Saturday 30 November 2019

The agony of Fantasy Football terms and conditions

I really let myself down on Monday night (Nov 25th).

Arguably I'd let myself down a number of times throughout the day - snoozing in the bath first thing in the morning when I should have been powering through this first task of the day to help get the kids to school on time; forgetting to take my shoes to change into at work and ending up wearing trainers with shirt and trousers; picking up a can of fizzy drink on the way home that I didn't need or truthfully enjoyed, succeeding only in bringing forward the inevitable unarranged overdraft alert text that seems to be arriving earlier and earlier after pay day.

But all these things paled into insignificance around 9:40 that night, when I Joined The Debate.

BBC Sport are forever getting you to Join The Debate, and though I've maintained enough pride to resist calling up the modern day version of 606 (Contrary to perceived wisdom, 606 did actually exist before the Premier League, and much like Division One, Danny Baker's variation was superior in my humble), I succumbed to the live internet feed of Aston Villa versus Newcastle United. In my defence, I didn't directly Join The Debate, like I nearly did on TalkSport FM the day Andy Gray was exposed by Sky for dubious 'off-air' bantz with female staff members (Gender specific sexual misconduct did actually exist before #MeToo) and would have tarred my reputation for good had I stayed on the line. No, my text remark during AVFC v NUFC was aimed at the chap running the live feed, in short requesting that he refrain from using the term "on comms", a la Dion Dublin, when referring to the radio commentary on Five Live.

My text sadly contained a spelling mistake, which prompted my follow up text sheepishly mocking my qualification to judge. My misery was compounded at around 9:47 when the chap running the feed referred to "on comms" again, clearly to wind me up. I congratulated him on this mickey-taking and left it there, hoping at least that I'd triggered a spot of self-analysis on his part.

The only reason I was tuning in to the live feed was because I have two Aston Villa players in separate Fantasy Football teams this season. Much like Baker's Saturday evening 606 show, fantasy football was fun when it didn't involve me, first when it was aired on Sunday mornings on Radio 5 hosted by Ross King in 92-93 (?) and then elevated to night time viewing in Frank Skinner and David Baddiel's mock-up flat the following season.

As much as there is enjoyment to be had from being an FF manager, there is also an "on comms" type discomfort about it, far beyond cheering the goals of players you shouldn't cheer, such as Frank Lampard's late winner for Chelsea at home to Bolton a few years ago (Only Chelsea fans should be thrilled about such things). There's also the hurtful reality of your indignity and moral bankruptcy coming to the fore such as at The Emirates in December 2012 when Michu of Swansea was bearing down on our goal in injury time for 2-0 and, amid the booing and outrage around me, came the recognition that the Spaniard had just earned me 10 points alone that Gameweek.

Perhaps most guiltily for me, is the compliance in a culture that allows American terminology to thrive. When I was growing up in the eighties, footballers, even ones like me in my playmaker role for my Dad's junior team, 'set goals up'. Commentator (in commentary) Alan Parry spoke of Kenny Dalglish as the "creator supreme" after setting a goal up for Ian Rush against Watford. Back then, players set up goals or created them, sometimes "laid it on". Now though, Trent Alexander Arnold is called the "King of Assists". In those halcyon days, "assists" was a term used by Americans to define the value of a soccer player in the North American Soccer League. Now "Assists" is famed language in FF and on telly.

I'm not anti-American but do believe we should stick to our roots. One should be encouraged to speak openly about national identity without danger of promoting nationalism, and I never appreciated Steven Gerrard describing his selection just in front of England's back four as a "quarterback role". But then I don't like people endlessly going on about "pressing" either or "the press", which comes from European football. Contrary to popular belief, "closing down" existed before "pressing". George Graham brought "closing down" to Arsenal when he first arrived, or at least more of it, the only 'press' was those watching it happen from behind typewriters, or word processors, whichever existed before the Premier League.                    

Monday 18 November 2019

The commentators’ cultural curse

Many thousands of years ago, a week and a bit before the beginning of this November's international break, a Champions' League infringement took place that has, until now, been overlooked.

The incident took place in Borussia Dortmund's Signul Iduna Park, just five minutes into the hosts' game against Inter Milan in Group Z of the, some say, inflated competition. UEFA had arranged the game, organising a ref and everything, but no, it is not them responsible for the misdemeanour that has only just now, a little belatedly, come to light.

Some time past the eve of those five minutes, Inter Milan's Argentinian striker, Lautaro Martinez,  blitzed his way through the Dortmund defence and slammed his shot past Roman Burki to open the scoring. Up until this moment, the biggest blot on the commentators' network when describing a goal against a German team came 20 years ago when Clive Tyldesley, reacting to a far later strike, ruthlessly, scandalously and with much mock, inquired after the disappearance of Bayern Munich's back line while desperately hoping no one had heard or could remember Barry Davies' almost exact words from the 1988 Olympic Hockey Final between England and West Germany.

Until this moment.

With the net still rippling from Martinez's crack, BT Sport's BBC words man, Guy Mowbray, tried to take the heat off C to the T with a remark allegedly linking the heritage of the goalscorer with the hot form he is currently in.

"He's smokin!", Mowbray announced, using the goal just scored as evidence.

Guy knows what he's done, but is failing to admit it. "He's smokin!" is not the normal response of a commentator to a goal, or indeed of any sane, rational human being to any instance of excellence. He could argue that he was just trying to engage with the 'kidz' by referencing 25 year old film The Mask, but the cold hard facts are that Martinez is from Argentina, and Argentinians, like Cesar Luis Menotti for example, are known for smoking a lot.

Mowbs', if say, interviewed by fellow BBC observer, Emily Maitlis, might claim that Argentinians have an illusionary effect on him, such as was apparent in the World Cup of 2018 when the selection of the South Americans' full back, Mercado, sent him into a sweaty or not tailspin that humiliatingly resulted in a stream of toy-car related "jokes" only marginally less awkward than a member of the aristocracy being caught bantzy-ing around with a famous criminal. 

But Mowbs' has previous, having once mimicked the American accent of former Sunderland player, Jozy Altidore, going full "Oh my Gad!" when catching his dugout response to a goal by Sergio Aguero (admittedly another Argentinian... ok, maybe Mowbs' isn't entirely fibbing).

I myself cannot declare whiter than whiteness, for a start I subconsciously used the term "blitzed" in the lead up to describing Martinez's goal against Germans, but while I hold my hands up (Maradona) to that one, the "smokin!" Argentinian stereotype, triggered or otherwise, can only ever be an unforgivable, regrettable, mis-steak.        

Tuesday 12 November 2019

VAR-crime on the rise in 'what goes around comes around' culture

In his previous occupation as a football manager, betting promoter Harry Redknapp used to dismiss the notion of video technology to govern debatable incidents on the pitch.

"These things even themselves out over the season" Redknapp reasoned, claiming that every team had more or less the same share of good and bad luck within the course of the nine month slog. That penalty you didn't get when your forward was blatantly chopped down? Well, hold off sprinting after the ref in disgust because next week you'll be given a goal that comes off a hand, and you won't give so much of a toss for justice, then.

Not all managers are as philosophical as Redknapp and refuse to see the light in favour of exhibiting the obvious conspiracy against them. Steve Bruce, for example, while manager of Sunderland in 2010-11, saw Arsenal have two goals incorrectly ruled out for offside at The Emirates and took away a nil-nil draw without complaint. Then, the very next week, he was moaning on about the ref costing his team a 2-0 defeat at home to Liverpool.

Mark Hughes is another one doused in ignorance, as regularly as night and day exercising the slack jaw, bemused frown and outstretched arms claiming yet another outrage against him. It's all one way according to him and Brucie. I'm sure it’s nothing to do with being managed by Alex Ferguson.

I might go further than Redknapp and add that the even-ing-out-over-a-season theory can sometimes become an even-ing out over the decades, sometimes involving exact opponents. For instance, England benefited from a goal that hit the crossbar and didn't cross the line in the 1966 World Cup against West Germany and then, 44 years later, when England did definitely put the ball over the line in-off the crossbar against the rebranded Germany, the goal wasn't given. Where Geoff Hurst's strike turned 2-2 into 3-2, Frank Lampard's wasn't allowed to turn 1-2 into 2-2. Perhaps if Lamps had stayed at West Ham it would have counted. Further proof that his decision to leave Redknapp's Hammers for Chelsea in 2001 was a cursed move.

What we have in the present day is Redknapp's assertion continually realised but in technological form. VAR has, in just half a season, shown that while some clubs may get the VAR rub of the green one week, they will likely be it's victim the next. Tottenham Hotspur, for instance, were denied a likely match-sealing second goal at Leicester in September thanks to their lively employee, Son Heong Min, being caught blatantly level with the last outfield defender. Going on to lose that game at the King Power Stadium, Son must have been nodding in righteous approval at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium this Saturday just gone, when Sheffield United were denied an equaliser thanks to the protruding toe of United's John Lundstram.

VAR supporters may point out that Sheff U got away with a foul in their penalty area on Arsenal defender Sokratis last month, but Arsenal fans now await equilibrium having suffered not just this incident but also Sokratis' incomprehensibly disallowed 'winner' at home to Crystal Palace last month. Sadly for this crop of Arsenal fans, given their team's infrequent visits to the penalty area, they may not see karma realised for a few seasons yet, perhaps decades even, as VAR looks for ways to 'even it up' for them.                              

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...