I’m a committed moderate, passionately middle-of-the-road.
The problem is that sounds funny. As we’re currently witnessing in politics, it’s easier to be bold, confident and simple if you’re not in the centre ground. We moderates instinctively shy away from the kind of intemperate, strident or downright outrageous statements that tend to grab attention.
Politicians, of course, are sometimes held to account for their statements and promises. As are some people in football (though how a prominent manager can get away with claiming a conspiracy against his team is beyond me). But for fans, the world of messageboards and social media represents the ultimate of freedom without accountability.
The announcement of Alex Neil as City’s manager sparked a barrage of outrage and scorn, mainly directed at David McNally. After ‘getting lucky’ with Paul Lambert, he’d done nothing for the club, he was an over-paid muppet who should be hounded out and he and the board had clearly settled for being in the Championship. (At one point I posted a spoof comment asking how he had the audacity to appoint someone I’d never heard of – but it was so typical of the real comments that some took it seriously.)
No-one is held to account for this garbage. It would be nice if some of those fans now held up their hands and apologised, but we shouldn’t hold our breath. (At this point I’d better acknowledge the large slice of humble pie I’ve eaten over Sebastien Bassong.)
Fortunately, we have two people who ignore the clamour and get on with their jobs. One is Alex Neil and, of course, the other McNally. The chief executive’s five complete seasons at Carrow Road have seen two promotions, 11th and 12th places in the Premiership and one relegation. It’s already an impressive record and if we go up this year it’ll be a sensational one.
Alex and David manage the trick of being both deep thinkers and decisive managers. It’s a rare combination – too much thinking usually hampers action. Shakespeare isn’t often quoted on this forum (a serious shortcoming on the part of the editor, I’d say), but as usual he has an eloquent line: “The native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”.
In the televised leaders’ debates before the 2010 Election – back when David Cameron thought they were ‘essential to democracy’ – the mantra became “I agree with Nick”. For people like me, the mantra on this forum tends to be “I agree with Mick”.
Except on one issue where I know we disagree: video review during games. Mick rightly points out that the continuous nature of football makes it different from other sports which use reviews, and that it would be very hard to draw the line as to which decisions should be reviewed.
And yet, it seems to me that our game – so professional in many ways – brings frustration and derision on itself by getting key decisions wrong and refusing the opportunity to get them right. With so much at stake, this is criminal neglect.
Let me be clear on one thing: I do not primarily blame the officials. Linesmen – yes, I know they’re ‘assistant referees’, but I can no more use that term than call the River End ‘the N&P Stand’ – are supposed to simultaneously see a pass struck and the position of the players 30-40 yards away. I’ll make a bold and strident statement here: it’s a physical impossibility.
Refs are making split-second calls on events happening at a speed far greater than it used to be (watch videos of football in the Seventies if you don’t believe me). It would be hard enough if players were honest about what’s occurred – but to varying degrees, they’re intent on conning the officials.
Of all the people being short-changed by the lack of technology in the game, I’d say match officials are the biggest sufferers.
We have a way to combat the con artists and bring better decision making to the game we love. In both the Premiership and Championship, and I assume in the other divisions too, we’ve seen an unacceptably large number of important calls wrongly made. In many cases the play naturally stopped after the incident in question, and it would have been child’s play for the ref or fourth official to take a look at video replay before committing to a decision.
I’m far too moderate to pretend it’s all plain sailing. What about the incidents where play does not naturally stop? Or those where, after umpteen slow-mos, we still can’t tell what really happened? These are real hurdles and to overcome them might involve some tweaking in the way the game works. But for me, we’re paying too high a price for keeping the status quo.
Shakespeare must have had something to say about it. There’s the bit about a pair of star-crossed linos, but I can’t find the perfect one. It’s in my mind’s eye…