This week we await judgment on the discipline of players in two sports: cricket and football. The contrast could not be greater: between the petulance of a schoolboy and the thuggery of a lout. And yet football so often, for reasons simply of class, is presented as unsavoury in comparison to cricket but more often rugby.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a game of rugby. I would far rather watch the titanic duel between Lions and All Blacks – where Lord of the Rings type monsters clash in serried ranks whilst from time to time, by virtue of fleetness of hands, feet or mind, humans slip through to triumph – to some games of football.
I give you early round World Cup matches in summer heat (not Qatar obviously, that would be criminal insanity) or last season’s Champions League games at Wembley. Oh God. I hope they get this new ground right. How can stadium architects manage to double or treble the number of fans in a ground and yet reduce the atmosphere to not much at all?
You can envisage a time when the Lords of the Universe – the owners of TV rights – tell a club like Spurs: can you pull down the FED EX and build … well, build White Hart Lane; the product needs atmosphere, you see. (It will be something like Fed Ex, won’t it? Some remote global brand? It won’t be something we can relate to like Cheesy Wotsits or Cupasoup. Perhaps we don’t like the idea of American Parcel Force. At least not some parasitic betting firm, hey?)
No, I would argue there’s more violence around rugby than football. Fists actually fly between players and then you get someone like Matt Dawson inevitably describe it as – in that boorish and sexist phrase – ‘handbags’. In football if you so much as raise your hands to head height it is a disciplinary matter. In the recent game, West Ham v Spurs, the players appeared to gather round for a somewhat heated Brexit debate; both clubs have been charged with failing to keep their players under control and fined £20, 000. No punches were thrown.
I understand that emotions can spill over in contact sports. Rugby supporters often imply the ‘contact’ in their sport is somehow more ‘manly’ and imply footballers fall over and roll around at the slightest suggestion of contact. For me (and I sound a complete idiot saying this) I’d rather be punched than kicked – mechanically, the levers are more powerful – and more career threatening injuries are mere split seconds away. Admittedly, now footballers don’t head soggy leather footballs, such head injuries are remote in comparison to the worries currently stalking school rugby.
The apologists are currently gathering in support of Stokes. Graeme Swann made a laughing stock of himself by suggesting Ben was quite likely a hero and, if it had been his own son, he would have applauded him.
Of course, neither of these young men should be tried by the likes of me. In addition I’ve no evidence to speak of. But I’m gonna anyway. If found guilty, the ECB should ban Stokes for two years, allowing him a way back, some rehabilitation. Only trouble with this, it will give two years of earning millions in various cricket circuses around the globe – hardly bread and water!
It wouldn’t surprise any of us if Dele was directing that one fingered salute at the ref. (Some kids caught red-handed still resort to a few porkies as a first line of defence.) He should be punished for yet another example of silly petulance. Fine him a few thousand pounds (he won’t miss) and give him a hundred lines.
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