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You’re not very well: football stumbling along in an alternate reality

“You’re Fucked and you know you are….”

By Simon Bailey.

I think we are all caught in one of those moments where we are living an alternate reality. You sort of recognise what’s going on, but it all feels a bit surreal.

A week ago everything was normal. Respective managers were briefing their respective teams about the upcoming matches, explaining tactics of how to avoid shaking hands.  The press was full of talk of the impending fixture between the two big spenders, Sky was busy ordering extra cameras for the handshake footage, we were cheerfully discussing our team in a positive way and Legrove were doing the opposite.

See, a normal lead up to an exciting weekend of football.

Saturday’s early fixture provided some light relief with City playing Chelsea off the park in a game where the off field issues were only just surpassed by the lack of discipline shown by Chelsea on the field. The two red cards summed up their performance perfectly.

The Three 3pm kickoffs were fairly mundane affairs, with Pompey’s win at Burnley the only highlight. By now Sky had built the Stoke – Arsenal match up to epic proportions with anything other than a win for Arsenal being a title hope dashing outcome.

Anyway buoyed by Chelsea’s recent demise, I put the match on. Not too long into the game the afore-mentioned reality shift occurred.Two sides playing by  two completely different set of rules had come out of the tunnel. Our side were playing a variation of the normal rules called Wengerball. This adaptation of the FA’s rules of football has been much lauded the length and breadth of the country for many years.

Our esteemed opponents were also playing a variation on a theme,.. with a twist. This variation, known as ‘Kickball’ is one favoured by teams who are bouncing in and out of the premier league, and involves an overly physical approach to the game with a peppering of heavy tackling and rotational fouling. This is the ‘Lavendar Approach’ and is used to cover up the fact that their team is shit. In addition to this common variation, Stoke have added an extra twist with the addition of ‘Throwball’, a sytem where the objective is to throw the ball into the net from the touchline.

May I add that we should all be proud to be English, because England definitely has the best throwball / kickball team in the world.

Eight minutes in it looked like throw/kickball was trouncing Wengerball. Twenty three minutes later Wengerball gained the upper hand and never looked back.

Despite the pleas of the commentators that Stoke had just played 120 minutes against Man City, they were obviously a second rate team only holding the draw with the use of the tactics mentioned earlier. The turning point for me was when Faye was substituted and gave the armband to Shawcross. With the score at one all the boy was really going for it and lost the run of himself. One crazy misfortunate moment later, one of our finest was laid out on the pitch, his season at an end.

I don’t doubt that in hindsight the challenge wouldn’t have been made. The intent wasn’t to maim or disfigure or potentially end a lads career, the intent was to play to the variation mentioned above. Go in hard, get in their faces, kick them off the park. However it’s phrased, or whatever it’s called, kickball is all too prevalent in the premier league, and although most fixtures see a bit of it, ours seem to be full of it.

As the game continued, we rallied, and as their appetite for kickball diminished, Wengerball came to the fore once more and two goals later, history was written.

Not only had we bagged the three points in the face of adversity, we broke the Stoke HooDoo emphatically.

The furore in the mainstream press and TV footie shows surrounding the Shawcross incident was, erm.. um…Well it wasnt a furore anyway. More of an exercise in making excuses for the tackle. ‘He’s a good lad’ ‘He went home in tears with his mum’ ‘Ramsay was too fast for him’ are some of my favourites. Yet again Sky used the language barrier to misquote Arsene to Pulis provoking a feather spitting response from the Stoke manager. All of this despite the fact that he broke Jeffers ankle a couple of years ago and injured Adebayor in the same fixture last season. I am not saying that he deliberately went in to break the leg, but his previous should at least have been mentioned. Along with the fact that it isn’t Shawcross that should be on trial, but kickball itself.

Back at the FA, and it’s a familiar scene; the Champagne corks were being popped again. The lack of backlash against Shawcross allowed them to reveal his name in the selection to face Egypt, and now that the press had him in their sights as the latest posterboy for English football, the focus had neatly moved from the Terry / Bridge situation.

As if this wasn’t surreal enough, a quick trip to Legrove’s post match post absolutely confirmed that all is not well. I don’t know how long we will all be here, but I am hoping it won’t be too long.

The FA are obviously reluctant to clampdown on kickball, and by this inaction are severely limiting their chances of ever bringing home any international silverware. We already have the fastest game in Europe, if not the World, and teams like Arsenal are introducing huge amounts of skill into it. If the FA eradicate kickball, then we will be playing the ultimate game. This will be assimilated by the English players, and the national squad will become a serious contender on the International stage.

This does however involve a serious change of mindset throughout the English game. A change from top to bottom. From the authorities implementing sensible and transparent rule changes, to the managers and owners of teams behaving responsibly, up to the supporters with their unreasonable expectations.

Listening to the Stoke fans singing ‘You’re fucked and you know you are’, I wondered if they were singing it to Ramsay with his broken leg or the FA with their World Cup Aspirations.

Now as we approach the next game, we have Burnley proclaiming to all who will listen (which of course is the national press) that far from Shawcross being a warning, it is the new blueprint.   Burnley have proclaimed their desire to kick us off the park, less than a week after one of the most talented players these islands have ever produced, was taken out of the game.

The game is in financial, tactical and moral meltdown and only two questions remain:

1.  Is there any way of picking up the pieces and starting again?

2.  If so, who is going to lead the way?

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Football needs fixing: Recent stories from Untold Arsenal

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THE SHAWCROSS DIARIES…

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15 comments to You’re not very well: football stumbling along in an alternate reality

  • Rhys Jaggar

    Simon

    I do ask you to address a few questions honestly:

    1. Was Theo coerced into saying to the Press that Arsenal bore no malice to Shawcross?
    2. Was Ramsey wrong to talk/meet Pulis and Shawcross, if indeed he did and the media’s story is correct?
    3. If, god forbid in the future, a young Arsenal player snaps someone’s leg or, in Diaby’s case, John Terry’s neck, will you call for them to be sued, sent to jail, all that stuff? Bendtner at Goodison, Gallas recently, Diaby a second dodgy one, any other lucky escapes we want to cite at this time??
    4. Are you sure that the FA’s bid is ‘fucked’ due to last Saturday?? Would you cite who has said that, when they said it and to whom they said it?? I’d downplay input from the Russians, Americans, Australians, Qataris and Benulux places, I think……
    5. I think it’s important that you flag up WHY the FA’s bid is newly ‘fucked’…..is it due to John Terry’s indiscretions?? Suggestions of match fixing at World Cups past?? Horse trading about who wins the EPL, the 2010 World Cup etc etc?? None of those, I hope…….as it’s not to do with brown surrounds to wonga, is it?? FIFA delegates made that QUITE CLEAR this week, didn’t they??

    We are speaking at a leading forum for football morality, after all………

  • Paul C.

    Simon – to me the two distinct styles of football have been going on for years. I can personally remember it first in the 70’s and 80’s when Bobby Robson’s Ipswich and Brian Clough’s Forest sides were beaten up physically every week by less talented sides and therefore handed the title every year to Liverpool, a dynamic mix of aggression and talent (precursors to Chelsea today). The soul of football in this country has always been pulled towards the dark side, ever since Wolves watered down their pitch in 1954 in order to beat Honved, a team made up of most of the players that had thrashed England a year earlier and caused the greatest outbreak of hysteria among Englishmen in history. From that moment forward, England has honestly believed that “aggression” and “commitment” could beat skill. That theme continues to this day. To me last Saturday was not a shift in reality at all. It was merely a continuation of everything we have been watching in English Football for the past 50 years. Someone posted a great New York Times article from the early 90’s on one of the threads earlier this week, talking about the decision English Football had to make about its future, written in the wake of Graham Taylor’s exit as England manager. You should dig it out and read it. Things havent changed since then.

    And the Shawcross incident didnt create a new blueprint, it has been around for quite a few years now.

  • Biggy

    Rhys Jaggar: Your questions are interesting but cannot be said to negate any of the salent points make in the write-up
    1, Walcott was in the England team with the brute so he was unlikely to slag him off.
    2, If would be impolite for a well brought up young man to refuse to someone who wants to apologise
    3, Terry went for a 50 – 50 ball with Diaby and stuck his head where others will think unadvisable, which is quite different from what happened between Rambo and the Brute
    4, If anyhing is fucked it is fucked because we have failed to keep our house in order
    5, You seem to know about other possible reasons to reject the FA bid can you elaborate?

  • FunGunner

    Took the words out of my mouth, Biggy.

  • Mark

    I’m not sure the argument holds though. Manchester United ruled the roost in the 90’s with a blend of physicality and skill, but they were a spectacular dud in Europe, proving that physicality has its limitations, or that teams in England tended to roll over for them, whichever way you see it.

    Liverpool in the 70’s and 80’s were a bit more than just a physical side, because they had the skill levels to dominate Europe.

    There has always been though the pull of the dark side in the English game.

    One notable victim was Paul Lake. He came through in the late 80’s around the same time as Gazza, and was by all reports better than Gazza, which sounds like he had some quality then. He had his leg shattered for the audacity of skill, walked around on crutches for 2 years, and never played again.

    Maybe its not so much a case of what goes around comes around, but more a case of English football being very self destructive.

  • There is a really important comment above that I would like to explore…

    in order to beat Honved, a team made up of most of the players that had thrashed England a year earlier and caused the greatest outbreak of hysteria among Englishmen in history. From that moment forward, England has honestly believed that “aggression” and “commitment” could beat skill. That theme continues to this day

    I agree with that totally, but there’s an extra twist.

    For years England was a footballing backwater – we weren’t in the early world cups, we weren’t in the first Euro Cup, and we certainly couldn’t play at the top table. So watering the pitch, and Liverpool’s endless stream of winning penalties in the last 2 minutes at Anfield while facing the cop… these were just part of what we did.

    Now we are generally considered to be the top league in the world – but what keeps coming to the surface are throw backs to our very English approach of the past. The English approach so brilliantly highlighted in TV programmes such as Dad’s Army – that one English soldier is worth a dozen of the enemy. (I have mentioned in the past the simplistic football version of this – we’ll put in a big centre forward in the England squad because foreign goalkeepers panic at the sight of a big player.)

    My point therefore is that we still have in much of the EPL the mentality of the little backyard where we used to play, but we are now playing on the world stage.

    And slowly that childish backward-looking mentality is looking very out of place.

    What has happened is that the bigger clubs in England have sought to overcome that mentality (the “let’s water the pitch – they won’t like that” mentality) by bringing in the very best foreign players – but doing that has led them to adopt models that are either unsustainable or they are now frowned upon by UEFA.

    There’s the rich kid model (Chelsea, Man C)
    The total debt model (Man U, Liverpool)
    And Arsenal

    Below them, the wanna-bes try models in which the owner puts money in and takes it out again in interest (Villa, Bolton) or the owner putting the money in and not getting interest because of other activity (Stoke with its intimate link with Bet365).

    All of these models except Arsenal are failing – but the league, Sky, BBC, the press, and the whole FA setup are based around supporting these approaches.

    And there is this slow dawning of the awful revelation that the teapot is utterly cracked, and the hot water is pouring out all over your hands.

    That is why suddenly a few journalists did say, “No, Wenger was not over the top in his criticism of Stoke – journalism is to blame”. Not many but a few – and that shows the realisiation is developing that this cannot go on.

    It is fucked, and it is all about to fall apart.

    I decided to write this blog after seeing the blatant rotational fouling in the Cup Semi with Blackburn, and I finally got round to writing the first blog after watching Birmingham City playing at the Ems where everytime they wanted to break up play the bench signalled for a player to go down and stay down. It was that which made me think, “hang on, there is something going on here – and if it grows, it will eat itself.”

    It has grown, it is eating itself, and Arsenal is the only club looking good a) because we don’t use anti-football tactics, but actually use the opposite, and b) we are not in unsustainable debt.

  • Mark

    RE Shawcross not intending to break Ramsey’s leg, I’m not sure what this means.

    If you get drunk and get in a car and drive at 200 mph through a town, you can say that you didn’t intend to kill anyone……….

    SO WHAT! (can’t make this larger unfortunately)

    Shawcrosses’ scythe was violent and dangerous, and wild.

    Watch Bendtner – his body language tells a story
    watch the footage of Shawcross’s previous
    listen to players like Fuller saying they intended to harm Arsenal
    and worst of all look at the ‘tackle’ , where the ball is, and where Shawcrosses’ foot is,

    and when you’ve analysed all that, then I defy you not to say that Shawcross was out of control, violent and dangerous.

  • simon bailey

    paul, i agree 100% with everything you say. i wasnt trying to say that footballing reality had shifted last weekend, i was trying to express how spun out i was at everything that happened.

    rhys, i dont understand your questions in context to the post. i wasnt talking about the fa’s bid to host the world cup, i was thinking (maybe not expressing) about south africa, and the current problems. and i’m not quoting anyone, its just my opinion.

  • Paul C.

    Mark – great example of the Paul Lake example. He was indeed a very fine young player. Not in Gazza’s league, but the next level down (don’t know who would have said he was better, Gazza was always regarded as the shining light of English Football). He and Gazza (and Paul Bracewell, another English player doomed by injury) would have dominated midfields in the 90’s if not for suffering from the English footballers curses. Lake suffered the curse of a talented player being scythed down by a Tony Cascarino challenge, and Gazza of course was an immature little turd, another curse of English footballers (Jermaine Pennant and David Bentley spring to mind immediately, but from Arsenal’s past both Paul Merson and Tony Adams come into this as well as youngsters).

    English Football has been self-destructive for a long time and you get the feeling that as long as England keep qualifying for WC’s and EC’s that will continue. It is almost as if we (England) produce enough talent to qualify IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING and yet not enough talent to actually win. Another curse – that of not quite being bad enough for change to actually take place.

  • Paul C.

    Simon – if that is the case I agree with you completely. I actually missed the match through work commitments and rushed home as quickly as I could to see the result. I saw a list of results and saw “Stoke 1 – 3 Arsenal” and almost jumped out of my seat in joy. WHAT A RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!! Especially when I saw the Chelsea result. WHAT A DAY!!!!!!!!!

    Less than a minute later I was absolutely despondent, sick to my stomach, and had forgotten all about the result.

  • Paul C.

    Tony – good additions. It is easy to forget that the reason that the Busby Babes were so beloved is that they actually looked like they could compete with Europe’s finest. As you said, English Football by the 1950’s was a backwater, suffering an extreme shortage of confidence. One after another, it seemed European countries pulled ahead of England.

    Who knows whether that Utd side could have changed attitudes.

    An interesting comment on all this was made by Alan Davies on his weekly podcast “Its up for grabs now”. He blamed Alex Ferguson for a lot of what currently takes place because he felt that SAF was powerful enough to have changed things, and at a rich enough club that he could have continued to win even while changing attitudes. Not sure I completely agree with that but an interesting take none the less.

    Unfortunately, we need a miracle. We need Shawcross to break the legs of BOTH Rooney and Gerrard, IN TRAINING, for people to sit up and realise that there is something seriously wrong. People point to some of the viscious Italian hardmen of the past but when watching those players what struck you immediately was how long they stayed on their feet, how targeted their assaults were, how utterly calculated and in control they were ALL THE TIME. What strikes you about Shawcross and his tackling is how completely and utterly out of control he is. And so many other English players (Paul Scholes tackling anyone?) are in the same mould.

  • Mark

    What we need , and it is the ONLY solution I can see, but there may be others…….

    is a revolution from within football.

    I was totally despondent to hear Rooney sit at a press conference and endorse Scross.

    The people with the most clout are the Rooneys and Gerrards and Terrys.

    If they stood up and refused to play alongside Scross, then it would put a rocket up the backside of the FA.

  • don't believe the hype

    “Now as we approach the next game, we have Burnley proclaiming to all who will listen (which of course is the national press) that far from Shawcross being a warning, it is the new blueprint. Burnley have proclaimed their desire to kick us off the park, less than a week after one of the most talented players these islands have ever produced, was taken out of the game.”

    Yet the powers that be will continue to claim that Arsenal are not targeted?

  • walter

    don’t believe the hype,
    this should be unbelievable but in fact nothing can make me wonder anymore….

    Tomorrow we should pressure the ref from the first minute and every foul from Burnley should be greeted with angry shouts. Never again.

  • critic

    @paul c
    i think instead of gerrard, scross’s shud break legs of lampard, it mite just come handy in the title bid…