Martin Samuel: Football's hate mob can learn from rugby

08 February 2011 03:29
Traitor? But Andy Carroll's ?35million move from Newcastle to Liverpoolsuited both clubs

There is a reason every transfer now ends with several rounds of finger-pointing, claim and counter-claim. The people involved are scared and, believe it or not, they are scared of you.

They fear the backlash, the venom, the headlines, the pointing fingers, the contorted, angry faces. They want to off-load the blame before bother knocks at their door. That is why Andy Carroll announced he was pushed out of Newcastle, and the club argued he had agitated to leave. He did not want any trouble and neither did they.

Have a look at the face on Derek Llambias, the managing director of Newcastle United, after Arsenal's fourth goal goes in on Saturday. It is beyond the torment of a man whose team are getting stuffed. He knows the hounds of hell are not just on his traces, but waiting for him in the car park and calling his mate Mike Ashley a steaming Cockney pillock, live on Sky Sports News.

If we were more grown-up about this all sides could tell the truth. Carroll could acknowledge that, as much as he loved his hometown club, the salary and opportunity to play for Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish was too good to resist; the owners of Newcastle could say the same of a ?35million transfer fee for a player who has experienced one half of a good season in the Premier League.

Sadly, football is no longer a reasonable place. Any player that leaves is a traitor, no matter what the circumstances, and any board that sells should be sacked, no matter the worth of the transaction to the business. Players no longer celebrate goals against former clubs out of respect, as if at a funeral, and unbridled hatred is so widely accepted as the currency of a deal that otherwise intelligent observers discuss it in rational terms.

Increasingly, supporters are as defined by who they hate - teams, players, managers - as by loyalty to their team. We act as if it was always that way. It wasn't. This is new. Sir Alex Ferguson made that point when he described an old photograph in his office of Manchester United and Leeds United players fighting on the pitch, while the crowd behind watched impassively.

Noisy and raucous and raw: but the atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium was inspired by the game, not hate for the opposition

Yet fans were no less passionate about their team in decades past. The biggest attendances in English football were recorded more than half a century ago. So how would that fight scene have played out now? With all the calm detachment of a public stoning.

Friday night in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, was an education. The Six Nations match between Wales and England was supposed to be an outpouring of national hatred, a vivid rendering of pure hostility with old wounds reopened and salt added by the class war of a Conservative Government in a recession.

And it was lively, yes. Noisy and raucous and raw. Yet the greatest sound was inspired not by some peripheral distraction like a spiky newspaper article or a bit of previous history between the protagonists, but by the game.

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Oh, the locals had fun when Mike Tindall misjudged a pass causing Chris Ashton to fall over, but not as much as they roared when Wales strung a good move together. And as the sport is the people's game west of the Severn, this cannot be dismissed as merely the braying of Twickenham toffs either.

That roar is what football so often misses these days, replaced by bile and violent disdain. There is now a casual acceptance that to abuse the departed Fernando Torres is as much part of being a Liverpool supporter as cheering Steven Gerrard.

And the fear of this opprobrium is making liars of everybody. It is not enough for a club to take good money for a player any more. They must also massage the information so the individual comes out of the transfer as a good-for-nothing, grasping toe rag and the sellers as helpless, put-upon stooges.

Witness the unsubtle besmirching of Torres's character that preceded his transfer to Chelsea. Unpopular with the players, wanted out for years, had his own medical staff at the training ground, who does he think he is? Carroll's substantial Liverpool wage was even made public by a senior Newcastle executive.

The players know this game too, so somehow it was leaked that Newcastle owner Ashley laid on a private helicopter to take Carroll to Liverpool. Wayne Rooney even ended up losing a libel case to his old manager David Moyes for claiming he had been forced out of Everton, when it was obvious his transfer to Manchester United suited all parties.

The reality is that most transfers do. Yet football smears, dissembles, flannels and camouflages to avoid confronting its public with the most unpalatable truth of all: in their position, you would take the money or the promotion, too.

 Hart break for Capello

The steady undermining of Fabio Capello by his employers at the Football Association is beginning to have effect. Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart is in poor form right now and Capello duly noted this in the build-up to Wednesday' s match in Denmark, reminding him of the need for concentration.

Time was, a mild admonishment from the stern-faced England manager would have been silently heeded. Not any more.

Since the World Cup, FA drones have been blabbing on and off the record that Capello is just marking time. Now everybody knows he is out after the 2012 European Championship, or sooner, to be replaced by an Englishman, weakening his stature considerably.

Brush off: Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart dismissed Fabio Capello's recent comments on his form

Even Sir Alex Ferguson thought his standing in the dressing room at Manchester United diminished when the players believed he was leaving at the end of the 2001-02 season. So where a word from Capello would once have brought a player to attention, now Hart feels empowered to mockingly brush him off, because he will not be around much longer.

'It is quite frustrating to hear,' said Hart. 'What else could I be considered to be concentrating on? It is not as if there is a movie going on in the background or you are doing your homework and a fly comes in the room and you go after it. There is a ball. That is it.'

For this outbreak of insolence, Capello - whose options in Hart's position are so deep he has selected Fulham reserve goalkeeper David Stockdale, who has featured in seven Premier League matches all season - can thank those inside the FA who have stealthily chipped away at his reputation since the summer.

And no doubt he does: off the record, of course.


Russian lesson in love

The largest average attendance in Russia's Premier League in 2010 was 23,450 for Spartak Moscow. The fact they play in the 78,360-capacity Luzhniki Stadium and won the title rather puts this into perspective.

Rubin Kazan, champions in 2008 and 2009, attracted just 13,512 to their matches in the capital of the Tatarstan region.

There are 16 teams in the Premier League and only six boasted improved gates. Saturn Oblast went bankrupt on crowds of 7,153, while Terek Grozny, in the capital of Chechnya, narrowly avoided relegation and immediately appointed Ruud Gullit as manager.

Terek's average gate is 8,293. One presumes Gullit is not in Chechnya for his health.

Half-full: Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium

There is serious money in Russian football these days. One of the reasons Saturn went skint is that some players were on ?1m contracts and Zenit St Petersburg - average gate 19,419 - spent ?25.3m on Portuguese international Danny in 2008.

Nor is television revenue responsible for the boom. The biggest match of the Russian season, the Moscow derby between Spartak and CSKA, achieved just a four per cent audience share last year.

We all know the reason for Russian football's wealth because we see it echoed in our own league at Chelsea. The new owner of Anzhi Makhachkala in Dagestan is Suleyman Kerimov. He comes in 86 spots behind Roman Abramovich on Forbes' list of the world's billionaires, but that still gives him a fortune in excess of ?3.41bn, which could explain why Anzhi's gates are up - by 3.8 per cent to 11,067.

Where is UEFA's financial fair play in all this? Who knows? Michel Platini, UEFA president, never seems to mention Russia when he is pontificating on the evils of spending beyond the organic means of a club and indeed seems a great advocate for the region.

He was very supportive of a Champions League final played in Moscow at midnight and voted for Russia to get the 2018 World Cup, a victory he described as 'something beautiful'.

Meanwhile, English football is in a frenzy of introspection because we feel the financial nature of our game is offensive to football's powerbrokers.

If only we could be more like the Russians, maybe Platini would like us. What is their secret, I wonder?

 Weighing up the move to the Olympic Stadium, there are two questions for supporters of West Ham United.

The first is: 'Do you want to leave Upton Park?' The answer to this is no. Upton Park is West Ham's home. It was where Bobby Moore played. West Ham supporters are very attached to Upton Park.

The next question is the big one, though. 'If West Ham stayed at Upton Park, would you be happy for Tottenham Hotspur to take the Olympic site?' Strangely, the answer to that is no, too.

Loose footing: West Ham could find themselves no longer the dominant force in east London should Spurs take over the Olympic Stadium

West Ham fans understand this is about more than running tracks and the view from row Z. The battle for the Olympic Stadium concerns identity and survival.

To thrive, West Ham need to stay the biggest club in east London. They cannot do that if Tottenham Hotspur move to Stratford. This is the point that is missed by those who cannot see beyond eight lanes of separation. Perimeter running tracks are not ideal for football, everybody knows that, but for West Ham the alternative is far worse.

In the circumstances, it is a sacrifice the supporters are willing to make.

  In the week that chairman John Williams became the latest senior figure to leave Blackburn Rovers - following the sacking of Sam Allardyce before Christmas - manager Steve Kean came out in support of the new owners. 'The family have backed us since day one,' he said.

Kean boasts a freshly signed contract, lasting until 2013, which could explain this slip of the tongue.

He said 'us'. He meant 'me'.

 Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, does himself few favours with his constant carping about the transfer expenditure of his rivals. He is known as the Professor, but comes across more as the school snitch. 'Sir, sir, Abramovich is spending money again, sir.'

Capitulation: Arsenal let slip a four-goal half-time lead to draw 4-4 at Newcastle on Saturday

Maybe if Arsenal had done so, the team would not have capitulated embarrassingly to Newcastle United on Saturday.

There was nothing wrong with Joey Barton's tackle on Abou Diaby, either.

 Against the backdrop of a Saturday that produced a delightful 41 goals in eight Premier League games, the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry into football governance convenes.

Politicians always claim to be seeking a wide variety of opinions for these reports, but if the identity of the sports writer who will appear before them is any guide, as ever they will be summoning the fawning few who will obligingly tell them only what they want to hear.

 Sian Massey returned to football at the weekend, as a special case, because her late insertion into the game between Chesterfield and Aldershot was kept secret.

What will happen when she makes a mistake and headlines follow? What if she had a stinker, like Trevor Massey, the linesman at the game between Newcastle United and Arsenal, who flagged for a penalty that never was? Will there be another month of cloak and dagger over her next appearance?

She is only human. It is going to happen. And we cannot carry on like this.

 When Pete Winkelman stole Wimbledon Football Club for Milton Keynes, he said there was a football fever waiting to happen in the city. They must have taken antibiotics for it, then, because the average attendance this season is 8,070, better than Bournemouth but not quite as good as Swindon Town.

Qatar is also waiting to explode in time for the 2022 World Cup, we hear, but not so much that the organisers of the Asian Cup in Doha did not have to bus in immigrant workers to pad the hall at the final between Japan and Australia.

Maybe Milton Keynes could loan them a herd of concrete cows for next time.

 Punishment makes light of a dark day

Suspended: Mohammad Aamer (left), Salman Butt (centre) and Mohammad Asif (right)

They got the minimum. The five-year bans meted out to Pakistan's cheating cricketers appear stiff but they are in fact the lightest possible sentence the three-man tribunal could give.

Worse, the panel advised the International Cricket Council to review its minimum sentence rule, which suggests the players might have received a lesser punishment had the option been available.

So expect three appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport on those grounds.

'Cricket is something we love,' said former Pakistan captain and manager Zaheer Abbas. 'After these bans people will stop loving it so much. And for what? Just two no-balls. It seems very harsh.'

But it isn't. Bowl just one no-ball to order and the crooks have got you. From there, bigger fixes are on the table, including the match itself.

Zaheer's comments would suggest that some inside Pakistan cricket still do not understand. And until cheating carries more than the minimum sentence, they probably never will.

 Torres did a good job! Ancelotti backs his ?50m man after Liverpool blowCarragher calls for his 'hero' Dalglish to be made permanent Liverpool bossDes Kelly: Aldridge shoots from the lip (but he's way off target this time)Patrick Collins: Roman Abramovich must learn when to keep his wad in his pocket

 Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Mike Tindall, Andy Carroll, Sam Allardyce, Steven Gerrard, John Williams, Mike Ashley, David Moyes, Fabio Capello, Fernando Torres, Arsene Wenger, Joey Barton, Bobby Moore, Joe Hart, Sian Massey, Wayne Rooney, Roman Abramovich, Jonny Wilkinson Places: Moscow, Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Wales, Qatar, Japan, Pakistan, Australia, Denmark, United Kingdom, Russia, Olympic Stadium Organisations: International Cricket Council, Football Association

Source: Daily_Mail

World Cup Group G

Belgium 1 0 0 3 3
England 1 0 0 1 3
Tunisa 0 0 1 -1 0
Panama 0 0 1 -3 0
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