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.

#COVID19Chronicles-166: September 25, 2020–More messages, please; people are not getting it.

The realisation is hitting home starkly that Jamaicans are not hearing and/or heeding the many messages about COVID-19 prevention, so we have seen a recent wave of attempts to do more communicating, especially as it relates to wearing masks. Minister Tufton has been on a blitz this week. His tone during last evening’s ‘COVID Conversations’ was all about not descending into despair about where numbers are heading and not to accept comments that suggest the government has stopped caring about the development of COVID.

He spent a lot of time stressing the anticipation and planning had mitigated many of the worse outcomes earlier projections suggested:

However, it’s clear that the messages that people need to act on are just not sinking in to a wide enough degree, and this is reflected in visits he’s made to communities and businesses.

Some public agencies and companies have joined the push, eg the public bus company, JUTC, has been flashing items for its passengers.

The bus company had responded well in March to the early need for sanitization of vehicles:

But, in keeping with general laxness in observing health protocols such as wearing masks and keeping distance, evidence is clear that passengers don’t get or wont apply it. In April, JUTC issued a statement to the effect ‘no mask, no travel’:

However, anecdotal evidence is that this is not observed, nor are rules on only seated passengers.

In addition, the ministry of health and wellness is liaising with firms and the private sector organizations about new workplace protocols:

These efforts come as the Caribbean is being urged to do more to tackle COVID-19, especially in the context of the region’s known high incidence of NCDs:

Many people know that non-compliance with COVID protocols has a point where it can be displayed as violent opposition. While we are far from highly politicized protests, we saw this in Jamaica when curfews were introduced on April 1, with open defiance and some decided to openly flout restrictions on night one, only to be summarily embarrassed for so doing.

So it went on in the first month:

Transgressions occurred but enforcement seemed to be offsetting.

However, 4 1/2 months on from curfews being introduced from April 1, we see that recurring as enforcement of restrictions on entertainment hits a wall of resistance, yesterday, with police being attacked.

Several involved in organizing the party and some of the 200 patrons were quickly remanded in custody.

This has happened in other countries to varying degrees. Most embarrassing when politicians cannot hold strain, as in Kenya.

As various activities resume, however, we see that following protocols is a struggle even in the full public gaze, as in the NFL, which has fined several coaches heavily for mask-wearing breaches the past weekend:

Some useful infomation on budget was presented last night on where expenditure had been focused:

The first field hospital (from the USA) was accepted; they are modular and should facilitate more flexible responses to cases:

#COVID19Chronicles-154: September 13, 2020: Is the track tilted or the playing field level?

Jamaicans often feel there are at least two Jamaicas, one for the privileged and one for the rest. How blatant transgressions of COVID-19 protocols (as set out in Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) and Quarantine Act) is one area where people are so far patient to wait and see if it’s really one law/rule for all. The case: a surprise birthday bash for uber-star, Usain Bolt. The issues: blatant disregard for DRMA Orders and maybe quarantine restrictions, especially by two footballers of Jamaican origin who currently play, professionally in Europe (Raheem Sterling of Manchester City and Leon Bailey of Beyer Leverkusen), who had arrived on the island less than 14 days before the party.

Bolt tested positive for COVID-19 days after the event, and went in quarantine/isolation. Reports are that Bailey tested negative and is in isolation (the Bundesliga season starts on September 19).

Sterling had tested negative in Jamaica before leaving the island.

He played for England during last week’s Nation’s League series, and his club Manchester City were due to play their first game of the new season yesterday, but the match was postponed.

The behaviour of these elite Jamaican sportsman can be seen in several contexts and one is that they and other athletes believe they are exceptional and immune. The other is that they are selfish and see no issues in undermining their teams and teammates by taking unnecessary health risks.

During the week, two young England players (Mason Greenwood, Man. United; Phil Foden (Man. City) broke COVID-19 protocols while on international duty in Iceland (inviting women back to the team hotel) and were fined by the Icelandic authorities and each been fined 250,000 Icelandic Krona (£1,360) for the rule breach, which must be paid by the individuals themselves and not by the FA or their clubs, and sent home in disgrace.

Footage of Greenwood surfaced this weekend of him using ‘comedy crack’ (nitrous oxide).

More apologies, and excuses—‘Boys will be boys’; ‘They’re young…’ Whatever moral and ethical guidance they’re getting from teams and peers isn’t setting them in good directions.

In passing, Man. City have had their share of issues as Kyle Walker was one of their players who broke protocols at least twice during lockdowns (hosting sex party); but also, Jack Grealish (Aston Villa, involved in car crash while supposed to be in lockdown) in England.

Just monkeying around: scenes from a round at Apes Hill

Looking west to the ocean
Sheep grazing
Nice to look at, and better to not hit here 😊👍🏾🏌
View of new clubhouse
Reminders of the past: sugar mill

International Men’s Day, November 19

Yesterday was International Men’s Day, and unwittingly I ‘celebrated’ it doing some stereotypically manly things. As usual, I woke early, and began with a few muscular exercises, toning my body into something that would be a good sexy shape: tight abdomen, firm thighs, and some ripples where muscles were well defined. If this were the ‘good old days’, I would have topped that off with a cigar and an early morning pint of beer.

But, first let’s be serious. The IMD theme for 2016 is Stop Male Suicide. I’m already focused on raising awareness about male mental health issues and one of the concerns that need to be addressed is whether ‘being a man’ is so stressful that many men are falling foul to a set of mental strains, which stereotypically they are not talking about. But, men don’t talk about emotional stuff, as everyone knows, except if it’s about sex and to use the words of the man just elected to lead the USA some ‘locker room’ stuff like grapping women by the young feline. What’s a man to do? 

Actually, men (the ones I know from all my years) talk a lot about emotional stuff. It was a man who gave me advice about deciding if work was about my family or about satisfying some people who’d forget me in a second, once I was gone. I know plenty of men who cry when they are upset and excited–and not just when their sports team has won or lost. I know many men who hug their sons and kiss them and, hug each other and embrace each other freely, without thinking there’s anything wrong with that, other than what’s in YOUR mind. But, let the stereotypes have their day in the sun.

Let me get back to me and manly pursuits.

Funnily, I’d gone to bed the night before with more than a small smile on my face after reading about ‘10+ Handsome Guys Who’ll Redefine Your Concept Of Older Men‘. It featured some images of whawt ‘sexiness’ is for elderly. A few things struck me about this ‘concept’: it went for another set of firmly held stereotypes. Look at the hunk in the picture. Who’d not want a piece of that? But, hang on! All of the pictures were of white men.

Sexy is…bearded, tattooed, and…WHITE!

Hello! Where are my guys? Where was uber-hunk, Idris Elba–Mr. James Bond-maybe?

Is Idris too black to be sexy?

If you want to argue that Idris is too young, at 44, then what about Denzil Washington (in his 60s) or your favourite US president, Barack ‘Mr. Smooth’ Obama?

Well, beards are in, and while I ponder the tattooing and how best to stck my thumbs into my unbuttoned jeans, I know I am on the way to sexiness. My Movember beard is well on its way.

Facial hair is here! 🙂

But, back to celebrating manhood.

I watched some sport in the wee hours of the morning, with live golf from Abu Dhabi and taped tennis from London. Men were being men and showing that they can hit balls better than other species. Oh, the joy! Then, after a quick breakfast, which I made myself without waiting for any of the many women in my household to do it, I got into watching a mega-match between Manchester United and Arsenal–big boy football. It was good, strong stuff, with little love lost between the sides, whose managers, had shown before that even big boys get upset with each other about their toys. Who can forget last year’s lightweight bout? 

“Push me? I’ll push you, first!”

But, sadly, I had to drag myself away from another series of that boys’ games, and get ready to play in a golf tournament: more men, with men and boys, being men, at the weekend. Well, there was a smattering of women, but thankfully not enough to change things much. 🙂

Women released from womanly duties for a little fresh air 🙂

The golf wasn’t my best, but after a lot of early morning rain near my house, though not at the course, my mind wasn’t really on the task. My good wife travels a lot and was home for another weekend, and I didn’t want to be out all day, ahead of another of her trips on Sunday. But, I couldn’t control my time, as I waited a lot during my round. After about 6 holes, I really felt time would be well spent just packing it in and heading home. My partner was of a similar mind, as we watched clouds roll in. But like good, strong men, we pressed on, and toughed it out. We got better on the back nine. We finsihed in just over four hours, which wasnt that bad, really.

I scooted off across town to meet a man, straight after my match. He had promised to fix the screen of my phone, which had dropped while I was carrying a prize for another golfer a few weeks ago. I got to his work place with plenty of time and sat, grabbing a typical Jamaican Saturday lunch of a hot patty and cocoa bread.

Jamaican Saturdays are about patties and cocoa bread 🙂

While I ate, we talked…about his job, and helping people. Funny that!

After he’d fixed my phone and I thanked him, I headed home. I saw group of mainly elderly men on the school field as I was leaving: they were playing frisbee (with a smattering of women). They were not of the sexy shapes to which I aspired, but they looked happy.

As I reached my house, my wife and daughter were headed out. Oh, well! So much for my thoughts. Anyway, the weekend is their time.

Plans for drinks with a friend got hastily cancelled, so I sat and caught up with the day. I joined a Twitter online chat about what it means to be a man, which used the #ManTalkJa hashtag. Some useful conversations were going on about what it means to be a man in Jamaica, a place where I think stereotypes and labels are the norm, and people don’t want to delve deeply into understanding social issues. Fittingly, this exercise was organized by one of our energetic youth movements.

I’m not going to try to define what it means to be a man; each person should do that for him or herself, and try to agree, especially if they are in a relationship. I do/have done lots of seemingly less-manly things:

  • I parent (not babysit);
  • I cook (not just egg and chips);
  • I cry (just put on a soppy film and see);
  • I wear pink a lot (it’s my wife’s favourite colour, she says);
  • I have tried to braid my daughter’s hair (not one of my best efforts, but I tried);
  • I try to look after my health (including going for my annual check up–and the prostate check is not fun, but important :();
  • I am ‘the husband of’, which I dislike as much as my wife being ‘the wife of’, and it’s often women who refer to us so :(.

I fight stereotypes like they are my sworn enemies. Women who grumble about my not opening doors for them, or always taking out the garbage, need to reread that manifesto about ‘equality’. My wife has her own bank account, about which I know nearly nothing other than its number, in case of need for transfers. I own property jointly with my wife, who thinks that all of it is hers 🙂

I have no sons, and am extremely happy about that.

It’s hard for me to know now how much of my views on manliness are just what I grew up with: my parents were always equal parts of my upbringing, with my father often the one at home, when my mother worked at nights; my father’s a great cook (thanks to him mother); my mother taught me to sew and wash clothes to avoid marrying a woman for the ‘wrong’ reasons).

I’m also the product of many experiences. One of my favourite stories is about how I sat with a prime minister for a long meeting, and he held my hand on his sofa for most of the two or so hours we talked. It’s part of the custom in Guinea that men kiss on greeting (blame the French), and hug, and touch each other as signs of trust. If I had pulled away, I think our conversation would have been very short.

I don’t think you can ‘tell’ a homosexual by what he wears, or how he speaks, or what he carries. Effeminate men are not homosexuals, automatically; burly men are not rock-solid heterosexuals. If you care that much, better to get the story straight from the ‘horse’, rathe than making the sly and snide assumptions–women, again, are awfully bad at doing that 😦

One of the great things about European life is the need to carry documents, and with that has developed the need for ‘man bags’ or pouches. It’s OK, guys! I prefer small, leather, to large cloth bags. After a while, bulging pockets are limiting.  When I used to tote my baby and toddler around on trips, my bag was an essential part of organizing our movements.Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 3.38.30 AM.png
I’m not going to take on here Jamaican (or Caribbean) notions of maleness, much of which strikes me as ‘forced conformism’. Maybe, I’ll work my way towards doing that for this time in 2017.

No chalk, good talk, and much innovation in education: UNICEF Activate Talk, Kingston

The Jamaica office of UNICEF held its version of ‘Activate’ talks, last night, at the UWI Law Faculty. As the UNICEF website states, these talks ‘bring together innovators, experts and thought-leaders to showcase the latest innovations that can deliver progress on the major issues confronting the most vulnerable and marginalized children in each country’. The Jamaican offering was “Far from Chalk and Talk: Learning from Innovative Approaches in Education.” My fellow blogger, Emma Lewis, has written a very good piece on this already and I will not even attempt to do better, so read her post in the Gleaner’s Social Impact blog.

I ended up at the talk in interesting circumstances, as a special guest, having responding to a promotional challenge for ideas of innovate ways to educate. I offered them my ‘magical’ approach to teaching some very young children the rudiments of football.

Children learn readily through play. Games are often an easy way to try to give new information. A child’s imagination is usually fertile ground. Even when children cannot count, read or write, their ability to relate physically goes far.

For example, I was coaching 2-3 year olds soccer. They cannot understand the mechanics of kicking or throwing. Some can barely run without stumbling. They do not have good control over their legs and arms, or heads. But, they know stories.

So, to get them doing exercises, we ‘played in the woods’. We walked like bears: our arms bent high at our shoulders. We writhed like snakes, arms together, in front, making weaving motions. We froze: keeping our balance and being attentive to any noises in the woods. We picked up sticks, bending down to reach for imaginary pieces in front of each foot. Then we threw them to the sky, raising our arms high above our heads.

After 10 minutes, we are all loose, sweating, and laughing. We could now start to do some faster running, to the fairy house behind the bush.

I believe in fairies, so do children. Do you?

They believe in fairies!

After I coached this group of kids yesterday, several of them offered their principal a piece of ‘cake’ that we had baked with ‘raisins’ and ‘strawberries’, in an ‘oven’ under a noni tree. She graciously took ‘slices’ with her as she headed off to teach at another school. Some of the children could not contain themselves when their parents arrived for pick-up, and had to show off their best ‘lion’ roars, which I’d just asked them to do as it’s a good way to get them to take deep breaths. 🙂

Yours, truly, with Allison Hickling, Communications Specialist, UNICEF
Yours, truly, with Allison Hickling, Communications Specialist, UNICEF

As is very common in Jamaica, and many small countries, the audience was full of people already known, or with whom one is already connected.

Allison Hickling turns out to be a family friend whom I had never met before. Some UNICEF and UN staff I knew from my time as a resident representative in Guinea, and they had since been transferred to Jamaica.

I have had nice connections with Jason Henzell, Chair of the BREDS Treasure Beach Foundation, and work with one of his former football coaches, now that I am coaching at schools in Kingston. Interestingly, the video that Jason showed last night had ‘games’ that I have used a lot in the past, including ‘trust’ games (such as encouraging people to fall with their eyes closed, assured that they will be caught) for team-building. As you can see, above, I also like to let kids’ imagination do the work. Adults are often uptight about ‘feeling goofy’.

Deika Morrison and I had never met before, but we spend a lot of time having interchanges on Twitter, and I love what she’s doing with Crayons Count, the benefits of which I have also seen first hand at the school my daughter attends.

Dr. Renee Rattray and Marvin Hall are both people I want to meet again, not least because they have amazing energy and ideas for working with ‘less-advantaged’ children, which is an area to which I am drifting with some other activities.

Doors close, doors open: loving Alia Atkinson, and O’Dayne Richards.

I am almost in tears, after watching Jamaican Alia Atkinson coming in 3rd in the 100 meters breaststroke. She had the race. She has the time. But, in finals, you have to have the event under control. She swam as she always does, fast first 50, but near record pace. She looked great till 20 meters from home, then “felt the elephants on her back”, as the British commentator said. I know the feeling as limbs tighten with lactic acid buildup. But, no second guessing. How proud to be there looking at a potential champion in one of our less-favoured events.

The medals were presented by our own IOC representative, Mike Fennel. A nice twist. The Scottish crowd gave a rousing cheer. Go, Alia! Stay strong. The swimming family is loving what you do for the event.

But, as that door closed, open came the door with O’Dayne Richards winning the shot putt with a games record of 21.61 meters.20140728-144629-53189148.jpg Promise comes true.

Jamaica to the world. More action comes on the track later today, as our sprinters are all looking at finals this evening. Which doors will open?

A sensational morning

The smell of heat, even at dawn.
The intoxicating smell of rotting mangoes.
Damp grass, mixed with dust, smelling like moss.
Sweat dripping from the head to the nose to the neck.
Water spraying for the grounds, whose spring lies ready to be tapped.
Heavy breathing coming from behind, the couple sprint the hill.
Huffing, puffing, weighty arms holding a bag full of mangoes.
1, 2, 3, 4,…14, 15. Switch hands.
Labrador barking at the stranger he sees every morning.
Alsatian sneaking into my kitchen, just to say hello?

So the day starts. How will the day go?

Will Neymar signal no more delay in using video reviews in football?

Football is a sport with much scope for human error, in truth or in impression. The nature of its rules leaves many things vaguer than they need to be. Much scope exists for interpretation. Moreover, Sepp Blatter, the current head of international football administration, FIFA, likes it that way. He thinks that errors by officials are part of the game’s essential character. He may be right, but what if tolerating those errors makes the sport more dangerous than it need be? When less money was involved in football than it is today, one could understand just living with mistakes: little was at stake. Now, mistakes may mean millions of Euros or Swiss Francs, to use FIFA’s home country’s currency.

Two incidents during the current World Cup have brought this topic to a head.

First, an apparent biting incident occurred during a match, but was not penalized by match officials. FIFA investigated, using video evidence, and found a player guilty of an offence and slapped a heavy ban on him, plus a financial penalty. This, despite the player claiming it was a simple accident during play. Luis Suárez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder is not enshrined in history.

Second, last night, during the match between Brazil and Colombia, the home team’s star player was kneed in the back by a Colombian player. The immediate result was that Neymar was stretchered off. The referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, had not signaled a foul, so the Colombian player, Juan Zuñiga, was not sanctioned. Since, doctors have reported that Neymar suffered a fractured vertebra and cannot play again in the tournament. Brazil won the match and next play a semifinal on Tuesday, against Germany.

Watch the incident, yourself, for the first or n-th time.

Many will say that the chances of Brazil winning the semi are much reduced due to Neymar’s absence. That’s speculation. But, there will be losses. Neymar has several sponsors; they may see his value fall if he cannot play and they cannot exploit his presence. Related, viewers may be fewer if this star is not playing. Whether we like it or not, people gamble on football games, and it’s not universally illegal. Bets associated with Neymar will be compromised. His club may lose his services unexpectedly, depending on the expected recovery time. More examples exist. It may take a few days for them to surface.

FIFA has announced it will investigate the Neymar incident. We may see another result as in the Suárez case.

But, in addition, legal actions may follow. Footballers are reluctant to bring legal actions against each other. But, if Neymar’s playing career is jeopardized, he may want to seek financial redress. Likewise, sponsors may seek redress. I am no lawyer, but can imagine how that could open many cans of worms that bring the offending player, certainly, and the match officials and FIFA, probably, into the case as culpable. Let’s leave that idea there for lawyers to ponder, as I’m sure they are doing already.

Many have clamoured for FIFA to use video reviews during matches to help resolve contentious incidents. Put simply, FIFA refuses to do so. Their detailed reasons often relate to the flow of the game, and Mr. Blatter’s liking of errors.

FIFA used this World Cup to introduce ‘goal line technology’, to avoid embarrassing mistakes that led to goals being awarded or denied (as in 2010, when Lampard scored for England against Germany) when the opposite should have been the case. It has succeeded in that task.

But, that leaves many important issues unresolved on the field, while TV viewers can see replays that show clearly, at best, mistakes were made, or, at worst, that no one can really determine what took place.

Other sports have moved to use video replays to help match officials, and the sports have not changed fundamentally as a result. Football has fewer natural breaks, but many do exist. In fact, stoppages are integral to the game, as can be seen from data showing how little time involves the ball being in play. In the Neymar incident, the time taken to treat the injured player could have been used for review with no extra time lost. So, the argument against stopping for reviews is not strong. However, I need not belabour that point now, because the details of how to apply reviews can be worked out later.

The issue is really whether the sport needs replays to maintain its integrity, players’ health, and the financial interests of clubs and sponsors in tact.

Had a player died or been permanently disabled, previously, during a match with or without sanctioning a culprit, the matter might have come up sooner. But, the fact that one of the sport’s stars has been affected (at a crucial juncture in a tournament, and on home soil) changes focus, drastically. That’s a sad reality, but there it is.

I think the clamour will rise over coming days. Referees can be shielded by the rules of the game because they can claim reasonably to not having seen incidents. That’s hard to disprove. But, it also opens up much suspicion about motives and biases of officials. If that comes into serious doubt, then the game’s integrity must fall.

But, I won’t jump too far ahead. Let’s watch this incident develop after the immediate dust has settled, knowing that should Brazil lose the semi all hell could break loose.

The USA gets it. Soccer is not boring. World Cup fever infects them, too.

I was nowhere near the place, but I could hear and feel the noise: “USA! USA! USA!” That’s what Americans chant. Normally, when it comes to soccer (they will forever have problems talking about football, which they reserve for the grid iron variety), they are the ones sitting in the corner sulking that the television is not tuned to baseball or basketball or NFL games. “”Jeez, you guys! What is it with this soc-k-er? I don’t get it. A bunch o’ guys, tapping a ball around, and never scoring. You can’t get me to watch that. I want action, dude. Dunk it, LeBron! Boom! That’s what I’m talking about. I’m gonna get a Bud, anyone want one?” To which the answer is a resounding no. Like the American love of fizzy yellow water with foam, their tastes in sports are just a bit off, for the rest of the world. Leave us to wallow in what they see as boring. The adrenalin of near misses, and the open goals that become half chances. The controversy about almost every move. The silly little battles that are going on all over the field (pitch). Football fans understand the idea that you cannot let your opponent run free: if the ball goes past, the man cannot. Yesterday, though, a good number of Yanks, understood what yanking was and why it happened. Their team was playing for a spot in the last eight of the World Cup. All of a sudden, Americans understood that a ‘world’ championship meant playing teams from other countries. PResident Obama, who is not really American (even though slim evidence of his being born in Hawaii exists), had set it up that the greatest con-try on Earth could be idle all afternoon. He had his meetings done in the morning, and was ready to pop the popcorn. “Michelle! Where’re those beers, hun?” He had his staff set up to watch in the coziness-not of the White House’s media room. Thousands gathered at other venues, including Soldier Field in Chicago, where former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel is now mayor. Pictures of about 20,000 fans packed there to watch the Jumbotron (which reportedly went out), lit up social media. The USA had their Eureka moment. Football was cool. USA! USA! USA!

We get it, everybody.
We get it, everybody.

No shame! Grab something. He shall not pass.
No shame! Grab something. He shall not pass.

Well, it’s one thing to sit there, but it’s something else to feel what the rest of the world feels. Unlike sex, faking it with emotions in football, is not the right thing to do. If you do not naturally put your hands in your mouth when a man pulls back his leg to snap a shot, don’t do it. Just yawn, or step in front of the screen to pick up something.

I know many diehard American football fans, with whom I had spent countless hours coaching kids, refereeing, playing games, week in, week out. Every football event had a big gathering to watch and support. Now, these people need not do that with the curtains drawn so that the neighbours would wonder what all the ruckus was about. They could put out flags and silly red, white, and blue clothing and yell “USA! USA! USA!” Welcome to the world.

Ironic, it may seem, that they USA has been coached most recently by a German superhero on the football pitch, Jurgen Klinsmann. Skilled, and good-looking, he had also mastered some of the sports dark arts. Before Robben, there was Klinsmann.

I would give him a 9.5 for the effort in the video for technical merit, and 10 for style, with the exaggerated rolling that came from his own lightning bolt strike. Jurgen knew how to roll.

He also knew that while Americans were feeling the need to put up huge walls to stop immigrants coming into their country, many ‘countrymen’ resided in Germany, and would love to be called Americans. Five of the 20 field players on the USA roster (or one-quarter) are dual German-U.S. citizens. Klinsmann came of age during the Cold War, when the U.S. military stationed hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Germany. He played with and attended school with many children of soldiers, so this all feels natural. (The father of each of the five German-raised players is a former U.S. serviceman.) When he took over the national team, Klinsmann made no apology about his interest in recruiting the very best American-eligible players he could find. The squad also includes players who could have played for Norway, Mexico and Iceland. He knew the German system and felt it produced better trained players. The results during this World Cup show that. The USA may have to reconsider its traditional college-based structures as far as football is concerned. Most of the rest of the world knows that you need to get out and be playing with full-grown men much earlier than after you graduate from college. But, let’s leave them to figure that out. Klinsmann’s German recruits fought for their country as hard as anyone born there was supposed to. Those who doubt national pride, wherever it comes from, just don’t understand.Jermaine Jones Moreover, these recruits come from military backgrounds, sir: many could epitomise the US Marines motto, “Semper Fidelis”, which signifies the dedication that individual Marines have to “Corps and country,” and to their fellow Marines. It is a way of life. Jurgen did well. He had his soldiers, and how apt then that fans would gather in Soldier Field.

But, what a match for which to raise their flag. Tim Howard is just beginning his short presidential election campaign. I joked on Twitter: Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.54.12 AMJoking apart, Howard would become a saint easily, for his ability to save. If the day before we had seen Germany’s goalkeeper, Neuer, redefine goalkeeping to add the role of sweeper, we saw Howard revert to the role of shot stopper. Feet, hands, chest, head? Whatever it took. All at once or parts at a time. People got excited that he broke the record set in 1966 of the most saves in a match.

Tim Howard: unbeatable, mostly
Tim Howard: unbeatable, mostly

Well, that tells you the pressure under which his defence was. Not until extra time was he beaten. His head should not be bowed in shame, nor should that of any of his team mates. I’m sure his former Everton teammate, Marouane Fellaini, playing for Belgium, or his normal league opponent, Vincent Kompany, Belgium’s captain, had nothing but praise for him and relief that he had not stopped all afternoon.

Despite, Klinsmann brashly telling his team to change their travel plans to go home after the final, the USA are out. Beaten, not bowed. Klinsmann is one coach who should have no fear for his future, unlike many of his partners in crime leading Ghana or Cameroon, for instance. I imagine he and the team will get a rousing welcome home. POTUS would perhaps get universal endorsement for a decision to send Airforce One for them.

President Obama will not be staying on at the White House after his term is over, so he may have to make the most of moments like yesterday, when he was able to show that “Yes, we can!” attitude still applies. He has a way to go to capture the true spirit of a football fan. The usually close relations between the USA and Great Britain could help him mightily, though. He needs to get on the phone and talk to PM David Cameron. The latter can arrange for some real viewing parties when leaders meet again (with Chancellor Merkel, too, who knows how to chug a flagon of ale). Cameron can tell Obama that there is no mute button in football fanaticism. You give it your all. Leave nothing on the table, so to speak.

Cameron shows G8 leaders how to cheer
Cameron shows G8 leaders how to cheer

I think we’re done with the silly late night talk shows where hosts can joke about football and get a belly laugh. Now, I think they can raise ratings by having replays of Howard’s saves. Watch out for him doing the late night circuit soon. I think we are also done with the inane “Soccer is boring” mantra. We will leave Ann Coulter and her brand of snide tackles in the mud where they belong, and hope that she learns to pronounce the “Chomp-s Hay, Lee say” better…maybe, she had visions of Luis Suárez about to bite her and twitched so much wondering if he was about to chomp out of a taxi while she was being interviewed. I suggest she get picked for a friendly scrimmage and be given ‘the treatment’, à la Cantona, on the field and off. A little Kung-fu fighting? “Oh, ah, Cantona” used to be the cheer.

In England, they talk about ‘afters’, when players give a little more zeal to their tackles. Cantona did it with great panache. I would leave it to him to be persuasive with Ms. Coulter and her love of headline grabbing gobbledegook.