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The problem with this weekend was that it felt like one omnishambles (see also: ‘clusterfuck’) too far. Firstly, a procession of all things wryly considered to be the worst and most controversial aspects of the game occurred in front of our very eyes, as usual, and secondly, Ed Chamberlin’s eyes lit up like a fat lad at a hog roast as yet another chance arose to eschew analysing the actual football in favour of ‘great talking points’. As usual. And thirdly, an increasingly irrelevant Match of the Day 2 barely gave any analysis of anything. AS USUAL. A great advert for the Premier League, indeed. Well done, everyone.
Routinely billed as the platform for box-office brilliance, Super Sunday is rapidly becoming the byword for platinum-grade, box-office bullshit, where the stereotypical ‘Sky-ification’ of football is magnified by its own all-consuming desires for its product. Decisions that could never be made in a million years at full speed are analysed through the Sauron-esque, all-seeing eye of 16x zoom and super slow-mo. WHICH PEOPLE ON THE PITCH DON’T HAVE.
The really sad thing is that no one even seems to be enjoying themselves anymore. The most positive man in the Universe, Ray Wilkins, a man who routinely would call a 60-yard hoof out of play (but near a forward’s face) a ‘great pass’, has been quietly reeled in. Niall Quinn’s assertion that the Chelsea fans had been magnificent in backing their team was somewhat ludicrously married with a shot of a bank of fans in blue stood largely motionless and expressionless, with the exception of one cad making a wanker gesture at someone, presumably for playing for United, but possibly for being John Terry. Gary Neville was earnestly exasperated by the constant attention to marginal decisions, cue his almost hysterical ‘there is more than one type of dive’ whiffle. Graeme Souness never enjoys himself anyway. At anything.
Meanwhile, at the Merseyside derby, while the cameras were focused on the referee dishing out a few words to Luis Suarez, in the background you could clearly make out a child brandishing a red card in the air. Not an imaginary red card, you understand. An actual red card he had presumably cut out at home especially to wave in the air in the general direction of Everton’s opponents.
‘What are you doing, son?’ his mother may have asked of her little prodigy.
‘Just making a red card to take to the match later Mum’.
‘So I can wave it in the air and try and influence the referee to send someone off’.
SINCE WHEN WAS THAT A THING? Does anyone even care about their own team any more or is football just about spitting bile at anyone who isn’t on the same side as you? We all saw the missiles raining down on Javier Hernandez and the Manchester United players when the winner went in. We all saw coins – one in particular Suarez picked up and put in his boot – pelted at the Liverpool striker in one of Goodison Park’s corners.
And even when Everton’s equalising goal went in, the first thought of half the fans behind the goal was, rather than focusing their attention on the pitch where Steven Naismith was celebrating RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, to turn 90 degrees to their right and start screaming at the Liverpool fans on the other side of the stewards. Again, the ever-popular wanker gesture was much in evidence, which, unless it was being used in a vain attempt to alert stewards to the fact that someone was ACTUALLY wanking in the stands, and thus committing an act of gross indecency, seemed a little ridiculous. Now, of course that gesture has lost all meaning. They’ve become the boys that cried ‘wank’.
And they’re not the only ones. The performances of referees and their assistants are rightly under the microscope again after some fairly routine decisions were missed. It’s becoming a worry that our referees are developing egos and a thirst for ‘banter’ as much as our players – Mark Clattenberg was referred to as ‘one of the matey referees’ on BBC News this morning and Daniel Taylor’s article in the Observer describes how Graham Poll spoke about ‘the buzz it would have given him to send off a player at Wembley’.
Now, as any political commentator will tell you, polls are 60% utter shite. Perhaps just as dangerous though, is a referee talking about any kind of ‘buzz’ or attraction attached to a certain decision or scenario. We don’t expect them to be heartless, unflinching robots, but we do expect objectivity in relation to their own position within the game. If you want to make some widely-read headlines, go on fucking X Factor. The biggest catch-22 to emerge from the weekend though is that we are now beginning to enter an era where controversy and unsavoury events like these occur every single week, and in such great numbers that the game seems to die a little inside, regardless of whom the outcome favours.
We’re obviously referring to Chelsea’s allegations against Clattenberg here – ironic in the extreme on the one hand, given players’ propensity for obscene pleasantries with referees down the years and previous from a certain member of the Chelsea squad, but incredibly serious on the other. But the end result, whoever it proves correct or incorrect, or – knowing the FA, neither – is damning either way. In this respect then, with the actual football seemingly of secondary importance, it feels like there really is no winner anymore.