Roman Abramovich is said to be an enigma because he never speaks in public. In fact he might have done so occasionally but no reporter has been allowed to get close enough to hear him. There couldn’t be a greater contrast with another owner of a west London club, QPR’s Bernie Ecclestone, who seems to announce every thought that has passed through his head. He has had plenty to say about QPR lately, none of which will have impressed Rangers fans.
FA Cup broadcasts are often introduced by a montage of winning captains brandishing the trophy. Liverpool’s victory in the 1992 final never gets shown, however, because their captain, Mark Wright was clearly seen to shout “You fucking beauty!” as he raised the Cup over his head. Wright was one of the more belligerent players of his era so it’s quite likely that this was a spontaneous outburst. It’s also possible that it was an in-joke, referring to the fact that a Liverpool team-mate, John Barnes, had shouted exactly the same thing – seen in close-up, on live TV – when his last-minute free-kick forced extra time against Portsmouth in the semi-final.
Neither incident seems to have triggered a reaction in the media. More live matches are now transmitted every month than were shown in the whole of 1991-92. There will be moments in every live game that the camera catches a player swearing, at a team-mate, an opponent, a referee or in a celebratory hug after a goal. If every oath had to be accounted for in the post-match analysis, there would be no time to discuss the game.
So it’s difficult to understand why Wayne Rooney’s outburst after completing his hat-trick in Man United’s recent win at West Ham should have become one of the most widely discussed moments of the season, one that, at the time of writing, seems likely to be punished by a two-match ban.
Rooney’s mental state has been the subject of intense speculation since the 2010 World Cup when he swore into a TV camera in response to boos from the England fans after the match against Algeria. That incident did further damage to a public image already dented by the tabloids’ forensic exploration of his private life. Rooney has appeared to be unsettled ever since, his sullen demeanour not lifted by a recent improvement in form. Someone on a basic weekly wage of £250,000 can’t expect to receive much sympathy but some of the derision aimed at Rooney by sections of the press seems to be rooted in resentment that someone from his background should earn as much as he does.
It’s been said that if leading a blameless life was a prerequisite for being England captain, hardly anyone in the current international squad would be eligible for the armband. But they are fêted as celebrities by the same media that routinely vilifies them. Rooney’s outburst at Upton Park was caught on screen because a cameraman followed him around the side of the pitch and stuck a lens in his face. Sky boast about their ability to make the viewers feel as though they are in the middle of the action but while TV is keen to be seen as a participant in football – as witnessed by its ceaseless lobbying for the introduction of technology – it is still only an observer. Swearing at a referee rightly earns a card; doing the same thing to a camera lens might look crass but it shouldn’t be actionable.
The FA’s reaction to the Rooney incident has been presented as a boost to the ailing Respect campaign which is due for one of its regular overhauls. There is little doubt that players are becoming increasingly disrespectful to match officials, who are further undermined by television’s intense scrutiny of every decision. Managers could take steps to curb their players’ behaviour. If they don’t it can only be because they believe that intimidating an official can have positive benefits.
The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Scudamore, is to give evidence to a parliamentary select committee on football this month, at which he is expected to announce that a retooled Respect campaign will be in place for the start of 2011-12. But there is no reason to think that it would rein in Wayne Rooney’s boss, who is more disdainful of referees than any other figure in football.
Sir Alex Ferguson received a five- match touchline ban for suggesting, among other things, that referee Martin Atkinson was biased in his handling of a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea in March. He seems unfazed by the punishment, saying: “I got done for what I considered fair comment.” Ferguson often seems to be beyond the control of the football authorities – his failure to speak to the BBC since 2004 is in direct contravention of League rules – but a more rigorous enforcement of the Respect guidelines would surely involve regular confrontations with him.
Scudamore should press for tougher sanctions against Ferguson whenever he oversteps the mark in his criticism of officials. Otherwise campaigns to boost referees’ authority will have no effect until their toughest opponent retires.
From WSC 291 May 2011
The popular uprisings in the Middle East are now receiving more coverage than football in the UK press. Even the Arsenal v Barcelona Champions League tie, apparently regarded by some pundits as the most momentous event in the history of the game, couldn't keep the revolution in Libya off the front pages. So it's surprising that no one has yet asked the keen Tweeter Jay Bothroyd for his views on the implosion of the Gaddafi regime.
His was a signing that served to demonstrate Liverpool FC's standing in English football, a player whose contributions to a game would be one of the main topics of any post-match discussion. But, after a torrid few months at Anfield, Paul Konchesky has been shipped out on loan to Nottingham Forest. Meanwhile, the one player Liverpool supporters didn't want to see leave, Fernando Torres, has departed for Chelsea for £50 million.
WSC is delighted to announce that JK Rowling is set to join our editorial team later this month. We have arranged an attractive salary package in the vicinity of £20,000 a year plus three weeks paid holiday and various fringe benefits including the use of a bike rack. Her representatives are still to confirm that it's a done deal but we expect to have it tied up by the middle of January. In the meantime be sure to join the throng flocking to our Twitter and Facebook pages for regular updates. We're pretty stoked about this as you can imagine.
You would have needed a heart of stone not to laugh at the peeved expressions of the England 2018 delegation as the World Cup hosting announcement was made. They shouldn't have been surprised; everyone who has taken an active role in the 2018 bidding process will have known that England's campaign was screwed a while ago.
The English Premier League is a festering mess of greed, sleaze and stupidity but, allowing for that, the 2010-11 season is shaping up quite well. It is at least less predictable than at any time in the century so far. It may be too much to hope for only three months in, but there is cause for thinking that, for only the second time in Premier League history, none of the three promoted clubs will go straight back down. For anyone other than local rivals of the clubs in question, this ought to be seen as a sign of progress.
A team packed with experienced players makes a poor start to the season. Frustrated fans turn on the new manager who, they say, doesn’t understand the culture of the club and demand that he be replaced by a legendary former player. The club’s board act upon the advice yelled at them from the stands and bring back the legend. Things get worse and the club ends up getting relegated.
If all the allegations about extra-marital affairs among the current England squad were to be printed, the tabloids would have enough material for a daily supplement each. No matter how many times players are caught up in such stories, there are always more on the way. The saga of Wayne Rooney’s three-month affair in the summer of 2009 was plastered across the press for several days at the start of September, while injunctions are currently preventing the publication of stories about three other players
The football season usually begins with a clampdown of some sort, whether it's on dangerous tackles, player dissent or managers’ post-match criticism of referees. But a variety of comments made in relation to the game escape censure every year and it’s high time that their perpetrators were brought to book. There should be a moratorium on public whinging about there being "too many foreigners in the game", an observation especially popular among club chairmen whose own teams are packed with players from outside the UK.