With so many genuinely important issues in football to address, it amazes me that the F.A. and the media in general devote so much time focusing on incidents like the ‘brawl’ at the end of the League Cup Final. From the sheer amount of coverage it has received you would have thought that someone had exploded a small nuclear device, or at the very least had sacrificed a couple of virgins on a burning pyre.
Let’s get it clear. That was no ‘mass brawl.’ It was just schoolyard-style pushing and shoving that footballers do to try and imply they could be tough if they really wanted but which in reality hurts no one.
This is known as ‘handbags’ in Britain. I don’t know why. I think it derives from the phrase “it was handbags at 30 paces” which in itself is an obtuse and bizarre phrase to describe a ‘fight’ where all concerned slap at each other without really doing any damage. However, it has always seemed a bit inappropriate because where I come from, women can wield handbags like a lethal weapon capable of rendering an onrushing bull unconscious with one swing.
Whatever way you want to express it, the cup final incident wasn’t a fight and it simply didn’t deserve the attention lavished on it let alone having it decried in some media circles as ‘horrific.’ A few over-paid nancy boys shoving each other does not constitute a fight in my book.
It should also be said that most fans love a bit of a ruck kicking off on the pitch, just as they love a full bloodied tackle. Its ok to admit it. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Too much of the mainstream media pretends that we’re all shocked by this sort of thing. ‘Hide your eyes mother, its disgusting.’
But most fans are not disgusted by it, nor are they offended, quite the reverse. It is largely seen as splendid entertainment and extremely amusing.
There is far too much moralizing about on-pitch conflict. It’s not the end of the world if a couple of players want to whack each other. It’s all in the heat of battle, tempers run high as do emotions, its’ to be expected. I love it. A few goods right hooks liven up any match.
There are always people who tell us earnestly that kids will copy their heroes and start fighting on the pitch themselves. The role model argument is always trotted out on these occasions. Well maybe its true kids do copy things they see on TV, but is what someone like Emmanuel Eboue is doing on a football pitch really more influential on your kids than you are? Surely he shouldn’t be.
The F.A, always respond to these situations with fines and bans and various flatulent admonishments after studying the tapes of the blood fest but its all a waste of time. It was handled properly by the officials on the day. That’s an end of it.
Sometimes it seems as though the fuss around these incidents are just dazzle ships, designed to take everyone’s eyes away from the really important issues of the game. Instead of wasting their time watching slow-motion replays of Lampard and Fabregas pushing each other like two girls in the playground, they would be better employed working out why so many fans are becoming so disillusioned at the highest levels with the sport that they are in part employed to protect and promote. Now that would be worth studying, but it would require some hard work and self analysis; both things the F.A. are scared of.
John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.