5 things that have ruined Premier League football and are not VAR and the new handball rule

If I hear another ‘pundit’ or manager complain how the new handball rule is ruining the game, I’ll tear out the remaining hair I have on my head. The twaddle that has erupted because some players, with the aid of technology, have been adjudged to have broken a rule, is amazing. The two managers, after Newcastle got a last minute penalty and earned a 1-1 draw with Tottenham, took different stances (funnily, the beneficiary was highly critical of his fortune):

Not everyone is buying this lamentation:

Ken Early thinks there’s a wider problem:

‘Except the problem is not the rule. The rule is only a second-order effect of the real problem, which is VAR. VAR has shown us that football is, to a surprising extent, a game of micro-handballs. In the past referees dealt with them equitably, by failing to notice them. If it happened too fast to be perceptible to the naked eye, nobody worried about it. No body, no crime. Now VAR spots everything that could possibly be a handball and demands to know what the referee is going to do about it.

However, my feelings go wider than the vein-bursting screams of Jamie Carragher that it’s “an embarrassment!”

Not one of the commentators thought to mention things that are a basic part of the modern game that have ‘ruined it’ for fans. Well, let me put a few to you.

1. Handling the ball instead of letting a goal score: that’s a rule being applied to its letter, but none of the moaners are arguing that a player should let the goal score and not handle, get a red card, and then help his team because a penalty kick is awarded instead of a clear goal. The injustice of that is beyond dispute! The selection below includes some handballs efforts to try to cheat and score a goal. They also include some odd handball decisions that had nothing to do with (and pre-date) VAR. The game was already ruined!

The game was not ruined by Maradona’s ‘hand of God’? Give me a break!

The gleeful celebration of a cheat, afterwards!

2. The ‘professional’ or ‘tactical’ foul denying a clear goal scoring chance. These so-called ‘dark’ arts of the game cannot be called for what they are; or are they? ‘Professional’ and ‘tactical’ speak to how they are taught and used as part of the ‘beautiful’ game at its highest level. Commentators are often ready to praise how a player ‘takes one for the team’, with such actions, committing the foul and getting maybe no worse than a yellow card.

3. Price of replica kits: ‘Dr. Peter Rohlmann, a sports merchandising expert carried out a study of the breakdown of the income and expenditure involved the market of replica shirts. He found that the manufacturers’ costs of material, labour and shipping were less than £5 per shirt, so a top selling for £50 is a 1000% mark up on costs. Perhaps the one surprising finding from Dr. Rohlmann’s report is that the clubs themselves merely receive around 6% of the price of the shirt, that is £3 on a top retailing for £50.’ The game isn’t ruined? I guess not, given the kit sponsorship money that clubs get.

4. Transfer fees and player salaries. I watched Spurs-Newcastle at the weekend and the cameras were trained on Gareth Bale, who’s just returned to his former club, after several years at Real Madrid, which seemed to end unhappily with him clearly not wanted by the club. But, poor (sorry, not poor) Gareth had to live with that and little playing time. How could he cope? Just so: ‘his wages are reported to tot up to an eye-watering sum of £350,000 a week after tax. Bale joined Real Madrid from Tottenham in September 2013 for a then world-record transfer fee of £85m (100m euros), and then signed a contract extension in 2016 worth a reported £150million, according to the Guardian. Contracted to the club until June 30, 2022, he is said to earn £600,000 a week before tax.’ Game not ruined for us all? I figured (no pun intended) not. Any wonder that ‘This year saw the Cardiff-born star top the 2020 Sunday Times Rich List in May, when he was named the wealthiest active sports star aged 30 or below.’ A player who cannot command a regular full-time spot on a team! Give me some of that! Game definitely not ruined for us.

But, let’s not heap blame on young Gareth, alone. Look at the top 10 young list; everyone’s a footballer, bar Anthony Joshua!

Oh, yea! The game is healthy and doing us all good. 😦

5. Entrance fees. The Premier League’s own research shows that ticket prices are about £30 pounds a game. About 3/4 of fans are season ticket holders: a £400 season ticket for 19 Premier League matches is £21.05 per match ticket. But such tickets for match-going adults last season ranged from £458 (Sheffield United) to £1395 (Tottenham). Top-end tickets were about £90 per match.

Though a bit out of date, the Bleacher Report indicated that paying to go to matches was out of the reach of ordinary punters: going to the football has become an unaffordable activity for the majority of the traditional supporter base’. ‘The cost of attending football has risen at more than twice the rate of the already extortionate cost of living in Britain today.’

For a little comparison, tickets for Bayern Munich’s games were lower than in any of the four top tieof the football LEague.

But, fans in the Football League still love the game, according to the EFL Supporters Survey 2019, and about 2/3 of them wanted goal-line technology and VAR to help with officials make decisions; that view might have shifted with experience, but it’s acknowledged to be a work in progress.

Hand me that ball! Caribbean sport myopia

When I started work as a central banker, my first boss said “We didn’t hire you because you have the answers; we expect you to ask the right questions.” I was watching an NBA game on Christmas Day with a group of young men. The ball flew around the court. The men soared and dunked. They dribbled the ball and passed. Most of the players were black. Nothing really special about that. I thought about young people I knew and sports they play. Why don’t they play handball? I asked myself.Olympics Day 15 - Handball

Tradition is at the root of many things that help and hinder. Here is a game that is all about athleticism. It’s fast, furious, full of aggression: I think of it as being like rugby in a hall. It’s not a game for those who cannot take knocks: handball players are allowed an unlimited number of ‘fouls’ (faults). Good to watch. Fun to play. Sure, the sport is very popular in Europe, where it’s played usually in indoor halls.That poses a few problems for Caribbean countries because we do not have many such facilities. But, guess what? It doesn’t have to be a real constraint. The sport can be played outdoors, in grass fields or on beaches. Hello! We have some outdoor spaces that could work? I think so. What holds us back from getting involved with sports that are not part of our tradition, other than ignorance? We let our ‘love’ of our traditional sports to just trundle along.

Cricket? Goodness, am I tired of the backward-looking of that sport! ‘The good old days’ are gone. Want them back? If we really admire the heroes who made the region feared and respected, then DO SOMETHING ABOUT MAKING THE PLAYERS BETTER. Make some genuine changes in how the sport is played and administered or get it off my newspapers and my television. Cheesh!

Netball? I love it that Jamaica has some great players, but I would love to see some of those athletic women try their hands at basketball or something like handball. Oh, yes. It fits a social ‘stay in your place’ to have women and girls going daintily around in skirts and not having too much contact. But, we have lots of strong and aggressive women, and while soccer has been an outlet for some, they have few real alternatives that defy the standard images of ‘girls’ sports’. Whenever I’ve coached girls, they have never been short of aggressiveness and desire to get down and dirty, even downright scary once they realised that hitting people is part of the normal activity.

We have young people who need and want activities, who are not interested in these sports, or don’t want to be another sprinter. Maybe, they have some of the skills that are easy to translate to a sport like handball.

I can understand why we don’t produce great swimmers, even though I think that is a generational problem that is in the process of changing. But, I don’t understand why we do not produce great handball players, or volleyball players, either. We have a regional mind shift to deal with, but that shouldn’t be a real constraint.

Why can’t we get some coaches to come and start to sow the seeds? I’d love it if the smaller Caribbean islands were like Cuba and putting athletes in almost any and all international sports.

We talk a lot about what we want, but don’t back it up with actions that suggest that we want to do something about it.