Offside, 25 June
Wuz we robbed?
This week, spiked‘s commentator on football as a microcosm of just about every significant social trend, Duleep Allirajah, is otherwise engaged. So I’m playing supersub. Rather like Darius Vassell, I was going to say – but since he missed that vital penalty in last night’s shootout, I’m not so sure.
England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal was ‘déjà-vu all over again’, as they say. England play a technically superior team, defend in numbers for the majority of the game, then Sol Campbell gets a goal disallowed and we lose on penalties – just like the Argentina game in World Cup 98.
What is really galling is that I had been hoping to start this column with ‘Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland!‘ and ‘Arrivederci, Italia!‘. At least half the fun of football is mocking other people’s misery – and that opportunity has now been denied to us.
At least we’ve got something to complain about. England didn’t deserve to win – but they should have done. Campbell’s goal was perfectly legitimate, but the Swiss referee decided that someone had been pushing. Presumably this was based on the great unwritten rule of football: thou shalt not touch the goalkeeper, even a little bit.
From early on, I was screaming at what was blatantly a hometown ref. Free kicks were awarded and bookings dished out in a thoroughly one-sided manner. Perhaps the pivotal moment of the game was when a Portuguese defender stood on boy wonder Wayne Rooney’s foot, breaking it in the process as it would later transpire. Bizarrely, Portugal were awarded a free-kick. What was Rooney’s offence? Deliberately preventing his opponent from putting his studs on the turf?
But if you spend billions hosting an international sporting event, the ref comes as part of the package. Look at South Korea, who managed to make it to the semi-finals of World Cup 2002 thanks to lots of hard work and some outrageous refereeing. It’s not just football either. It was the Koreans who benefited in 1988 when Roy Jones, probably the best boxer of the past 15 years, was denied Olympic gold when an inexplicable decision went to the local boy.
England have benefited from refereeing bias as much as anyone. In Euro 96, a perfectly good Spanish goal was ruled out in the quarter-final (although admittedly not at such a crucial stage as Campbell’s). But the daddy of all hometown decisions was that Russian linesman in 1966, convinced that the ball had crossed the line for England’s third goal when it hadn’t – or at least, not all of it. England lost a quarter-final of the European Championships last night, but that Russian linesman may well have cost West Germany the World Cup.
At least the Russian linesman could call it payback for Stalingrad, but what have we ever done to Switzerland? We could be accused of not taking the Swiss entirely seriously. But it is objectively true that Swiss people talk funny, so we’re entitled to take the piss out of them for it. They’ve been given an easier time on that front than the Dutch or the Welsh. We don’t make the Swiss fight wars, even though they’re armed to the teeth. And we buy their watches and chocolate, don’t we?
Eriksson will stay in the job, mainly because all the highly paid baubles such as Chelsea and Real Madrid have been snapped up already. In fact, Teflon Sven has got off pretty lightly in this tournament, given how his team has played. For most of the games against France and Portugal, England defended with almost every man behind the ball, while kicking the ball aimlessly up the pitch for Michael Owen to chase after. This might make sense if England had a good record for keeping clean sheets, but they don’t. Still, if England wanted to keep the tactics but ditch the coach, it is reassuring to know that Gerard Houllier is available.
Now we have to watch the rest of Euro 2004 simply to watch good football, but with none of the excitement of participation. And we’ll have to put up with lots more coverage of Tim Henman.
We can look back on a match in which we were second best with an inflated sense of grievance that we wuz robbed, eulogising our players as heroes for 120 minutes of desperate defending, and trying to forget about our hopeless goalkeeper. Are we Scotland in disguise?
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