Kicking the ball out of play: a defence

Posted by on Sep 24, 2011 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
Kicking the ball out of play: a defence
Image available under Creative Commons © ~Coquí
The reaction of Nottingham Forest fans to last weekend’s frankly apocalyptic defeat at the hands of Derby County has for the most part been extraordinarily fair minded. The game possessed controversy of course – but the absence of those twin firebrands Savage and Davies calmed the mood and the City Ground faithful have turned inward in an attempt to explain the defeat.Despite a spirited midweek performance against Newcastle United, Steve McLaren is walking on eggshells. The spirit seems to be sapping from the Tricky Trees and there is the kind of open advocation of regime change that would make even Steve Kean blush. The excellent Through the Seasons Before Us devoted much of its match report to berating the players with Ishmael Miller in particular castigated for not playing to the whistle.The drama revolved around Chris Cohen’s sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury with the side 1-0 to the good. An untidy, contactless challenge on Ben Davies saw Cohen crumple to the turf and with Forest expecting the Rams to expel the ball from play, Jeff Hendrick and John Brayford were having none of it – eventually feeding the ball to Jamie Ward, whose mazy run and goal owed as much to disastrous defending from RadosÅ‚aw Majewski and Lee Camp as to his own not inconsiderable skill.

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.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. tictactic
    September 24, 2011

    I'm completely sick of this custom. I don't see why it should be the players making arbitrary decisions and the system is constantly open to subtle abuse.

    Wouldn't mind going down the route of rugby, allowing the physios on “in-play” but I guess that could get messy.

    I'm sure if we went down the route of 100% play-on, the amount of theatrics; rolling, or the old “one arm up”, face-clutching etc would be cut right out.

    A real bone of contention for me!

  2. tictactic
    September 24, 2011

    Nice piece btw – something I was just thinking about the other day!

  3. Lanterne Rouge
    September 24, 2011

    Good point tictactic about the rugby idea of tending to players while the players are allowed to carry on. I guess football is probably too fluid and the play can switch to the other end of the field far too easily but it's nice to at least think about whether it would work.

    Thanks also for your comments Andy – that's shocking!


Leave a Reply to tictactic

Cancel Reply