the requisite quality to qualify for tournaments, forget winning them. We were without five of our first team last night and the holes they left were enormous.

It should be blindingly obvious to everyone that the reason there are so many foreign players in the Premiership is because they are BETTER THAN THE ENGLISH PLAYERS. Wake up. Our technical skills are woeful. Croatia gave us a lesson in how to play international football last night. Their players are not based in the Croatian league. They play in Holland, England, Italy… all over the place. If we really want English players in the Premiership in greater numbers, they have to prove themselves good enough. And cheap enough, for that matter.

It is clear that our coaching and schooling of young players is wrong at the most basic level. Youngsters should not play anything other than five a side until they are ten, or even older. Physical presence can be developed as a player grows into adolescence. What they need when they begin is to learn the abilities to trap, hold, pass, move, shield, press, control. I don’t care how fast they can run or for how long. It is immaterial. I cringe with embarrassment too often seeing how ‘lesser’ countries are so comfortable on the ball. How easily they pass and move.

There is a reason why Owen Hargreaves is the best technical player in the England side. It is because he learned to play football in Germany.

You do the maths.

• November 22nd, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 0

An outbreak of common sense

Brian Barwick is not always known for smart talking but this is just supreme common sense. The FA are going to pilot a scheme at grass roots level in which only the captain of a side can talk to the referee… just like in Rugby Union. Hallelujah. RU has so many intelligent rules that aid discipline and leave players in no doubt as to the correct course of action and the consequences for not taking that course. And communicating with the ref is one of the best.

Witness the Rugby World Cup. As much fire and passion (in most games anyway but that’s another story) yet any decision that is questioned is not done so by 15 men clustering round the ref and shouting. It is done by the captain, on his own and is hence sorted out very quickly and respectfully. Only once have I seen another player question a reffing decision. A Georgian prop was about to make a noise but the ref, perhaps half his size, merely put a finger to his lips and shook his head. Problem solved.

I pray this pilot works. One of the central blights of football the world over is the normally unfounded screeching injustice of players when they believe a decision has gone against them. Ally this to the sin bin and wave good-bye to foul-mouthed abuse from Old Trafford to Hackney Marshes. Say hello to better referees too. This has no downside, only goodness.

• October 2nd, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 0

Ref’s decision not appealing

The 1-1 draw between Liverpool & Chelsea was in many respects a typical encounter. Some decent football interspersed with ridiculous amounts of moaning, whining and play acting. Ah, the beautiful game. But that’s not what I want to talk about. The penalty that gave Chelsea their equaliser was the central controversy in the game and raises an interesting issue.

Now I don’t care if Malouda made a lot of the contact or not. Actually, I’m not sure he did. Seemed to me both players tried to avoid a collision and the Chelsea player fell. Such is life. But the plain fact is that it should not have been given as a penalty and we saw Liverpool players making their feelings known very clearly. It was a poor decision but perhaps from Rob Styles’ angle, it was a clear cut foul.

It is unedifying to see packs of footballers surrounding a referee who will not change his decision, no matter how wrong it was. And nor should he under such pressure. However, an injustice was done. I feel very strongly that the captain of any football team should be allowed to appeal decisions his team feel are wrong. I’ve mentioned this before I know. Give each team three chances to appeal to ensure the system is not casually abused and let the video replay ref decide. In this case, a clear mistake was made. You might be able to argue an obstruction on behalf of Steve Finnan the defender but nothing else. The penalty would then be withdrawn. Importantly, the decision has to be final or we will merely substitute one pack of angry footballers for another in a different coloured strip. Check out rugby to see how this works.

If you allow appeals, you can so quickly remove the heat from the situation. The referee can even invite a team captain to appeal. He can then talk to the players involved and in seconds, make his judgement. You are also then free to make dissent at decisions a sin-binnable offence. After all, players should then be complaining to their captain and asking for an appeal, not raging at the ref. I know all this is laced with a little naivety but it makes good sense. It doesn’t stop post match pub chat but what it does do is, in these days when huge sums of money are at stake, make sure that match-changing decisions are correct. And surely we all want that.

I’ll return to this subject later in my series on ‘What should be done in football but won’t be…’

• August 20th, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 0

What should be done in football but won’t be… part 2 – Sin Bins

This is such a mind-bogglingly simple idea to implement that I cannot for the life of me understand why it has not been adopted. Both codes of rugby use it very successfully and every which way you look at it, it works.

Being clear about which transgressions result in a sin-binning is key. For me, it’s all about letting a player calm down a little and reduce the risk of a red card. It’s also about on-the-spot punishment. So, swearing and handbags between players are where it should begin. I also feel a late, cynical tackle is another area. All these offences are yellow card jobs and the ref should still issue the card. The player heads to the Bin for 10 minutes and returns, we hope, with a clearer head.

And in addition to letting peace be restored and to maintaining eleven v eleven when the Bin time is done, there is another, really useful effect. It means the player is punished during the match in which he is playing. If one of the oppo hacks down my flying winger and gets a yellow card, I don’t care at all that he will be suspended in two games time when his team plays some other outfit. I want the effect of his crime to be felt then and there. A mouth full of expletives or a crude challenge in midfield should be punished by a few minutes in the Bin. My team gets a short term advantage, like in rugby, ice hockey etc yet the game is not spoiled over the whole of its remaining course.

Like I say, you have to be careful what constitutes a binning offence but aside from that, can anyone see any downside whatever to this?

Next – Retrospective punishment using video evidence

• August 8th, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 4

What should be done in football but won’t be…Part 1: the 10 yard rule

Subtitle: Because if those at the head of the game were serious about cleaning up the foul-mouthed, cheating, whining crap we see too often on our pitches, they’d do this tomorrow…

It has worked brilliantly in Rugby Union and was tried and abandoned in football and all it is, is this: when a free kick is given, if a player shows dissent at the decision, the ball should be moved forwards ten yards and towarsd the centre opf the goal. So simple and so effective. And yet abandoned largely because, I believe that the ref had to book a player for dissent before he could then advance the free kick the fabled ten yards. Why a booking? No idea.

Here’s what should be done. Same as before but with no necessity to book. If players still complain, march the ball forward another ten yards (so long as the winners of the free kick want it so) And what happens if the ball ends up in the penalty area? If it’s an indirect free kick, nothing. If it’s a direct free kick, then, well sorry chums, it becomes a penalty. It’s so simple and if applied ruthlessly would be so effective at stamping out dissent at free kicks.

Even footballers with their often demonstrably small brains should be able to get their inflated heads around this one. Don’t talk back. It has never worked in the history of football and now you might be costing your team the game. Is that so hard to understand? Is it so hard to implement? No and no.

Next time: Sin Bins

• July 18th, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 1

And so it begins…

The news that there is to be a trial of the Hawk-eye technology on goal-lines is very welcome indeed. it demonstrates that, finally, the football authorities are dragging themselves together on the technology issues and pursuing the most promising. Whether a ball has crossed the line or not is clearly one of the most crucial decisions a referee can make. It is also one of the most difficult in marginal cases. With players all over the place, line of sight is seldom clear. Given the potential magnitude of any incorrect decision on the outcome of not just a match but a club’s long-term future, the future of players and managers etc, the sooner this technology is fail-safe tested and adopted the better.

But a note of caution. I watched plenty of challenged decisions at Wimbledon where Hawk-eye was in use. And I’m not convinced it is utterly infallible. During the final, Nadal challenged an ‘out’ call and the ball was called ‘in’ by hawk-eye. Federer was incensed by this and I have to say that to my eye, the ball was long by two or three inches. It wasn’t even close. Now I’m not saying my eye is better than some electronic gizmo. What I am saying is, let’s not assume technology always, always gets it right. A TV camera looking along the baseline would have given us all immediate confirmation and provided cynics like Federer with a whole lot more confidence. I’d lay money Federer was right to be upset in this instance.

• July 11th, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 0

Graham Poll retires

A shame. A great shame. Yes, he did that silly thing in booking a player three times but hands up any of you who haven’t made a daft mistake in your life… thought so. He’s been our best, most consistent referee for many years now and his thoughts deserve airtime and respect. Forget that you were at a game once when he made a crap decision, it is immaterial. he’s been a great professional. Even Colina made mistakes. Just that people were too scared to say so.

Unfortunately, the FA are ‘disappointed’ with some of his comments so far. And no doubt they’ll be apoplectic when they read his book. Their reaction should have been to listen and try and understand. But no, falling into line with players and clubs is far more, er, lucrative. They do not realise the game is actually in trouble. Referees are leaving in their thousands because they get no respect, no support and no credit for a very difficult job. I tried it once. Good grief, never again. Insanely difficult and I had good friends of mine yelling right into my face for getting it wrong. No refs = no football. Ignorance of laws = chaos. Unless some, actually quite simple, changes are made, one day the bubble will truly burst.

I’m going to do a series of posts (in the Sport Tech section) on what should (but won’t) be done to improve the standards of sportsmanship, respect and fair play in the game. Give me a couple of weeks and the first one will be up. This has nothing to do with research and everything to do with other commitments outside of blogosphere (yes, there is such a place).

• June 6th, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 1

London 2012 Olympic logo

It’s rubbish.

Angular, ugly, and clearly designed by a below average graffiti artist.

• June 4th, 2007 • Posted in Sport Tech • Comments: 0

Well it’s good but does it go far enough?

Have a quick look at this item. Talks about the rescinding of a red card an Ipswich player received in the FA Cup tie against Watford on Saturday.

All fine and dandy; the lad is free to play against Wolves tonight and will serve no ban. Doesn’t help with the defeat on Saturday though, does it? And it cannot be argued that the sending off did not influence the game. It clearly did. We played with 10 players for 45 minutes, a massive disadvantage that proved to be totally unnecessary.

I’m not going to have a go at the ref but this is surely a case for video review immediately following the incident. There are a few decisions that change games so dramatically that there should be no doubt the correct decision has been made. A sending off is one. A penalty is another. The ball crossing the line or not for a goal is a third. I firmly believe that the captain of each side should be able to appeal three decisions in a match and have them assessed by a video ref. If the appeal is upheld, you still have your three strikes. If not, you lose one. It happens in some tennis tournaments already and adds to the excitement rather than diminishing it. Rugby and cricket have adopted video for key decisions too.

Crucially, it does not undermine the official. Actually, they often get it right. And before the cries of anguish over how it will strangle the spectacle gain too much volume, I suspect that most decisions could be reviewed in the time it takes for the average milling throng of outraged players to be waved away by the referee to allow a restart.

So much can rest on a game these days. Jobs can be lost. Teams relegated with the disastrous financial implications that can have. And in this particular case, a good footballing spectacle was ruined by a wrong decision. Fans deserve better than that. And referees need all the help they can get because they truly are alone out there.

Football must look at technology and use it appropriately. This is appropriate and it will not ruin the pint-after-the-match debate one jot because three appeals is not a big number in 90 minutes. Think about it.

• February 20th, 2007 • Posted in Football, Sport Tech • Comments: 1

An opening salvo of sporting issues


Here it is, the first post in a new blog. And it’s just to tell you what’s coming up because if you want to know why I’ve popped up here, then you need to click on ‘About This Blog’.


Christmas and early new year is a perennially busy time in sport. For footie fans, the Christmas and New Year programme is swiftly followed by the FA Cup 3rd Round… surely the best day in the English football calendar (unless you’re Bury and have just been chuckled out, of course. Don’t get me started about excessive punishments for minor administration issues).

Football, though, is in danger of eating itself. Never mind the wages and all that mullarky (though they are plainly obscene) worry much more about the on and off field behaviour of players and managers and begin to wonder when people will start saying ‘enough’ in big numbers and turn away. It would be a tragedy.

Football is a peerless spectacle when played with skill and spirit. But it is nauseating when played with no respect for players or officials; and where the most common sight is an incandescent player practically vomiting his rage at an official despite being guilty, and very often when in no position to have an opinion. Grow up. Be men (in men’s football). Have some dignity. Some pride in your performance. Take responsibility for your actions and those of your team mates.


This year we’ve been treated to why the Aussies are still the world’s number one cricket team and why it is that the job only just begins when you win something big. Like the Ashes.

Still, two tests to come and despite the fact that the urn is lost, pride and revenge are massive motivators. This time, there will be no such thing as a dead rubber, I can assure you. But is it time to be able to appeal desicions as a batsman in the same way you can in some tennis events? Now this wouldn’t necessarily have saved England losing the ashes but Andrew Strauss’s last three dismissals were all not out. I think we’d be looking at 2-0, not 3-0 if he hadn’t been out so early on the last day of the second test.


The PDC World Championship of Darts kicked off this week and it is simply marvellous to watch from the players walking through the crowd to the final dart that is sunk in double top. And to all those who think it merely a pub game. Try it. Really try it. From the right distance away too. See how small that treble twenty bed looks? Now get all three of your darts in it. Regularly. And even if you don’t, get them very, very close. Still laughing?


Early next year we have the start of the tennis season from Australia. Henman is still there and still dangerous (and let me get one thing straight, anyone who gets to number 4 in the world and stays in the top ten for five years plus is a player of extraordinary talent who should be respected utterly) but I do expect great things from Andy Murray. He has the game, the aggression and the coach. It’ll be his head that determines his place among the greats should he attain such status.


Six nations rugby union is coming early in 2007. What can England hope for? Well, with Brian Ashton in charge, perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned on. He has spoken of the need to get the enjoyment back into the players and that is a laudable if challenging goal. If he can do it, England are up there with the best. And if he can maintain it in the face of top class opposition, if the players still play with freedom and lack of fear, we can yet come close to retaining the world cup. But it’s hard. Remember Sven Goran Eriksson talked about much the same things when he took over England football. Didn’t last did it? We can hope, though, and that is the essence of supporting any sport.

Well, plenty of issues raised there. I’ll tackle them all in the coming weeks. If you want something discussed sooner rather than later, post a comment and I’ll get on to it. But bear with me… baby Barclay is due on 14th January. Let chaos reign.

• December 22nd, 2006 • Posted in All the rest, Cricket, Football, Rugby, Sport Tech, Tennis • Comments: 3