Accept errors are part of football and get back to enjoying the game
Port Vale protest is a bizarre sign of the times
Wherever you look in life the old rules have gone out of the window. Politics is clearly the best example of this trend but football is also doing away with conventional standards of conduct and behaviour and the results are surprising and at times shocking.
Take Port Vale, who this week issued a phenomenally bizarre statement outlining what they see as seven injustices by referees this season. The final straw came when they had a goal disallowed against Cheltenham, who went on to beat them 1-0 and leave them just three points and one place above the Sky Bet League Two relegation zone.
Using language one would normally associate with a Twitter feed operated by an ardent fan aged somewhere between 11 and 13 rather than an actual Football League club, Vale said they were sending in some kind of report to the Match Official Administration System, whatever that is.
Video highlights, the statement claims, prove that a Cheltenham player clearly causes the Vale poacher who put the ball into the net to be onside. A still image taken from almost exactly 45 degrees to the incident is presumably supposed to help prove the point but offers little by way of hard evidence.
The rant continued: “Stats have shown so far this season that when Port Vale score the first goal in a match, we have not lost a game,” the inference seemingly being that because something has happened a few times since August it is bound to keep on happening.
Brilliantly, it is also stated that “we as a club understand you make your own luck in a game that lasts 90 minutes”. Where the hell do you start with that one? Did they somehow make the wrong kind of luck? And how do you go about making luck in the first place? Is there a recipe on the internet?
Who knows? But Vale chiefs (I’m presuming the chiefs were behind this even though it reads like a prank by a newly-sacked employee) were not done there. They highlighted seven incidents that they claim have hindered them this season, listing the opponents, dates and scant details such as “Lincoln City awarded a penalty”.
Quite what they are hoping this will achieve is anyone’s guess but the statement concludes: “The club takes these matters extremely seriously and treat [sic] accordingly,” using the kind of phraseology normally reserved for when a gang of local yobs have sprayed graffiti all over the window of the club shop.
While one must have sympathy for a lower-league side battling relegation to the National League for the first time, this is an embarrassing way to carry on and would almost certainly not have happened in John Rudge’s day.
Even if they do feel they are the victims of a string of bad breaks from the referees, a quiet word would have been a far more sensible course of action than this daft whinge, which one can only assume was done to reassure the fans they were not going to stand for this nonsense.
It is unclear whether Vale want points retrospectively reinstated or some other kind of compensation, but it will be interesting to see what happens if they suddenly start finding themselves the beneficiaries of refereeing decisions that go their way.
Will they, when they feel things have evened themselves up, start allowing opponents to score direct from the kick-off? Will they fire off another statement expressing their unhappiness that other teams are now finding themselves on the wrong end of these injustices?
Sadly, it is yet another example of people failing to accept that the occasional error is bound to happen in football, whether it is by an outfield player, a goalkeeper, a manager or a ref. This feeble intolerance has led to VAR being foisted upon us and time and again we are seeing what some of us feared would happen when it was first wheeled out.
In Spain at the weekend Real Madrid were awarded a penalty when Casemiro disgracefully flung himself to the ground despite a Levante defender having made either no contact or the most minimal contact with him when trying to clear the ball.
Astonishingly, the VAR endorsed the decision and the spot-kick award stood. It was one of the most ludicrous things I have seen since this Frankenstein’s monster was created, and yet plenty of people claimed the on-field referee and the official in the bunker were right.
Many of these opinions were immediately disqualified, however, because they almost all added in their tweets words to the effect of: “It’s not VAR that’s the problem, it’s the person operating it.”
This confirms something I have long since suspected, that it is widely thought that VAR is the name of the equipment that enables humans to view the contentious footage rather than an actual person, which is what it is.
By that logic these people would think the conventional assistant referee is nothing more than a flag and that the guy who carries it up and down the touchline, waving it occasionally, is the real problem.
The use of VAR, like Brexit, is a woeful annoyance that takes up far too much of our attention, whether we are pro or anti, leave or remain. But some of us are sufficiently aware of the threat it poses to the future prosperity of the game to feel the need to continue to point out its shortcomings and plead with the authorities to chuck it in the canal as soon as possible.
If everyone, from fans to the owners of struggling fourth-tier clubs in the Potteries, went back to accepting that mistakes happen very occasionally we would be able to enjoy football so much more.
Reduced prize-money is inevitable blow
Nobody wants what is about to happen to prize-money in British racing, but it is going to happen anyway. That is the stark reality, however much trainers protest about it.
The cloud that formed on the horizon when it was first mooted that the maximum stake on FOBTs was going to be slashed has now moved directly overhead and is showering the sport with pain rather than rain.
Arc, arguably with disappointing haste, has preempted an inevitable drop in media-rights income, caused by there being fewer betting shops, and cut prize-money, leading to a boycott by trainers at two races on the card at Lingfield last Saturday.
Racing’s boats rose on the FOBT tide and they will fall on it too. More betting shops opened to maximise the opportunity that the contentious machines afforded operators, and that swelled racing’s income, leading to impressive prize-money increases.
But fewer machines will mean fewer shops and thus less money for the winners and placed horses as a consequence. There really isn’t much getting away from that.
The sport’s many working parts will suffer. Jockeys and trainers will feel the pinch, as will racecourses. That is bad news and one wishes it were not the case, but racing benefited from 17 years of FOBTs and now the tap has been turned off.
It has been suggested that racing’s leaders should have seen this coming and taken measures to do something about it, but the critics never actually went as far as to advise what that something might be.
One line that will hopefully not be trotted out too often as the reality of post-FOBTs life becomes clear is that owners should get a certain level of prize-money because they spend so much on horses. The simple answer to that is to spend less.
On all other issues regarding how the sport copes with significantly reduced income, however, nothing is remotely simple.
Stale set-pieces are hardly state secrets
The most laughable element of the Marcelo Bielsa spying story that has dragged on for so long is the claim that a team would have a significant advantage over its opponents by having some prior insight into how they planned to approach set pieces.
As anyone who watches football knows, teams are woefully unimaginative when it comes to corners and free kicks in dangerous positions, so quite what snooping on training sessions is supposed to achieve I am not sure.
Corners using that intricate code of either one arm or both arms raised are generally slung into the same area every time and free kicks are either direct shots or hopeful chips towards a group of teammates.
It’s hardly like stumbling across an NFL playbook, so it is utterly ludicrous to make out that Leeds gained a significant advantage.
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