Terry farewell draws risible outrage
No integrity issues over skipper's substitution
The over-analysis of everything that happens in football except the actual football is becoming ever more preposterous, as illustrated by the risible fuss caused by John Terry’s final minute as a Chelsea player.
While brilliant tactical assessors like Michael Cox of Zonal Marking are treated like weirdos for actually trying to intelligently pick apart how matches develop but the originators of vapid stats such as total take-ons are regarded as the last word in wisdom, the vast majority of post-game talking points hinge on largely irrelevant topics like refereeing decisions.
And then when something unusual happens everyone rushes to offer an opinion even if the incident itself has no influence on the outcome or is so one-dimensional that further discussion is utterly pointless.
Terry’s departure from the Stamford Bridge pitch on Sunday sparked a frankly ludicrous reaction, the most disappointing aspect of which was that some usually sensible voices from the media united with the Twitter throng in condemning what was the most harmless, well-intentioned moment imaginable.
Terry left the field in the 26th minute, as a symbol of his shirt number, and an elongated farewell culminated with his teammates forming a guard of honour.
Nobody inside the stadium seemed to find anything remotely objectionable about it. The fans clapped and cheered lustily, the opposition players shook Terry’s hand and the officials waited calmly to restart the match.
But outside the ground it kicked off instantly. The BBC’s Garth Crooks declared himself “a little bit bemused”, although anyone who reads the former Spurs and Stoke striker’s teams of the week probably think he spends his entire life in a state of bemusement.
And the fury really intensified when Sunderland manager David Moyes revealed, or rather mentioned, afterwards that he had agreed his players would kick the ball out at some point of the 26th minute so Terry could say his goodbyes.
He may as well have confessed to having plotted Sunderland’s relegation for the best part of a year. Fleet Street’s finest burst out of the press conference to lambast Moyes and officially declare the game was now dead, and those opinion-formers created a ripple that saw much of the developed world jump on a social-media app to express how horrified they were that such a joyous little ceremony had taken place.
Then it emerged Terry himself had suggested the idea of playing 26 minutes before coming off, which was just too much for some.
Here are a few thoughts about the non-story of the year.
The integrity of the game was not compromised one iota by what happened.
It was an irrelevant contest and even though the ref added only one minute at the end of the first half, there were worse examples of inadequate stoppage-time allocations that day including a single minute at the end of Watford v City even though Heurelho Gomes received treatment for at least three minutes.
The only dubious thing about Moyes agreeing to kick the ball out was the idea that his team could have thwarted the plan by retaining possession throughout the 26th minute.
If it had happened to Buffon or Lahm or Iniesta everyone would have cooed over how lovely it all was.
And if it had happened to Giggs or Gerrard there would have been far less fuss too.
So what if Terry suggested it? The club didn’t have to agree to it. From what I saw everyone embraced the idea with maximum enthusiasm.
Most ludicrous of all was the suggestion that this nice event constituted spot-fixing, which was utter nonsense.
Yes, it emerged in the following days that apparently three Paddy Power request-a-bet customers had snapped up fancy odds on Terry to exit the field when he did, but that does not come remotely close to equalling any sort of corruption.
It is merely an example of how some journalists who are desperate for a story end up simply exposing their chronic lack of betting knowledge.
After 19 years of fine service to Chelsea it was right that he should be given a memorable send-off, and that is what he got.
The noise that accompanied it was pointless and sadly typical of the way things are these days, when everything in football is analysed and criticised apart from the actual football.
When you enter into that blissful state of mind that enables you to accept referees make a small number of innocent errors and that the game has far bigger problems to tackle, your enjoyment of watching football soars.
Instead of getting irate like everyone else does you can rationally deal with mistakes and actually admire the superb job referees do.
This week we bade farewell to Mike Dean, who has been a magnificent arbiter in the top flight for no fewer than 17 seasons.
Yet whereas top cricket umpires are treated as idols, football refs, who have a far harder job, are ridiculed throughout their careers and then slink off with boos ringing in their ears when they reach the end of the line. It’s so wrong.
This column tries to correct the anti-ref bias and to that end here is an unashamedly positive list of the top five officials this season:
1 Mark Clattenburg
The best English referee I have ever seen, and while the maligning of all arbiters is unjust the venomous criticism he attracts is outrageous.
Clattenburg’s positioning is superb and his consistently high-quality decision-making will be a huge loss to the game when he takes up his new post in Saudi Arabia.
2 Michael Oliver
Following his early promise, there was a spell during which I was concerned that Oliver had lost his willingness to make tough calls and was settling for silence when decisiveness was needed.
But he has banished that fault this term and re-established himself as a marvellous operator.
3 Craig Pawson
The Yorkshireman is undoubtedly the most improved whistler of
2016-17 and fully deserves the increasing number of high-profile assignments that come his way.
4 Martin Atkinson
Vastly experienced and hugely respected by those with the gumption to realise how hard the job is, Atkinson has completed another fine season, the highlight of which was his excellent handling of the first leg of the all-Madrid Champions League semi-final.
5 Bobby Madley
Since making his Premier League debut in 2013, in which he brandished the expulsion tool not once, not twice, but thrice, Madley has proven himself a marvellous man in the middle and his profile is likely to rise further in the coming seasons.
Unhelpful to speculate on steroid case
If Hughie Morrison is innocent, as he says he is, of administering a steroid to Our Little Sister he is entitled to enormous sympathy for the ordeal he is going through since the filly tested positive after a race at Wolverhampton.
If he is guilty he will deserve every day of the lengthy ban that will come his way. I don’t know whether or not he is guilty and nor does anyone else except Morrison and, if it wasn’t him, the person or people who are.
That may sound blindingly obvious but since the news emerged that Morrison has been charged by the BHA there have been a number of voices in the media who have been quick to express their grave doubts that the highly-respected trainer would do such a thing.
Morrison does not dispute his filly was given an illegal substance but he is challenging the strict liability that sits with trainers in such cases.
My view is that public speculation on what happened is unnecessary and unhelpful and that we should wait until the investigation is completed and the findings published before passing comment.