It’s Only A Game – Perspective And Sport

It shouldn’t fail to surprise me anymore that come a major sporting event, match or clash, half the world magically transforms into world-leading experts on whatever sport is on offer.

So, last night, Twitter was the platform for many to question Sir Alex Ferguson’s wisdom in benching Wayne Rooney for their massive Champions League clash with Real Madrid. My own view was that keeping Rooney back, bringing him on in the second half to take advantage of a tiring defence and players who might be on a yellow card, was what Ferguson was thinking of.

Those with more experience in the game than me quickly worked out that Danny Welbeck was preferred because of the disciplined tactical game United had been sent out to play. Until Nani’s red card, it seemed to be working; for all Welbeck’s struggles with putting the ball in the back of the net, he looked sharp and tested Real’s defence on several occasions.

But then, after United had taken a deserved lead, it all went horribly wrong. Was it a red card? In the letter of the law, probably not. Was it a clumsy challenge that, from certain angles, looked more malicious than it was? Yes. I could understand why the referee had made the decision that he did.

What I couldn’t quite understand was why some people suggested that the length of time that Nani lay on the floor allowed the referee to consider (and by implication, change) his decision. Nonsense. In my experience of refereeing and umpiring, you have one chance to make your decision, and unless advised otherwise by a colleague, you stick to it. It wasn’t as if in that intervening period, he’d borrowed an Ipad from the crowd and checked out the replays to confirm what had happened.

What happened next was inevitable. Real Madrid scored twice, United gave it a bloody good go, but weren’t able to hit back.

The calls from those watching that the ref ruined the game, that it was a [insert expletive here] bad decision etc. were entirely expected, and perfectly justified. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, and I have not been averse to using some Low Dutch language myself on occasion.

Some people, sadly, took it too far, wishing that disease and misfortune should fall on the unfortunate referee – a man, let’s remember, who was simply trying to do his job. I’m afraid that those who follow football, and those who write about it, unlike other sports in my experience, are quickest to lose their perspective and go to extreme lengths to prove it.

Nobody died, so we don’t need a ‘post-mortem’ after the game, to cite just one example. I remember when Robert Green’s mistake in the 2010 World Cup against USA had journalists describing it as a ‘disaster’.

Maybe I’m just a bit too pedantic. But due to the fact that in my time as a journalist I’ve written about terrorist attacks on team convoys and cricketers killed in traffic accidents, I prefer to keep words like disaster, tragedy and killing reserved for those sort of stories.

I might be being harsh on football. I remember Stuart Dickinson coming in for plenty of stick during the 2007 Rugby World Cup final after his decision as TMO denied England a try but I can’t think of too many other instances in rugby and cricket, probably in part due to the events above, doesn’t seem to generate too much vitriol.

In any case, it is only a game. Hard to swallow sometimes, but it’s true. There are more important things in life, which I think too many people lose sight of when the red mist descends in front of their keyboards.

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