The Antagonist - Why Bullies are good for football

By 26 February 2010 07:15

So the seedy world of politics has been rocked this week with allegations of bullying at the highest levels of government.

But what, you may ask, has any of this to do with football? This is after all, not Question Time.

The fear is that football could get dragged into the bullying debate. Indeed, intimidation within the game has probably been going on since the FA was formed in 1863. From time to time initiatives are put in place, such as the FA's Respect campaign, to tackle the issue but it is so deeply ingrained in the traditions and psyche of the football world that you have to believe that it is a hopeless cause.

Teacup hurling at half-time team talks, the infamous Ferguson 'hairdryer' treatment and sending players off to the further reaches of nowhere, on loan, are just a couple of examples of what, in more gentile circles, could be classified as bullying.

However, the characters in our drama are not weedy, pallid faced civil servants but big, hairy, testosterone-fuelled super athletes who are often paid extortionate amounts of money to run about for ninety minutes kicking a lump of leather into an onion bag.

A good rollicking goes with the territory and, as the saying goes, 'if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen'.

There are limits of course. Chelsea's disgraceful behaviour towards an admittedly incompetent refereeing performance by Tom Henning Ovrebo in last season's Champions League game against Barcelona was a prime example of unacceptability.

Here was a clear breach of the bullying boundary where half a dozen or more fired up Blues verbally and physically castigated the hapless official some of whom were rightly, if insufficiently, penalised for it.

Racist bullying by spectators, which was particularly rife in certain parts of Europe in the 1990s, is a particularly distasteful element which the Kick it Out campaign (1997) confronted head on and hopefully is now confined to an ignorant and isolated minority.

Bullying is an integral part of a manager's armoury and they employ bullying techniques for different reasons. In terms of motivation, the quiet introvert (e.g Berbatov) is more likely to respond positively to a gentle arm round the shoulder and soft words of encouragement, whereas the more gobby 'Flashheart' type (e.g Bellamy) probably requires the odd boot up the jacksy to put fire in his belly.

The mark of a good manager is to successfully differentiate between the two.

Secondly, bullying often comes out of pure exasperation. Fergie's launching of a size 9 studded missile into Becks eyebrow at Old Trafford after a particularly frustrating afternoon is such an example.

It hit the headlines and contributed to the tattooed one departing for sunnier climes. Interestingly, no court action or league sanction followed. Common sense prevailed. Imagine the uproar in the House if Gordon hurled his Marks and Spencer's lace ups at Mr C in the middle of PMQs.

Bullying is a very emotive word and an extremely complex concept. Indeed, if you consider that football , in common with most sports, involves the attempt to wear down the opposition, to gain a psychological and physical advantage and exert superiority over them, you discover that this is not a million miles from the mindset of the bully.

Therefore, perhaps it follows that bullying is an integral part of sport if you wish to be successful.

Certainly the most successful manager in our national game over the past quarter century, Alex Ferguson, has often been accused of over exerting his dominance, and has been mentioned a couple of times in dispatches in this article.

So let's dig our heels in if the loony left, do-gooders attempt to embroil our sport in the bullying debate and acknowledge that top level football is a high-stakes, passionate game played by committed people where emotions often run high and things get said and done that wouldn't necessarily be acceptable in polite society.

I maintain that selective, constructive bullying is part of the game and I'll thump anyone who says otherwise!


Source: DSG

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