Posts Tagged ‘Entertainment Value’
It isn’t unusual for our chicken-keeping gang to spend a lot of time on Sunday mornings mulling over the football results but today the conversation was more uplifting than is our usual mixture of moans and groans about referees, overpaid players and poor entertainment value. Almost all of us were rooting for Man Utd last night, but the performance of Barcelona was breathtaking and our heroes were simply played of the pitch. As Alex Ferguson was moved to remark “No one has given us a hiding like that”. He was right but there was no shame in it for we were watching that rare thing, unstoppable poetry in motion. Throughout the whole game Barca committed only five fouls and they never resorted to the usual Premiership fare of long balls and attritional play.
Albert often unwittingly supplies my headlines and today is no exception. He said that there is, after all, a beautiful game. We regularly deride the term as we pay a small fortune to watch so called professionals hoofing the ball here there and everywhere. Last night we watched an exhibition that capped anything that even the extensive Sky coverage has ever screened. Occasionally Arsenal and Man Utd have played some clever stuff but this was in another class, it was beautiful.
The longer term effect is open to debate. As I feel right now, I will certainly feel short-changed when I pay to watch Blackburn Rovers. Yesterday has increased by feeling that the ‘stars’ are grossly overpaid and the entertainment value low. And the same will apply throughout the Premiership. Whatever the Barca players are paid they earn it as true artists. But if they can so totally humiliate our top club what does that say for the rest. I still find it hard to come to terms with a wage of £100,000 per week but perhaps a real artist is beyond valuation. But the number of real artists performing in our top league could be counted on the fingers of a ferret-breeder.
However, there is a more positive outcome from that amazing display. Even those who are indifferent to football must have been impressed and some may well decide to watch more games in future. It was also a counterbalance to the continually bad press that football has in this country. The latest appalling revelations about FIFA has shattered any remaining confidence in those that govern the game, and the constant diet of the off-field antics of many of the players hasn’t helped either. Neither has the constant lunacy of egotistical Russian, Indian, and American owners.
Many a cynic has been heard to ask why soccer was ever described as beautiful. Last night we had the answer. The next time any manager says that the only way to succeed away from home is to defend relentlessly, to play the offside trap and to ‘hack ‘em down,’ he should be boiled in tar and made to watch a tape of the experts performing at Wembley.
And all this on a day when the first Test match of the summer was on. No contest. To watch Sri Lanka who haven’t a single bowler of Test standard bowl for hours to two batsmen whose approach was akin to watching paint dry was sheer purgatory. Never thought I’d live to say this but Test cricket such as this is a poor competitor with the beautiful game!
A SPECIAL FOOTBALL QUIZ IN HONOUR OF BARCELONA; 1. Who preceded Frank O’Farrell as Man Utd manager? 2. How did Joan Bazely make history in 1976? 3. Who were the opponents in Peter Shilton’s last game for England? 4. Which premiership side lost nine of its last ten games in 2006 and stayed up? 5. Who offered the england and scotland squads a week on his Caribbean island if they won the World Cup in 1988? 6. Roy Keane played his last Premiership game for Man Utd against which team? 7. Which club’s motto is ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum”? 8. John Benson, Bruce Rich and Steve Bruce have all managed which club? 9. To three, for how many games was Sven-Goran Eriksson in charge of England? 10. Ray Wilkins was sent off while playing for England against which country?
DO YOU HAVE A FRIEND WHO ‘KNOWS ABOUT SOCCER’ ? WHY NOT FORWARD THIS TO HIM OR HER AND THEN COMPARE SCORES?
Anyone who cares about sport should offer up a vote of thanks for Andres Iniesta, without whose goal an estimated 700 million viewers around the world would have switched off feeling that they had witnessed the death of football and of sportsmanship. In truth the World Cup final was a disgrace. Over many matches millions had come to admire the magical passing and riveting entertainment value of the Spanish team. Clearly Holland, like any other team in the tournament, could not match this and we all expected them to practice close marking and ‘spoiling’ tactics. But we didn’t expect violence. It was a miracle that there were not serious injuries in the first half when many assaults disguised as tackles received only yellow cards from the beleagured Howard Webb.
Mr Webb is an excellent referee who was put in an impossible position. Those who now protest that he should have put a stop to thuggery by producing at least two red cards early on would have been the first to complain that he had ruined what is arguably the greatest sports event on earth. As it was he ended up with a record 14 yellow cards and, inevitably, a late sending-off. But if teams are going to conduct themselves in the way that the Dutch did no referee will be able to either allow the game to flow or to keep sufficient players on the field to complete the match. To crown it all the players in orange disgraced themselves after the final whistle by surrounding the officials in brutish style.
The Spanish were not without guilt but their misdemeanours were largely born out of frustration and human reaction to seeing colleagues hacked down. Toward the end of the game we were treated to some of their magic with players flicking the ball to each other in beautiful motion. But beauty rarely emerged and sport lost what could have been the perfect advertisement for a game so often called beautiful but which rarely is. A game fitting this description requires two sides capable of intricate movement and a conviction that winning is only part of the perfect performance.
Thanks to Iniesta we were spared the ultimate horror of proof that artistry never succeeds. And when he tore off his shirt in ecstacy we read the words on his singlet which read ‘Dani Jarque always with us’, a tribute to a former Espanyol player who died of a heart attck in August 2009 at the age of 26. The words seemed to sum up the spirit of oneness that has characterised the team from the outset.
If this all sounds very partisan I can only reply that at the kick-off I had no preference as to winners. I suspect that many who watched became biased only as it became clear that Holland’s plan comprised victory at any cost. And the tragedy is that they had no need to resort to such tactics for they had shown in earlier matches that they could offset their lack of finesse with sheer effort and commitment.
Of course we Brits looked on with a regretful eye. Spain had for most of the tournament looked like the team we imagined we had. In reality England were pathetic and incapable of inspiring even the most one-eyed fan. And it is even worse than that for many of the team will be past their play-by date come the next World Cup in four years time. Have we the ready replacements? No! Whereas the number of players in the top Spanish league qualified to play for their country is almost 75 per cent our number is 30 and falling. And what did we hear during the tournament? A long list of foreign players to be ‘bought’ by our premiership clubs who are happy to pay out fortunes for this but reluctant to fund even the most basic youth development programmes.
One must accept that the ultimate driving force here is that of the regular fans. If their priority is to have a successful Premiership side then they have to accept that it comes with a price, a low-quality national team. They cannot have both. Even in this tournament the fact that most goalkeepers in the Premiership are not qualified to wear the England shirt almost led to an even greater disaster than was experienced. Only the heroics of David James saved us from total humiliation and he is nudging forty.
But sport is bigger than any of these issues. It can inspire and unite nations in the way that nothing else can. The showcase final should have been a demonstration of all that is good in sport and, by comparison , bad in other aspects of our lives. It was almost ruined by those who valued sportsmanship less than the ideals of fair competition. It almost, but not quite, cast a shadow over the wonderful organisation of the South Africans and the legacy that it deserves to leave to those in poverty.
One final thought. As the inquest rumbles on let us ignore those who choose to blame the referee. When asked about an official’s performance, the late Bill Shankly once remarked that he hadn’t seen him kick or maul anyone. Sportmanship has no need of arbiters!
IN THE NEWS THIS MONDAY; The Food Safety Standards Agency is to be abolished. It seems that the retail giants have friends in high places! XX Lord Mandelson is appearing in TV ads to promote his memoirs. He even refers to himself as The Prince of Darkness. XX Cancer recovery rates are rocketing. But what effect will the fall in forward development budgets have? XX The spies released from Russia are residing in an unnamed hotel in Southern England. They will take a break from spying before their relaunch.
THINGS I LEARNED YESTERDAY FOR THE FIRST TIME; The Government Communication HQ in Cheltenham employs 5,500 but only 2.49% are from ethic minorities. xx The chief executive of fashion group Burberry, Angel Ahrendts, has received cash, benefits and shares worth £6.1 million. XX Marc Bolland, new chief exceutive of M & S, was lured from Morrisons with rewrads up to £15 million.