Sport Premier League

Thursday 18 September 2014

Hard to watch football in a rugby world

Published 17/03/2014 | 02:30

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Arsenal's Bacary Sagna reacts after he was hit by a ball thrown by Tottenham Hotspur's manager Tim Sherwood
Arsenal's Bacary Sagna reacts after he was hit by a ball thrown by Tottenham Hotspur's manager Tim Sherwood

MINUTES after Ireland lost an intensely physical Six Nations battle against England three weeks ago, the television in the pub switched channels to show Manchester United struggling to beat Crystal Palace in a run-of-the-mill Premier League game.

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It was in the days after Wayne Rooney had signed a contract worth over £80m and when he executed a phenomenally difficult technique to score United's second goal, there was the odd bit of admiration from those who had hung around after the rugby game. But, mostly, it was his weekly wages which clouded the judgment on everything he did throughout the entire game.

By the time the match was an hour old, one sentence had been uttered several times – that it was "so hard to watch a soccer match after watching a rugby match."

Those whose eyes were paining them so much had three options: leave the pub and go for a walk, stare into their drink or they could turn around and watch another rugby match, because, on the other television in the corner, Ireland and England were playing a women's international. Not that those who were moaning seemed to notice.

The desire to compare sports is something that usually ends with footballers being condemned as overpaid prima donnas and, in this part of the world, tends to be at its most acute this month and when the GAA season is at its peak in September.

The excitement of 80,000 frenzied fans in Croke Park watching either the Gaelic football or hurling seasons reaching their peak and the games being performed at their best should be enough to keep a follower of that sport happy, even if somebody decides they might like to watch the second half of whatever Premier League football game is on immediately after.

BAFFLING

Nobody would turn around after watching Bayern Munich play Barcelona and say, 'God, that was much better than that National League game between Dublin and Kildare'. Quite why the comparison so regularly has to go in the opposite direction is baffling.

The month of March brings both the Six Nations and Cheltenham and, particularly if Ireland are successful in either, it seems impossible for many to watch the skill, power and commitment on display – and it is there in spades – without taking a pointless potshot at a different sport.

There's no other sport like horse racing in which the time to revel in a victory is so short. This was encapsulated by Daryl Jacob winning a race last Friday and, 30 minutes later, lying on tarmac with a broken knee, leg and elbow, having been thrown off a bolting horse. That came on the same afternoon as Ruby Walsh had suffered a compound fracture of his humerus which added one more broken bone to his litany of injuries and allowed for a reprise of graphics illustrating them all, from broken ankles to concussion and others in between.

As it has done in the past, the graphic which went around Twitter on Friday came with the tagline: "Look away now Premier League footballers" – as if that made Walsh's bravery any more remarkable. The football-bashing bug even took hold of one its own as Rio Ferdinand, who, having been a professional for almost 20 years, only seemed to realise some of the game's less endearing traits after taking in a rugby match.

"After going to the Eng vs Wales rugby game... watching a footballer roll around after a little tap on the face as if poll axed is embarrassing," tweeted Ferdinand to his five million followers last Tuesday, most of whom seemed to be in agreement.

He might well have a point, but it will be interesting to see how much this conversion affects Ferdinand's future performances and if he can walk the walk as well as tweet the tweet. Perhaps he might start addressing the referee as "sir" rather than swearing questions in his direction or he might encourage team-mates not to "roll around" and embarrass him in future.

Football certainly doesn't help itself at times and, in the minutes after Ireland had won the Six Nations championship, the players and management of Aston Villa and Chelsea became engaged in a "hold me back" incident caused by a deplorable tackle – in any sport – by Ramires.

Yesterday, Mikel Arteta lambasted Tim Sherwood after the Tottenham manager had thrown the ball a little bit too hard at Arteta's team-mate Bacary Sagna. Earlier, Sherwood struggled to contain his anger so much that his only answer was to furiously take off his gilet and fire it at his own bench.

Nobody came out of those incidents looking great, but the relentless desire to batter the game would make you wonder how it's so popular.

It's possible to have enjoyed watching Ireland beat France in Paris, Dublin beat Kilkenny in Parnell Park and, yesterday, admire Liverpool's destruction of Manchester United at Old Trafford without deciding to view one batch of players as superior to the other.

Because, if there's a need to denigrate a game you don't even like, the chances are you're not enjoying the one you do like as much as you should.

The question nobody asked: What's the highest place that a team has finished with a negative goal difference?

Tottenham's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are all but over after yesterday's defeat to Arsenal, but it remains remarkable how high they are up the table given their current goal difference of -1.

By comparison, Swansea sit in 14th place and they are only four goals worse off. However, Tottenham's habit of losing heavily this season means their goal difference has rarely gone above zero.

Over the past five seasons the highest placed team who haven't had a positive goal difference have finished either eighth or ninth, with Tottenham themselves finishing on 0 in 2008/2009.

Charlton managed seventh on zero in 2003/04, while West Ham finished fifth in 1999, despite a goal difference of -7. However, Everton, in 2005, remarkably managed to finish fourth despite a goal difference of -1.

BET YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE

Aston Villa to beat Chelsea, 13/2

Chelsea have been on a superb recent run but whenever a manager complains about the timing of a fixture – as Jose Mourinho did on Friday because of its proximity to their Champions League fixture – it suggests they may not be fully focused.

Mourinho has also never won at Villa Park and with the home team buoyed by a 4-1 win in their last home game against Norwich City, the odds proved not to be quite so stacked against them as the bookies had thought.

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