Saturday, August 19, 2006


The Fake Break

The crowd at Aussie Stadium on Wednesday night was subdued for much of the evening, partly due to the less-than-inspiring football on offer, and partly, no doubt, because they knew this was not quite “the real” Socceroos.

It was generally the Australian attacks that brought the crowd to life, but for one moment in the second half they raised their voices in unison. It was not a cheer that echoed around the arena, however, but a prolonged boo.

The occasion was a Kuwaiti attack, one of a few the Gulf side managed in the second half. A player in blue was dancing around the eighteen-yard box, desperately searching for an opening. The boos quickly became deafening.

Why the jeering? Because Jade North, following an aerial challenge, had remained in a heap on the ground while the Kuwaitis advanced on goal.

No doubt the crowd felt that “etiquette” required the Kuwaitis to propel the ball into touch, thereby allowing North to receive some attention.

To my mind, though, the booing had the whiff of hypocrisy about it. Many, many commentators and fans, in Australia and elsewhere, excoriated the Italian champions for their time-wasting antics during the recent World Cup; all too often, we were told, a member of the azzurri hit the deck and stayed there after a relatively innocuous challenge; it was, apparently, just a ploy to stifle the temporary initiative gained by the opposition, a cynical means of slowing down the play.

Very true, of course, but the Italians were far from the only guilty parties. Those who blasted Marcello Lippi’s men for their “fake injuries” during the final should remember that it was France’s Thierry Henry who set the tone, taking an eternity to return to the play after he ran into Fabio Cannavaro shortly after the opening whistle.

As for Jade North on Wednesday night, he was back in the fray within half a minute, looking none the worse for the knock.

So to the matter of “etiquette”. Should the side without the injured player feel obliged to put the ball into touch?

In my opinion, absolutely not. The simple question I would ask is: how is this different from a situation in which a player has temporarily gone off for an injury? In each case, one team has a transient numerical advantage, and this should be accepted as a normal part of the game. In the case of the crumpled on-field player, once a stoppage has occurred, the player will have ample time to leave the field if he genuinely needs treatment. The chances of him actually being physically endangered by a continuation of play (which should really be the only consideration) are minimal.

If a player has clearly suffered a serious, incapacitating blow, then sportsmanship would dictate that the opposition should halt the play (the most famous example of this being Paolo di Canio’s generous spurning of an open goal when Everton’s ’keeper Paul Gerrard lay howling in pain on the turf).

As for the side with the “injured” player putting the ball into touch…well, of course, there’s not much that can be done about it. But there have been recent moves towards allowing referees to decide whether a throw back to the perhaps superficially afflicted side is really necessary.

A welcome innovation, in my view. What began as a sporting custom has now become hopelessly open to abuse, and with more physical demands being placed on players than ever before, subtle means of conserving energy – not just for the “injured” player, but for the whole team – are likely to become far more popular.

The latter stages of the World Cup, and the final in particular, suffered from far too many stoppages due to utterly inconsequential “injuries”.

Let’s keep ’em honest – as far as possible.

Agree all along the line there Mikey. Not only was the boo-ing poor form but Valkanis' eventual hack in anger on the edge of the box was just absurd.

It is way past due that referees controlled this part of the game IMO.

Your perception seems to be that the tactics in regards to the Italians that a) These were solely responsible for them winning the World Cup & b) that although you grudgingly admit that other teams performed such tactics you seems to be playing to the crowd and are blinded by your bias & believe such drivel.
I'm sure you watched the Final and saw the French player go down although no Italian player was within a foot of him. Obviously to point out such a thing would not endear you to the EPL inclined football ignorant quasi firm known as the Cove.
Please continue to pick on the Italian team and choose to ignore the fact that the schoolboy tackle ( read fuckup) that was attempted on Lucas Neil was one of the reasons why Italy went through & Australia didn't.
Pardon me for bursting your bubble. There are some of us who read this who have football brains.
I like the way you think Mike. Agree with your analysis both of the unsportsmanship of the crowd, and the possible abuse of a beautiful and noble sporting custom. The footage of Paolo di Canio's act made me weep. Football should be more cricket than cricket, and can be I like to believe.

As for Anonymous's comment, it could have been constructive if he didn't resort to schoolyard abuse. In debate too, we can be civilised if we try. Thanks once again for your blog Mike - I'm about half way through!
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