Kicking the ball out of play: a defence
In 2006, the Premier League decreed that henceforth, it would be entirely up to the referee to decide whether a game should continue or treatment provided when a player suffers an injury. Thus, Derby did nothing illegal in responding to Nigel Clough’s urgings to keep calm and carry on.That mid decade edict had been inspired by a number of arguments including the marked increase in play acting – but Gordon Taylor of the PFA summed things up: “some people have been rather cynical about the custom, and that is what we want to lose – but without losing the spirit of fair play” But I would argue that this “spirit of fair play” has been lost.
My first memory of teams behaving in such a sporting manner dates to the 1986 World Cup and a crucially important quarter final between Belgium and their former colonial masters Spain. Despite the headiness of the occasion in Puebla’s Estadio Cuauhtà©moc and an energy depriving 120 minutes in extreme heat, players on several occasions refused to take advantage when an adversary was stricken. It was heartwarming – and signalled the start of a new twenty year era that underlined the ability of footballers to behave like true sportsmen.We shouldn’t forget that the Premier League’s ruling is inspired by two factors:
First there is money. In instructing players to behave according to Machiavellian precepts, the implication is that the overall result is more important than the sport itself. It suits the authorities that winning is placed above all else and at all costs. With talk of £90 million pay outs to be earned at the end of a Championship season, homo economicus needs to assess his choices and perform a lightning cost-benefit analysis of the situation – carry on and attack the opponents’ goal, or tarry in the interest of the opposition? No contest of course – the EPL want us to behave in our own best interests at all times as that way, their free market, cut and thrust, oppositional, selfish and morally bankrupt ethos can be maintained.
Secondly, there is cynicism. In their decision, the Premier League asked us to assume a player’s guiltiness before they can be proved innocent. So, according to this, everyone has it in him to be a diver and should be assumed so unless proven otherwise. It’s patently obvious from coverage of last Saturday’s match that Cohen’s injury was a bad one – as those that occur without an actual collision often are – and if it’s true that widespread simuation can make it tricky to make judgement calls, it’s still so easy for a referee to get it wrong.
So, it was disappointing to see Derby continue on Saturday even if their overall victory was fully merited. I’d blame the Rams less than the powers that be, however. Anything that can be done to encourage a less one-eyed, less partisan set of approaches should be encouraged and it’s up to players and fans to reinstate the spirit of fair play.