Sunday 21 January 2018

Throat-slitting with a smile the way forward

FA chief Dyke using hypocritical stick to beat Wilshere for 'instant reaction'

Jack Wilshere will miss tonight’s game against Chelsea after being suspended for two games following an offensive gesture to Manchester City supporters GETTY IMAGES
Jack Wilshere will miss tonight’s game against Chelsea after being suspended for two games following an offensive gesture to Manchester City supporters GETTY IMAGES
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

The next time a footballer is being abused by the crowd during an English fixture, he should turn to them, perhaps with a smile on his face, and make a throat-slitting gesture.

When the inevitable suspension comes and he appears before the disciplinary committee to explain his actions, he should use the following defence.

"It was a piece of humour. That's me. If you want a straight-laced suit, you can have a straight-laced suit. It was an instant reaction. Interestingly, a number of football fans have come up to me and said, 'you're a proper football fan because you felt like we did'."

If English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke happens to be on the judgment committee, he might recognise the words, seeing as they were the exact same ones that he used last week to explain away the throat-slitting gesture he made in Roy Hodgson's direction when England's World Cup draw was revealed.

In a sport where outrage is only one refused handshake away from exploding through traditional and social media, the reaction to Dyke's action was over the top.

In his best 'man of the people' manner, he explained that his gesture towards Hodgson after England were drawn against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica was a joke and that -- presumably to the relief of the sort of people who were compelled to criticise him -- he actually felt England would qualify.

CLICHED

All of which would have been fine had he not pontificated earlier in the week about Jack Wilshere's one-fingered salute to the Manchester City supporters while -- again in 'man of the people' mode -- incorporating one of the great cliched criticisms of modern-day players.

"As a supporter I sympathise with the players because of the flak they get from the crowd," said Dyke. "People can lose their cool very quickly, but Wilshere has got to learn. He's very well paid to play the game and he's got to learn to cope with it."

The money a player earns is never far from the surface when it comes to begrudgery, but players are entitled to feel aggrieved that one of the most influential people in their association is using it as a stick to beat them with and feed into the negative public perception that is so often associated with footballers.

Score a great goal? "Sure, they're paid enough." Miss a sitter? "All the money they get and he can't score that." Give several thousand pounds to charity? "Sure, that's only a few hours' work for him."

Dyke is right that Wilshere shouldn't have reacted in the way he did, but by suspending him for two games, like Luis Suarez last season, they are sending out a message that opposition fans can push the boundaries as far as they like in the hope that they can get a reaction from a player which subsequently means a suspension.

Dyke is hardly paid a pauper's wage, but was able to justify his own movements as an "instant reaction". Wilshere, on the other hand, is apparently being paid well enough not to have such instant reactions even if it was one that a "proper football fan" might have recognised.

Appealing to supporters to go easy on their abuse would be the quickest way to ensure that it ratchets up a notch and -- once it doesn't cross the line -- it remains a crucial part of the match-day atmosphere.

But when a player reacts either as Wilshere or Suarez did, a fine or a one-game ban, at most, should be sufficient.

Wilshere misses tonight's game against Chelsea and the St Stephen's Day London derby against West Ham for a moment that, because of his relative lack of popularity with opposition fans and because it was on live television, means that few will shed many tears for his absence.

Wilshere was foolish, but if a crowd is going to abuse a player, they have to expect some sort of reaction if the player finds himself with the chance to shut them up.

Four years ago, after scoring for Manchester City, Emmanuel Adebayor sprinted to the opposite end of the pitch to celebrate in front of Arsenal's fans who had been serenading him for much of the afternoon with "Adebayor, Adebayoooooor, his dad washes elephants, his mum is a w***e". For that, he was fined £25,000 and given a suspended two-match ban.

Arsenal supporters were understandably furious at his actions, but any person who feels they have a right to abuse a former player and then expect him to wave sheepishly in their direction after scoring against them isn't living in the real world.

"It wasn't the size of the crowd that impressed me most, however, or the way that adults were allowed to shout the word 'w****r!' as loudly as they wanted without attracting any attention," wrote Nick Hornby in 'Fever Pitch'.

"What impressed me most was just how much most of the men around me hated, really hated, being there.

"As far as I could tell, nobody seemed to enjoy, in the way that I understood the word, anything that happened during the entire afternoon.

"Within minutes of the kick-off there was real anger ('You're a DISGRACE, Gould. He's a DISGRACE!' 'A hun-dred quid a week? A HUNDRED QUID A WEEK! They should give that to me for watching you.'); as the game went on, the anger turned into outrage, and then seemed to curdle into sullen, silent discontent."

Dyke, as a "proper football fan", would no doubt recognise Hornby's sentiment even if the word 'thousand' now needs to be inserted to reflect the enormity of a modern-day player's wage.

Wilshere -- and many, many other players -- are capable of feeling the same frustrations as supporters. Presuming, that is, they aren't being paid so well that they learn not to bother.

Irish Independent

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