Wham, bam, banished to the stand. Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has been hit with a seven-match touchline ban for his headbutt on Hull’s David Meyler. The reaction has been predictably shrill and sanctimonious. Standard. But here’s the thing: nobody died. Meyler wasn’t even hurt. And the Hull midfielder even made light of the incident with a headbutt goal celebration. It begs the question: if Meyler can see the funny side, why can’t the rest of the football world?
We saw a similar moral shitstorm after Liverpool’s Luis Suárez notoriously sunk his teeth into Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic’s arm last season. As I wrote on spiked at the time, it seems I live in a parallel universe when something like this happens. In one cosmic dimension there’s nothing but frothing outrage. You know the sort of ‘disgust-by-numbers’: ‘Sack him’, ‘Ban him for life’, ‘There’s no place for that in football’, ‘Kids are watching at home’ and so on, ad infinitum. But for every moron who believes that Pardew is contributing to Britain’s moral decay, there are many of us who weren’t mortified at all.
Although we inhabit a different reality, our world is not bereft of all morality. We wouldn’t, as a general rule, encourage headbutting. We don’t think managers should chin footballers. It’s undignified and unprofessional. But we do possess a sense of perspective and a sense of humour – traits sadly absent elsewhere. While Pardew broke the rules, we don’t regard his headbutt as a hanging offence. Indeed, dare I say it, we thought it was quite funny. That’s right: it made us laugh. There are plenty of fans like me who rather enjoy a bit of touchline argy-bargy. We’re the silent majority. We don’t phone in to talkSPORT or Five Live’s 606 programme to vent our disgust. We don’t cancel our Sky subscriptions or complain to Ofcom. Instead, we were the ones who were straight on to Twitter, looking for slow-mo video clips of the incident. You see, we regard sport as entertainment, not as a form of moral instruction.
If there was one thing more amusing than Pardew’s headbutt itself, it was the febrile reaction of the football pundits. Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports usually provides good-value hysteria in these situations. And, once again, Jeff Stelling and Paul Merson didn’t disappoint. Their theatrical apoplexy was magnificent:
Stelling: ‘Ooooh my goodness me, Alan Pardew, the book is about to be thrown at you!’
Merson: ‘I’ve never seen anything like that, Jeff… He definitely puts his head on to his head.’
Stelling: ‘He will be in huge, enormous, massive, massive trouble.’