Fan or fanatic? – There’s more to football than the attitudes of players.

What follows is a long, but personally important post:

Yesterday football returned to the Premier League. And, as with every season, a sort of renewal took place: New supporters, some in new seats, supporting new players in new kits as part of new lineups. New managers on the sidelines supported by new backroom staff, and new club employees doing their jobs at new places of work. New match officials. New programme sellers…All of this for a sport many love.

In some ways, new seasons are refreshing. I attended the Emirates yesterday with two good gooner mates, and en route were joined by a true newcomer. A very amiable American gent, and huge Arsenal fan, in the country just six days and up at 4AM Nebraska time just to by a ticket. He introduced himself at King’s Cross, joined us for our pre-game drinks, bought a shirt, enjoyed his first experience of the Emirates and rejoined us for our after game dissection.

Now, lots has been made, post Olympic wonderment – and hopefully more to come – of the state of the game we love. Gary Neville has today written a fine piece on that particular topic, although reading it does mean visiting the Daily Mail. In it he writes:

I’m delighted that the Olympics were so successful and proud of the sportsmen and women who worked so hard to achieve their goals to win medals for Team GB. But it’s just lazy to use their success as a stick to beat football.

He does well to consider things; looking at the effect on players of media coverage, agents and hangers-on, but it’s not just football or footballers’ attitudes that should be questioned. There’s something a lot of people are missing here, and that’s the attitudes of the fans themselves.

After finishing our pints outside the ground, our posse of four made for London Bridge to watch the remainder of the Newcastle vs Spurs match. There’s a Belushi’s on Borough High St and – with a taste for good burgers and a screen-laden venue in mind – we headed there for the second half.

Upon entering it was obvious there were Spurs fans eager for their team to do well. Only me and our new American friend were in Arsenal shirts, but we got a few looks, and a bit of friendly, tongue-in-cheek chat from one guy standing at the bar. He was obviously out to enjoy the day, drinking but level-headed.

He offered his hand in respect and was nothing but playful in manner.

We ordered our food, got some drinks and sat in the corner. By the bar was a young Liverpool supporter, probably all of 17 and absolutely crestfallen at the 3-0 loss to WBA. Across from us were a couple in their 60s and either their son or daughter with boy or girlfriend.

We watched for a while and then Newcastle scored.

Three of us four, including myself and the American (in Arsenal shirts), gave no reaction except to compliment Ba on a fantastic goal. One of us cheered. Not at anyone, not even provocatively, but cheered. I don’t know exactly why. It was a great goal and goal against against Spurs is never bad – it was in the jokey manner the chap at the bar had welcomed us in.

The middle-aged couple looked over.

Our food arrived.

Spurs fans, of whom their were probably twelve in Belushi’s were urging their team on. We sat quietly, talking about football while taking in the game. Jermaine Defoe equalised and the sequence of events that followed are blurred somewhat both by yesterday’s heat (and possibly alcohol), but also by the intensity.

The bar celebrated, but the gent in his 60s, who up until this point seemed rather respectable, stood up and (aimed directly at the four of us) raised his arms, making offensive gestures and shouting something to the effect of:

Guy: YES! GET IN THERE! HAVE THAT YOU GODDAM F*CKING GOONER C*NTS!

Well over the top and aggressively meant. I was stunned to silence (plus my burger was pretty good). So, obviously, was the American and one of my friends. But the other wasn’t and retorted in a considerably lower volume:

F*ck off mate, what was that for?

No answer came and the situation stalled for a while. We chomped more food and looked at each other disbelieving. Newcastle were in the ascendancy, and I had a thought:

Guys, if Newcastle score again I’m not even going to react. I think we should all just do nothing.

Why did I say that? Partly because I’m not one for confrontations and provokingly stoking a fire, but also because I didn’t want the guy to think his ridiculous display worth reacting to. If Newcastle scored again the goal alone would be a blow enough for him.

To be a frank his was a small-minded reaction to my mate’s cheering of a Newcastle goal. But my mate wasn’t being offensive or over the top, and he wasn’t even wearing an Arsenal shirt.

Regardless, I think the football gods must have been looking down on us at that point, and so spurred Hatem Ben Arfa between the flailing feet of Aaron Lennon and Rafael Van der Vaart for a sure fire penalty. We couldn’t help but smile at the guy’s reaction to a rather obvious penalty. We stopped eating and watched the screen.

A great pen, coolly taken, but then:

Guy: YOU F*CKING CHEATING DIVING C*NT!

Shouted the shouter, and it was too much for my mate who’d earlier retorted. He collapsed laughing at the guy and we couldn’t help but laugh at our mate. Not at the guy but at our mate’s reaction. The shouter said something about “f*cking gooner c*nts” and his (I guess) wife – quite rightfully upset by her man’s self-combustion into an expletive mess – stormed over.

What are you doing in here?! You come in here wearing your Arsenal shirts just to make trouble and stir it up!

Stir what up? Jeez. We drew to Sunderland, this is the first game of the season, we’ve come from the game and we’re watching football (because we like to) with a guy just into the country. And we wanted good burgers! This wasn’t a Spurs pub, but a chain restaurant with helpful staff and a jokey Spurs fan at the bar.

My eyes meet those of the daughter (or son’s girlfriend) and I shake my head and shrug shoulders in disbelief. None of us ‘reacted’.

What are you even doing cheering Newcastle goals?!

She demanded. I replied.

Err *pointing to our dumbstruck American friend* me and him are only two in Arsenal shirts and we’ve not cheered anything.

Lady: *Pointing to Mate A* No, but he has!

Mate A: Yes, I cheered a great goal and I’ll cheer any goal I want. I could be a Newcastle fan – how on earth do you know?

At this point the guy comes over to pull his wife away, and hopefully appreciate the embarrassment he’s more than helped cause. The four leave and me and my two mates are bemused by what’s happened as we attempt to assure our new pal that in our experience this is a very rare occurrence. It wasn’t as if we’d walked in a pub at Seven Sisters and started mouthing off. We were in Southwark, being quiet and appreciating a game.

We weren’t looking for trouble, just food, drink and to watch some football. One irate and incomprehensibly wound-up Spurs ‘fan’ made a mockery of all of that.

And I don’t dislike spurs fans. I don’t really dislike any fans. I don’t generalise my dislikes, nor do I  do anything other than, occasionally, play up to chat about rivalries and such. What Spurs, or any other club do or do not do is of no consequence to me apart from when it affects either the club I support or the game I enjoy.

And yet here was a gent who was sure we were intent on causing trouble and, probably because he thinks it’s how he should act,  was highly offensive to passive supporters of his clubs local rivals. We didn’t really react (“we’re not those kinds of people”), but can you imagine if we did.

So people can say that in the shadow of  the Olympics footballers and football needs to cast relative gazes mirror-bound. But I think it’s safe to say some fans do as well.

Because at the start of a new season, a fresh beginning, one thing we shouldn’t renew is the ugly side of support, and any accompanying belief that blanket dislike of other teams’ supporters is anything but damaging to our game.

Na na na na – Giroud!

The season is almost upon us. A tour of Asia, has come and gone. Transfer sagas have, like a lingering parp, failed to dissipate quickly, and the worriers are readying their woe.

But while there’s been some bad news in regards to Jack Wilshere, and some trepidation in regards to the return of Abou Diaby (he’s 26…wow), let us not forget we’ve signed two very capable players.

And you know, every good player deserves a good chant or song. So while I ruminate on a Podolski-based version of Agadoo, there’s been some tuneful suggestions doing the rounds on twitter with regards to Olivier Giroud.

So I thought I’d share a Frankenstein’s monster of a version of that ditty with you. After all, what better way to carry on into the new season than with a spring in our collective Gooner steps and a song in our hearts?

Ladies and gentlemen then, here are two verses and the chorus of a much-improved* McCartney classic (also serving to soothe the pain of never being able to give life to my Wings-inspired JET chant).

Kudos to Briggsy (@AFCHymnSheet) for the first verse, and @KeithTheGooner for constant tweet-based renditions. Let’s hear it! Sing, tweet and RT. You know you like it.

Giroud, don’t be afraid. We take a good player and make ’em better. Remember to let uns into your heart, and then we can start to get better!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!
Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Giroud, don’t pass the ball. Have a shot and score a cracker. Remember, if you get into the box, you can outfox, ’cause you’re an attacker.

tacker, tacker, tacker, tacker…

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

COYG!

P.S: For those you of you following me on @alltheskill, thank you. This account will be made defunct in the new season though, and this the last post to tweeted there. To keep following me, you’ll need to head over to @KevinPocock

(*Arsenalising things makes them better).

Following: The Revolution

This week, what with the new MLS season gearing up for kick-off (it’s called “First Kick”, for the uninitiated), I decided to start following a team.

This was in part due to the fact that a friend of mine lives in Charlotte, USA and works on the YouTube Channel Kick, and also because I’m a sucker for a bit of sporting bia…support. No team will ever match The Arsenal obviously, but it makes things interesting, and affiliation is a wonderful thing – when I was at university I attended more Aberystwyth Town matches than I submitted assignments.

In any case, picking a new team is a task riddled with questions, but I normally follow my standard formula:

  1. Am I draw to a team by something obvious other than glory?
  2. Any friends/family already supporting?
  3. Do I have any geographical or cultural affiliation, no matter how tenuous?
  4. Do I get a clear sense of a club ethos I can relate to?
  5. Do I like the kit?

After asking these questions I opted for a team in the Eastern Conference, but was torn between NY Red Bulls (they of Emirates Cup and Thierry Henry fame), and New England Revolution.

Long story short, and largely influenced by my very loose loyalty toward the NE Patriots NFL team – and the Red Bulls overt relationship with a terrible drink – I opted for the NE Revolution.

Now, what’s the first thing you do when you decide upon a new team? Or even before you decide? You visit the site, familiarise yourselves with the stars, the stats, the history and culture. So I did. But look at what I found upon visiting the New England Revolution player page:

That is a list of players with official twitter accounts noted right there on the page, right there on the official club website.

Now, you don’t even have to know the first think about the MLS, but we all know how annoying it is to follow @TheRealOfficialTOMASROSICKYlol account to then find out that it’s a fake.

We invest our time in twitter, we invest our opinions in contact – however little – with the professional sportspeople we follow and support. So, wouldn’t it be a good idea if, say, Premier League or indeed all professional clubs had a list of official player accounts like above?

Not for the club to keep tabs on the output, or to censor it in anyway. But just so we know we’re not being misled. All it takes is for @AnOfficialClubAccount to tweet that Player X has joined twitter and add the link to the squad list.

We current supporters will all be in a more informed position, and newcomers won’t have to scrabble around and waste time on an already overcrowded medium, where following fake accounts is at least incredibly frustrating.

What I’m saying is this: I’m now following the Revolution, and I suggest clubs start to follow their example.

Crazies On The North Bank

Well, wow. It’s taken me this long to get my sense of perspective back, but you know what? Sod it. I don’t want any perspective.

Yesterday, on my personal twitter account (i.e, not my AllTheSkill one), I posted the following tweet:

Beautiful day for sport, today. A day for beautiful sport, too.

I accept that beauty is subjective, but for the red half of North London, and all those neutrals partial to the occasional goalfest, what a truly epic day at the Emirates. I’d lost my head before leaving the house. Convinced that the KO was 13:00, I forewent the agreed few pints at the Tolington, hotfooting it to a strangely subdued Emirates to find food and reacquaint myself with my seat.

I couldn’t believe how quiet it was, until it was revealed I’d got the ground a full, 90 minutes before the game was due to start. Rather early than late, I sat brooding over the recent results. It wasn’t good, it really wasn’t. With the lads about me arriving in ones and twos we greeted each other with a knowing look. This was a big day.

A habitual look over my left shoulder revealed the North Bank Boomer was absent. Dear, dear, where would the chants spark from? And a stand-in Emirates announcer? Oh my word, do I not like change. Not on days like this. Le Boss went with Rosícky and Yossi from the start, and although I’m a huge fan of both I dreaded a turn of luck that would see them befall a calamitous OG. Each. In both halves.

By five past two, I was crumpled, bitter and cursing in an upper tier awash with anger. We were wallowing in self-pity, painted a pale shade of dismay. We looked decent going forward but were all at sea at the back. At one point Gareth Bale had enough room to stand 100 clones of himself on the flank, and still manage a free run at Wojciech. Groans seemed to eek from the very seats as we all shuffled uneasily.

A shot deflected wide from RVP, Super Tom was close with a glanced header from a corner and RVP hit the post. It was just then that despite the great sound the Emirates faithful continued to produce in the Boomer’s absence (on days like that, it seems many to take up song), I was readying myself for resignation. And it was at that moment Mr Consistent, Bacary Sagna, caught a left-footed cross plum on his head and fizzed it past Friedel.

Pumped fists, and shouts of “COME ON LADS” abound. Sagna, seeminlgly similarly encouraged grabbed the ball, allowed himself an outpouring and ran back down the pitch. A flash of football and between the bobbing heads of half-standers in the row in front of me RVP had the ball on the edge of the box. Twisting and turning, I waited to see the net ripple and then went absolutely barmy!

The Bear, sat next to me rather than but one as usual, grabbed me in joint celebration. We butted heads in the madness, but spoke nothing of it. This was sheer, unadulterated joy and we, The Arsenal, had pulled ourselves back from the brink. We were back in it and chants rang out.

Some had already left their seats for half-time sustenance, but they needn’t have feared they’d missed the best action (just the best goal). Still, the perceived wisdom was that Theo was having a shocker. AOC might be preferred for the second half.

Three more goals to come, and three more completely crazy sets of scenes. Rosicky, having an absolute stormer for me picked the ball up and proceeded to run at the Spurs defence. Sagna overlapped, the ball came back, and I had to double check the goalscorer. But before I had the chance all around was jumping men, women and children.

The Bear slapped me on the back, but he and his guest celebrated so hard they both fell into the aisle at the exact time I launched a jumping fist pump. Magic unfolding before us, except it wasn’t. It was very real, and the very Arsenal team was turning Spurs over. SuperTom, I was told, had scored it, and as one of my favourite Arsenal players, I thought to myself, “You deserved that, sir. You bloody deserved it.

The celebrations for Theo’s first I can’t recall, but for after a breathless, jigging bliss, I said rather louder than I meant to:

“Wenger! Get Chamberlain on!” and the few about me that weren’t deaf with joy laughed.

When the fifth went in I’d jumped to my feet, but stood dumb at what had come before us. We were in party mode and the the blues had well and truly vanished to the clear sky above. A beautiful day for those who enjoyed it, and five goals without reply…

Just. Wow.

 

Still For a far better visualisation of the days events than my humble words can muster, check out this vid. A special day, and deserving on a slot in the long-term memeory banks methinks!

OOH TO, OOH TO BE!

Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)

Q: When is a penalty not a penalty? A: When it doesn’t look like one.

In these crazy, mixed-up times, even Joey Barton is calling for video technology to be introduced into the English top flight. I agree {shudder}, I’m all for it. But in its absence officials still need to make decisions based upon what they see.

Used to be that what was a freekick outside the box was a penalty inside it. But a combination of the heightened importance of such a decision in providing an unchallenged attempt on goal, changing a game and/or reducing the number of players on a team has completely altered that. These days officials seem unwilling to give penalties unless there is little doubt in their minds. But even when they do, and even with the backing of second, third, fourth (and perhaps not) fifth or sixth match officials they still get things wrong.

Human error has a part to play, but there’s another thing going on here. A cold, hard, case of The Flops. That is attempting to make and official give a penalty by overacting, going down too lightly or just absolutely cheating.

Now I don’t wish to call into question the integrity of many of the football players I watch and some of whom I dearly support, but it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that sometimes some players go down a bit easy. Afterall, if the Lehmann vs Drogba pantomime spectacular told us anything, it was that our professional players have more than an inkling of how to make the most of a bit of contact. They’re not alone either. A couple of years ago, when I still actively played Saturday League, some players actively practised (albeit in jest) dives in training. Equally, type “Gerrard/Rooney/Walcott/Lampard dive” into YouTube and see what you get.

It might be suggested that The Flops goes on quite a lot. And it might be equally refuted. Sitting at home, and even in the stands, it can be hard to have a full appreciation of the sheer speed, and therefore, colliding forces, impact, centres of balance and  – even – the intentions to fall to the ground of our top, top players. Be that as it may, our officials still need to make decisions. Even when not in the best position, and at times further from the incident in question than some fans.

After the defeat against Fulham on Monday, Arsene Wenger responded to whether he agreed if the claim by Gervinho of being fouled by Phillipe Senderos was a penalty:

200%…anyway, we know we don’t get penalties. We had one against…err, at home in the last game against QPR, we had one today and [they’re] never given anyway.

But we (Arsenal) do get penalties. Walcott earned and van Persie converted one against Aston Villa on 21st December. But it was obvious Theo was fouled. Tugged back plain as day, and he didn’t need to hit the deck to make his point. Gervinho was clipped by Senderos, yes. And van Persie was bundled by Senderos…yes. But while in the second situation it’s feasible the referee Lee Probert was unsighted, in the first he may have been “turned off” by Gervinho’s fall.

And can we blame him, his officials or colleagues if that’s ever the case? Surely it’s far easier to forgive them for such missed decisions if  they’re not 100% certain a player is impeded or an indiscretion occurred. Even if a foul is committed, overacting it might achieve the reverse of what was hoped for. And even when decisions are given it’s not always clean cut.

Just last night, Man City won 3-0 against Liverpool and were awarded a penalty. Have a look. Can you tell me with 100% certainty that it is or isn’t one? You could argue that a 6’2″ man of about 14st (I’m estimating here, as City’s player page omits Toure’s weight) shouldn’t go down that easy. This might also be called “The Drogba Offence”. You may even speculate that having sprinted the length of the half to get there, Yaya felt it better to go down under any contact and get a penalty to potentially kill off Liverpool.

The alternative is to stay up and shoot from an awkward angle under pressure. With 17 minutes left to play, and his team just down to 10 men. You might equally argue that there was enough – even untintentional – contact from Skrtel at the speed Yaya Toure was travelling to send him tumbling. But you’d have to have a higher grasp of the physics behind such collisions than I.

What you can’t possibly argue is that the referee (who is nowhere near as quick as Yaya Toure, and so further down the pitch), or even the nearest assistant referee, can say with absolute certainty that it was or wasn’t the correct decision. But at full speed, and from a bit of a distance it looks like one. Doesn’t it?

And this is the point. For I think the tide should be changing in Premier League football: In the absence of absolute certainty, or even the degrees of certainty to which video technology would allow us to reach (and which I hope very quickly makes my following comment irrelevant) penalty decisions are all down to whether they appear to be one. In the past players could play to this a little with The Flops: ‘making the best of it’, exaggerating and ‘simulation’. But these days it might be best to try something slightly different. You know, players may actually benefit – like Theo did – from attempting to stay on their feet. And as a result we may lose the terror of The Flops, while maintaining a modicum of sanity.

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