Thursday, 27 August 2015

Time wasting, faking injury and bad refereeing are ruining football

Former West Ham captain and manager Billy Bonds was a recent guest of the club at the home game against Bournemouth. He received rapturous applause from the crowd, many of whom saw him in his hay day as a player. An all action player, who gave everything when he walked out onto that pitch. The same commitment was evident when Billy became manager of the club in 1990.

Some words of Billy's from that time struck home today. Just after being appointed manager in 1990 Billy underlined the importance of giving your all for the spectators who come to watch. “There are people who will be going to factories on Monday, so that they can earn money so they can come to see us on Wednesday,” said Billy. “It’s a game of football. It’s West Ham United. We won’t let them down by just going through the motions.”

Billy’s words came to mind, having watched several recent games, where teams have blatantly time wasted. West Ham’s first home game this season against Leicester City was a case in point - the visitors seemed to start time wasting from the kick off of the second half. This involved taking onordinate amounts of time over goal and free kicks. Substitutions were made, with the maximum amount of time being taken over each operation.  Then a real favourite the substitution in injury time, used to maximum effect to run down the clock. The referee was aware that time wasting was going on, repeatedly pointing to his watch. However, he failed to book anyone and little time was added.

The problem of time wasting can be dealt with by referees booking the players committing the offence. Also, it would be a good rule change to say that there can be no substitutions during injury time. Substitutions made during injury time are invariably done simply to waste time.

Managers claim running down the clock is a legitimate part of the game. This is nonsense. Those people who work all week, pay £40 to £50 to come through the gates, do so in order to be entertained. Time wasting and so called gamesmanship are not entertaining. Football is first and foremost an entertainment, it is not war, it is not a battle of attrition and for those coming through the gates, it is not simply a business.

The words of Billy Bonds some quarter of a century ago in many ways summarise the attitude of West Ham down the years. Not to say ofcourse that there have not been West Ham players who have wasted time (or some might even say been a waste of time).

During the managerial years of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall the prime concern was entertainment. Indeed, many look back on those halcyon years, particularly when the club had three players in the World Cup winning side of 1966, questioning  whether had there been a less entertainment and a more results orientated approach whether more trophies would have arrived in the Upton Park cabinet. But in those days you could go to West Ham and always be sure of being entertained – West Ham may not  have won but the spectator would have seen a good game of football.

It is this philosophy that now seems to be sadly lacking in the Premier League. In fact that nonsensical much quoted comment of former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly that football is more important than life and death really does seem to have become the ruling mantra. It is nonsense because football is not more important than life and death. It is 22 men kicking a ball around a field for 90 minutes, thereby entertaining those who come to watch – the day it ceases to be entertainment is the day it has lost its heart and soul, as well as reason to be.

Ofcourse the drift from entertainment to life and death billing has been accompanied over the years by the huge increase in money flowing into the game. Sky in particular have pumped in billions. The price has been the relegation in importance of the fan in the stand with the most influential voice now being that of the TV scheduler. So the fixture list is put out at the start of the season, after which it is dramatically changed with games being rearranged to suit TV schedules. Television has put a huge amount in but certainly demands its pound of flesh in return.

There are other things about the once beautiful game that could do with changing. Players feigning injury as a key point in the play simply to halt the game. This can be another form of time wasting or gamesmanship but whatever the context it needs stamping out.

Then there is the overall quality of referees. There seem to be so many key decisions in a game that are wrong nowadays. Technology has gradually been taking more of a role over recent years but more needs to be done. Managers have generally stuck with the line that these key decisions tend to even out over a season but some are beginning to wonder if that is now true. Some of the games almost become a lottery due to the referee in charge. Indeed, refereeing is a key matter regarding football going forward. Better referees equipped with technology and certain rule changes, such as the no substitutions in injury time, could iron out many of the problems.

In terms of attitude to the game, there just needs to be a bit more perspective – a move toward the Greenwood, Lyall and Spurs old manager Bill Nicholson’s view of the game and away from the silly life and death scenarios conjured by Shankly and those seeking only to sell the product.

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