Wednesday 9 August 2023

The ref penalty

Lauren James a bit unlucky to be sent off?

I haven’t changed my opinion in over 25 years that ref Kim Neilsson (and subsequently the tabloid press) was more responsible for the abuse David Beckham received after his dismissal against Argentina in France 98 than Beckham himself, and James’s ‘violent conduct’ against Nigeria on Monday was less forceful than his.

In both cases, the victim - Diego Simeone in St Etienne, Michelle Alozie in Melbourne - were laughing as they received the full effect of the respective retaliations, one a petulant but aimless flick of the leg, the other a kind of jenga placement of boot on backside. A little talking to - for both players in the two incidents - would surely have been sufficient. 

As it was in ‘98, England went on to lose in a shoot-out and 23 year old Beckham was gleefully vilified by a willing audience, people like the effigy-burners of West Ham who worship their grandads that went to battle but are also open to a bit of whipped-up rallying from agenda-driven sources. 

Last Monday, England prevailed in the spot-kick drama, though even if they’d lost there isn’t the mass idiocy around the women’s game to berate James on the Beckham scale, possibly because the key exponents of that mass idiocy don’t think women should play football while there are still houses to clean and meals to cook. 

Instead there is focus on England’s struggle with Nigeria, a performance so below-par compared to the previous game’s 6-1 pounding of China that it brought to my mind the men’s Euro 96 shoot-out escape against Spain, which had been preceded by the 4-1 dissection of Netherlands. 

Personally, I was fascinated by Chloe Kelly’s penalty technique in scoring the decisive kick, a little drag-flick into the air with her left foot before running up and bashing the ball into the net with her right. Was it a Jonny Wilkinson centring thing? Or even, without wishing to go all Micah Richards or Dion Dublin on the matter, a me thing? Back in 1988 or 89, at least 10 years before Kelly was born, I took a penalty at Warners End fields for the school B team, running up to the ball, then stopping to flick my right heel against my right bum cheek before shooting with my left foot past the keeper.

By today’s run up standards - set by Jorginho and Bruno Fernandes among others - my approach is perhaps not so weird, even if I’m not entirely sure whether I was trying to fool the goalie somehow (with a dummy trick Peter Beardsley played on defenders) or regain some kind of control or alignment, like when I used to straighten the fire guard or avoid the cracks in the pavement. It wasn’t a pressure moment like Kelly’s of course, but I had just been dropped from the first team and had been desperate to play my way out of it before my dad found out. A missed or saved penalty at that level would not have helped my cause. 

Had I missed, I would have hunted for a box of matches and a cardboard cut-out of myself immediately. 

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