A Message to Henry Winter, Amy Lawrence, Patrick Barclay and Friends

Malicious recklessness is the new scourge of the modern game in England.

As I explained in yesterday’s post here on Arsenal Arsenal, the sort of leg-breaking challenges produced by the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Martin Taylor, Dan Smith, Karl Henry and Nigel de Jong represent a new and serious threat to the game we all love.

Broken legs have always been an occupational hazard in football, but they used to be an unusual or freak occurrence. Now they are becoming habitual and the players who cause them are routinely defended by their managers. This is leading to a rise in what I like to term ‘malicious recklessness’: recklessness, because the offending players are out of control; malicious, because they make these challenges in an attempt to physically intimidate the recipient.

But one group of people really can do something about this problem. It’s not the players, because the likes of Shawcross (as evidenced by his quotes this week) seem to revel in their role as out-of-control leg-smashers.

It’s not their managers, because they are prepared to accept serious casualties among their opponents if it means an extra point or two in the battle to stay in the Premier League. And, unlike many of my fellow Arsenal supporters, I don’t think Blackburn’s Sam Allardyce and Stoke’s Tony Pulis are bad people. I think they inhabit a world of public and private pressure that few of us can imagine and they will clutch at any straw to achieve their desired end. In doing so I think they genuinely believe their players are nice guys who wouldn’t deliberately break an opponent’s leg. They are too close to the problem to see that they are contributing to a culture that inevitably leads to career-threatening injuries (as Danny Murphy of Fulham eloquently pointed out last week).

It’s also not the football authorities who, as many bloggers have pointed out, are unlikely to take this problem seriously until an England golden boy is crippled by one of the EPL’s foreign legion.

Instead I believe the biggest impetus for change can come from national newspaper football reporters – the likes of Henry Winter, Patrick Barclay, Joe Lovejoy, Amy Lawrence and their colleagues. Some of them have expressed concern at the dangerous challenges that go on in the modern game, but I think there’s a more fundamental step they can take.

They (and we) need to reclaim the language of football from the Neanderthals – both players and managers – who distort it.

When Wenger criticises career-threatening challenges, the likes of Allardyce and Pulis always retort with “tackling is a great part of football and it would be terrible to lose it.” They know full well that Wenger has no problem with tackling, just with dangerous, reckless play, but it allows them to portray Wenger as a wuss who wants football to be non-contact.

The language distortion here centres on the word ‘tackling.’ Shawcross’s assault on Ramsey, Taylor’s on Eduardo do not deserve to be dignified with the name ‘tackle’ and journalists should not use it in these cases. They should refer to “Shawcross’s lunge” or “Taylor’s reckless assault.”

The word “tackle” is written into the rules of the game and should be used only for legitimate acts of football, not deliberate or reckless assaults aimed at intimidating a player.

It’s an example of what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, referred to as ‘doublethink,’ a definition of which is:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it…

With this in mind, every sports journalist should think twice before using any of the following euphemisms:

Full Blooded:  by all means use this for a strong, fair challenge. But please let’s have no more excusing clumsy attempts to maim a player by saying the offender made a ‘full blooded’ tackle.

Committed: Michael Essien is committed; Wayne Rooney is committed; Ryan Shawcross flying into an opponent’s leg while totally out of control is not ‘committed’, he is reckless. And malicious.

Football is a Contact Sport: this phrase is the last refuge of the scoundrel. As mentioned above, it’s an attempt to deflect attention away from one’s own players’ crazy challenges by suggesting that the complainant is against tackles per se. Wrong. There is a huge difference between a strong, fair tackle and the sort of wild lunge that might break a leg or rupture the knee ligaments.

Not That Kind of Player: full credit to Arseblog for continually ramming home the sheer hypocrisy of this phrase. Yet it’s not just managers who use it – journalists too have used it, particularly over the Shawcross/Ramsey incident when all the evidence suggests that he IS that kind of player.

Late Tackle: buses are late; my granddad is late; John Cleese’s parrot is late; tackles are not late (which implies a misfortune of tardiness) – they are dangerous, uncontrolled, illegal or, if you prefer, plain dirty.

Letting The Opponent Know You’re There: when I call in on my 76-year-old Mum I like to let her know I’m there. I do this by saying ‘hello’, not by executing a two-footed lunge from behind on her lower legs. The ‘letting them know you’re there’ phrase is a euphemism for committing a violent foul.

I’m sure there are many more (all suggestions welcome please), but these are football’s version of ‘doublethink’.

If the distinguished writers who cover football for the national press start being more discerning about how they refer to maliciously reckless play, if they start to use the language appropriate for the acts they’re describing, then it will become harder and harder for those who govern football to let things go on as they are.

As the author Joseph Conrad said: “He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word.

RockyLives

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64 Responses to A Message to Henry Winter, Amy Lawrence, Patrick Barclay and Friends

  1. 1979gooner says:

    great acticle

    the media has a responsibility that it rarely lives up to

  2. I will talk to Pat Rice about this.

  3. Gooner64 says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. If the media put pressure on the F.A. something may change but until then it will just keep on happening. Nice Orwell reference.

  4. GoonerFred says:

    Oh, yes, the media should be careful how they do their job, lest they kill the beautiful game.

  5. Will says:

    Great article and so very true.

  6. insideright says:

    Last nights fairly flimsy documentary about ‘will England ever win the World Cup again’ underlined just how right you are. It was agreed by just about everyone that we are not only short of good coaches in this country but that what is taught is not ‘how to play football’ but ‘how to win football matches’.
    Spain changed things around some years ago by importing (particularly into Barcelona) highly gifted Dutch players and then coaching the local kids to play like them. The result is the Barcelona that we see today and the Spanish national team that is largely based on that clubs players and style.
    Arsenal have done the same – except that it’s a French manager and a hard core of French players that provided the template. The problem has been that English kids may be slower to learn or become impatient and have too often fallen by the wayside (Bentley, Sidwell, Muamba etc.) We may now have a generation coming through who can acheive their goals. But the problem will still exist at international level while there are dinosaurs like Allardyce and Pulis running clubs who play a different game and, in the process, set football back decades.

  7. Ben says:

    Great article – let’s hope the press take up the baton

  8. Terence McGovern says:

    Superb Article.
    You can see the media bias even today. In the Guardian, one article that typically carries no byline, refers to the “legal” challenge that broke Bobby Zamora’s leg.
    The offender? Karl Henry.
    In the absense of conscience and integrity from the FA and the media, the modern natural order of things will fill the action vacumn.
    Marseille will sue Man City. Injured players will sue the offending ones, their clubs and even the LMA that defended the indefensible, on behalf of their jurassic membership.

    It will all be settled in the courts and inevitably the costs will find their way down to the paying supporter. It could be argued that it will be the paying supporters of clubs who inflict these injuries as policy but when push comes to shove, a gigantic legal mess will come into being courtesy of a cowardly and inept FA, bereft of integrity and moral leadership, enabled by a media that long ago sold their soul and for whom truth has neither meaning nor value.

  9. king gooner says:

    actually the vast majority of ‘complaints with regards to these “tackles”should be made to the producers of such shows as “talk shite radio” & bbc’s motd who advocate “in yer face”football as hansen would describe it-surely it’s bringing the game into disrepute?these people condone it EVERY WEEK under all the guises you’ve mentioned above,in particular the old favourite of hntkp shit-perhaps keeping a thug watch league table in the media(the amount of injuries they,ve caused)not bookings or sendings off might be an interesting experiment hey?

  10. [...] be slated by people whose arguments have logic that could be picked apart by a three year old. As Rockylives says over at ArsenalArsenal, the media need to stand up and be counted on this [...]

  11. 26may1989 says:

    Nice Part 2 article there Rocky, thanks.

    I agree that the media is partly culpable for the reluctance with which reckless tackling is being addressed in England, but I wouldn’t say the likes of Barclay, Lawrence and Winter should be the real focus, they are the ones who have spoken out in the past and are generally more principled in the way they operate. The problem is the conspiracy of silence involving the bulk of journalists and pundits. These people don’t like to criticise other members of their little gang, in part because they want to make sure they continue to get access to interviewees and freebies. It’s a corrupt little world, where the likes of Lou Macari are only too keen to be able to pocket a few hundred quid every time a pro-United comment is needed. They all need each other and they are careful to stick within certain limits, so as not to upset or embarrass each other.

    Wenger is an outsider in all this (witness all that crap about post match glasses of wine). Being the outsider not only serves to expose Arsenal to more sustained media campaigns, like the outrageous reaction within Planet Football to Ramsey having his leg snapped (who knew that Shawcross was the real victim?), it also affects the way anything Wenger says is represented. His words are routinely misquoted and twisted, not because the journalists like the BBC’s chief muppet, Gary Richardson, don’t understand, but because there’s a game amongst all these journalists to target the erudite, thoughtful professor. That’s why contributions like those of Danny Murphy are so important, it’s someone from within calling it as it is.

    Good journalism around football is a precious and rare commodity. Hopefully those who have played a part in cultivating the culture that encourages reckless challenges are starting to realise that they were in the wrong all along, and that Wenger has just been calling some uncomfortable truths for years, that others in English football may only now be facing up to.

  12. Red Arse says:

    Great Post Rocky. :-)

    I totally agree with 99% of your beautifully written article, but I think you have deliberately left in a couple of goodies for me, and other like minded bums, to debate and nit pick! Thank you! :-)

    I just cannot be as charitable as you are when you say Fat Sam and Pubis are not bad guys. They are both sly, self justifying, incompetents using any means to keep their incredibly well paid jobs clutched close to their chests.

    This brings me onto the press. As part of their modus operandi, these two, and others like them, cultivate a core group of “tame” local journalists, to whom they feed their propaganda, which is then picked up by other journalists further afield.

    The extraordinary thing is that when Allardyce and Pulis read their poisonous rhetoric reflected back in the papers, they actually believe it. — It has to be right. Look the newspapers are saying it!— Oh dear, I despair.

    More press. You could well be right, that if the press named and shamed and called a spade a spade, that could go a long way to stamping out (forgive the phrase) these appalling assaults, laughingly called robust tackles.

    But that is to ignore the bias of many journalists, who are also fans, so that they cannot resist uttering specious nonsense often based on club loyalty.

    There is a lot more that could be said about the role of journalists, but I will stop there. :-)

  13. London says:

    Winter, Lawrence, Barcley and friends need to look over their shoulder for more reason than just how they differentiate between tackling and lunging; they should be aware that we have Rocky coming up on the inside lane.
    One of the best posts I have ever read. I particularly liked the insight into the Alydyce/Pulis mentality of being too close. The other thing that struck me was the English golden boy in danger is probably Wilshere; although, as implied, if a lunge causing a leg break happened to Rooney the laws would change tomorrow.

  14. Smith14 says:

    Two really good articles. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head re: the need for journalists to do their bit too although I agree with 26may1989 who makes the point about a Footballing clique who are all scratching eachothers backs.

    There is a big problem with the Football culture in this country. You only have to look at the way that no one outside the club springs to Arsenal’s defence on any controversial issue. Sure, neutrals like to sing our praises when we are at our best but as soon the old arguments about physicality and commitment come out or as soon as Wenger stands up and shares his opinion, the voices of support shrink away.

    As a nation we are still obsessed with “full blooded”, effort first skill second, Football. That’s why we tolerate thugs like Karl Henry and why we have a useless national team.

    One last thing. Football is a contact sport but only in as much as a certain amount of contact takes place in pursuit of the ball, it does not mean you are allowed to contact a player directly without seeking contact with the ball. Arguing in defense of a reckless challenge as it is “a contact sport” is wide of the mark.

    Cheers.

  15. Red Arse says:

    London,

    You may well be right about the effect any serious injury to Rooney would have on our esteemed FA mandarins.

    However, much though I love him, I think it is just as well our Jack is little, because I have seen him going in with a few lunges of his own, ever since he was in the youth team. A big Jack could have done, in the past, some serious mischief, in my opinion. :-),

  16. Red Arse says:

    One last thought on this topical subject.

    It is possible that Kevin Davies will play at least a part in tonight’s game.

    He is the chief “fouler” in the EPL and has been for a number of seasons, even in our tolerant league.

    Can you imagine how long he will last with an unbiased neutral referee? Not promising is it? And a poor reflection on our football and our referees!

  17. Rasp says:

    Morning all,

    Great post rocky, you’ve raised the bar out of sight with that one. We mere high jumpers are going to have to learn pole vault ;)

    We have contacted some of the newsrooms of the journalists you have mentioned in the hope they might read your article and even get in touch.

    I fear that as the article states, we will not cleanse British football of the attitude that defends reckless challenges until one of our home grown ‘golden boys’ suffers a serious injury as a result such a tackle.

  18. 26may1989 says:

    RA

    The selection of Kevin Davies is ridiculous and depressing. Not because he lacks ability (he doesn’t) or because he’s just about the dirtiest (though not most dangerous) player around, but because it underlines how poor the current generation of English forwards is. It’s a selection with no future (he’ll be retired within two or three seasons) and it shows that Capello has no faith in the technical ability of the other English forwards and attacking midfielders to break down defences without a big chunky guy to bounce the ball off – with Heskey retired, Davies gets a look in.

    I’m pleased Capello is bringing Wilshere, Gibbs and Adam Johnson through but up front what happened to Agbonlahor? And given the injuries to the likes of Defoe and Bent, what about Daniel Sturridge? These are the players of the future, but it seems Capello is going to repeat the errors of not building a squad that can actually compete once it faces serious opposition at a finals.

  19. galteegunner says:

    excellent article as usual – well done

  20. Rasp says:

    On the topic of euphamisms that are used to excuse unacceptable behaviour. Some players receive special treatment because of a perception of their abilities “we all know Paul Scholes can’t tackle” etc.

    Defending is an art and doesn’t have to be just because the player is a big bugger. Sol Campbell is a huge guy, yet I have never seen him lunge into a challenge in an uncontrolled way. I have seen him slide in and deftly dispossess a striker with a flick of his toe or just stand grounded like a man-mountain whilst players bounce off of him.

  21. Bob says:

    Great article. I would like to add one more euphemism to your list. It’s “Paul Scholes can’t tackle.”
    In one fell swoop. this can excuse a lifetime of ill-timed assaults, often with more than a trace of malice, and consign them all to obscurity, because really he’s just a cheeky chappie. No matter how many injuries he causes, how many counterattacks he frustrates with a foul which breaks up the play and allows his team-mates to regroup, well none of that really matters, because it’s just Scholsie! European referees frequently see through the subterfuge and are far less tolerant than those on the Premier League rota, who are frquently taken to task by the media for not making any allowance for his perceived shortcomings. Never mind though, he is already favourite for the Player of the Year Award. Enough said.

  22. Harry Barracuda says:

    “…if a lunge causing a leg break happened to Rooney the laws would change tomorrow.”

    Ain’t that the truth, London!

  23. Rasp says:

    Hi Bob,

    Did you read my comment that preceded yours? – great minds as they say!

  24. Hans says:

    I liked your blog but the problem with your suggestion is that the jounalists are empolyed to sell newspapers or tv programmes not to save the beautiful game. And broken legs sells papers unfortunately. It is the FA who could and should do something about it.

  25. Red Arse says:

    Absolutely, right Hans.

    Unfortunately, we know they don’t have the guts, because that would bring them into confrontation with the Premier League bosses.

  26. Rasp says:

    Hi Hans,

    I take pour point. Newspapers also like to think they are championing a popular cause and to align themselves with the winning side, hence some of the big daily newspapers abandoned the Labour party before the last election. So obviously it is the FA that actually orchestrates the changes, but popular opinion is fuelled by the press.

  27. rockylives says:

    It’s morning in America – hello all and thanks for the responses.
    RA and 26May – you’re both right about the journalists. I picked on Winter, Barclay and Lawrence because they have occasionally spoken out on this issue and also because they are among the more influential correspondents. But I agree there will always be tame hacks who rely on a close relationship with certain managers and players for the source of their ‘exclusives’ and who, therefore, will never offend those sources.
    Hans – the need for a good story will always carry a lot of weight, but I do believe some of the better columnists have a strong moral/ethical take on aspects of the game.
    I suppose what I’m hoping for is that if we start changing the terms of reference for good tackles/malicious tackles, then a change in thinking stands a chance of following naturally on.

  28. Morning rocky – great post. I’m hoping some of the feelers I put out to the three journos you mentioned get picked up somehow. They’re all too excited about England :(

  29. rockylives says:

    Hello Peaches. Thanks for doing that. I suspect some of the better journos read the blogs to get an insight into the mood of the supporters.

    Can’t wait for the real football to start again. England games so don’t do it for me.
    Cesc and Theo available for the Brum game maybe?

  30. Red Arse says:

    Peaches, you have feelers?

  31. Red Arse says:

    Rocky,

    I think at least 90% of the Arsenal blogging world want the “real” footie to get underway again.

    There seems to be an “international” break every couple of weeks. :-(

  32. Big Raddy says:

    Great Pt 2″ Rocky, excellently written.

    I agree wholeheartedly and would include Martin Samuel into the pantheon of decent journo’s who could make a difference by banding together and changing their language.

    I also agree with Smith14 about the contact element of football. A great tackle takes the ball not the man.

  33. Big Raddy says:

    RA …. I have had to delete my response to your 2.16!!

    It has been referred to above about the dearth of attacking footballers in England. That such an expert as AW cannot discover a truly top quality English CF is testament to this sad state of affairs. Post Shearer – nothing. Crouch, Heskey, Bent, Defoe, Davies?? No wonder no-one is interested in the England team.

  34. rockylives says:

    BR – Martin Samuel is one of my favourite columnists. He wrote a thoughtful piece about this subject a while back:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1254454/MARTIN-SAMUEL-Now-Aaron-Ramsey–broken-legs-chance.html

  35. Stroller says:

    The trouble is that the guilty players and managers like to portray themselves as the underdog claiming that ‘stopping them playing’ and ‘putting a foot in’ is a valid tactic against superior opponents. This Sampson v Goliath mentality appeals to the media and these terms are regularly employed, especially on television.

    While we have Hanson, Shearer and Gray in particular excusing fouls (“look – he got a faint touch on the ball”, or equating aggression with commitment then we face an uphill struggle.

  36. Rasp says:

    Nice comment stroller, do you see any evidence of a new breed of pundit coming through who would support our view?

  37. Red Arse says:

    Stroller,

    Hansen, Shearer and Co, are sometimes very obtuse.

    It does not matter how many times they are told, that “getting a bit of the ball” does not preclude the ref from giving a foul for dangerous play, they still trot out the same old rubbish.

    To think they, and others, go thru’ their whole careers without knowing the rules is incredible!

    Incredibly stupid, that is!

  38. Big Raddy says:

    Why oh Why can’t the BBC and Sky realise that there is a desperate need for new pundits.

    Their obsession with ex-pro’s precludes any intelligent discussion. We either have the cheeky chappie -Lineker, Venables etc or the dour pontificating cliche ridden ex-Scousers – Hansen, Souness, Lawrenson etc. And the match co-commentators – don’t start me!

    Oh for the days of Moore and Wolstenholme

  39. Red Arse says:

    To True, BR.

    Your wish for reform is doomed, I fear.

    Todays TV stations go for “personalities” over professionalism on many other programmes too.

    Can’t blame Hansen and Co either, because they are not going to say no to all that dosh being thrown their way.

    Poor old Shearer has headed one ball to many methinks!

  40. Big Raddy says:

    The BBC just don’t know when to retire their presenters. Jimmy Hill was an embarassment for his final 5 years. Great at the beginning then as with any old pro he harked back to the “good old days”. When that happens it should be the BBC’s signal to red card them

  41. Red Arse says:

    BR,

    You forgot to mention that Jimmy Hill then went on to host a programme on Sky for another 5 years, at least.

    Proves my point that all TV stations follow much the same “personality” nonsense really.

  42. Red Arse says:

    BR,

    I am hopping around sites a bit, and watching NFL on ESPN, but it makes me chuckle that our chats have the lulls you get when signals are bounced off Mars.

    I get in trouble when I mention chat being v. slow, but I mean it only as an amusing observation. Maybe I am a hyperactive adult. :-)

  43. Red Arse says:

    Bye everybody! :-)

    Bye anybody! :-)

  44. Irishgunner says:

    Great read Rocky L.

    It was with great surprise that I read the Sunday World (an Irish trash paper) last Sunday in which a journalist in it backed Wenger and said his words were being twisted and used against him, that Wenger’s not against fair tackling or physical games, just career ending lunges.

  45. SharkeySure says:

    Part two as good as part one Rocky…that really is some achievement !!

    As Rasp said…you’ve set the bar pretty damn high for the rest of us !!

  46. SharkeySure says:

    I wholly agree with the comments about the old boys network, and how they all cosy up to each other, in the hope of a favour down the line.

    Just look at Harry the Wheeler Dealers posse of ‘coaches’* down the Lane. Les Ferdinand, Tim Sherwood, his son Jamie – all with many years of puinditry behind them, throughout which they never ever uttered an ill word against a single footballing soul. The only exception.

    * Those three are in addition to Kevin Bond, Joe Jordan and Clive Allen !

  47. SharkeySure says:

    Rasp – “Newspapers also like to think they are championing a popular cause and to align themselves with the winning side”

    So true….I too quote the papers switch to Labour as one of the cleareest example in recent times.

    The quality of the comments on this site (today, from new and old alike) never ceases to amaze me. I wonder if QWERTY/UIOP swung by today..??

  48. Irishgunner says:

    Not looking good for Ireland and qualifying :(

    Did Jack play tonight?

  49. Rasp says:

    Capello’s rubbish. Why bother to draft Wilshere into the squad and then not play him. We needed someone who could unlock their defence. LJ was the only sub with the invention to do that and he left him on the bench and brought on Davies.

  50. rockylives says:

    OMG! How pedestrian does this England team look? There was not one creative playmaker on display – this game cried out for JW.
    When was last time England had a gifted playmaker in midfield (in the mould of Cesc, Brady, Hoddle etc)? Was it Gazza? Scholes? Why don’t we produce these players?

  51. 26may1989 says:

    Gareth Barry was a complete waste of space in that game, appalling passing, sluggish movement, virtually waved attacking players through on occasion and gave away buckets of fouls. Why the hell not bring LJ on when one of the old guard is having such a mare of a game? I despair of Capello, he has no ideas that contribute to the development of English football. Is he actually better than Steve Maclaren? It’s not clear.

  52. Rohan says:

    Hell, this has to be the best article I’ve read in a long long long time. Absolutely top class. I would love to jump into the comments but have no time…Great read none the less and keep up the good work.

  53. rockylives says:

    Thanks Rohan. There are a lot of good writers on this site so please come back anytime.

  54. Big Raddy says:

    Jack upon the bench was the best result as an Arsenal fan.

    There was no risk of the International injury hoodoo, his frustration not to be playing will result in pent up energy levels, he will develop confidence in knowing that as a boy he is already better than those on the pitch, he has had an opportunity to train with Capello and thus appreciate what a fine manager he has at home and had a short drive back from Wembley to his Mum. All in all a top night for us Gooners!

    The only negative will be the increased level of expectation from the fans.

  55. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Great moments for the miners in Chile.
    Morning all. Some fantastic posts. Great work Rocky.
    Back later for a chit chat.

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  59. [...] A Message to Henry Winter, Amy Lawrence, Patrick Barclay and Friends [...]

  60. Chris C says:

    Interesting article but surprised it is partly aimed at Amy Lawrence! Do you know this woman? A more die hard Arsenal supporter you will never meet. Even in her teen years she stood on the North Bank(right next to me as it happened) and talked aticulately and knowledgably about the game. I’m not surprised she has gone on to achieve what she has!

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