Anti-football, Anti-Arsenalism And The Misguided Self Preservation of English Football – Part IBy
The horrific injury to Aaron Ramsey has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Arsenal fans and football enthusiasts ALIKE. Predictably, an unsavoury side of the English football establishment bore its ugly head for all to see.
Bear with me as I address what I feel are the key issues around the related themes of Anti-football, Anti-Arsenalism, and the misguided defence of the ugly side of English football that has no place in the modern game.
Before I lay my case out in this 2 part article, there is a very relevant sub-context to this topic that I’ve comprehensively covered in another 3 part article series Called ”How ‘English’ is the English Premier league”. If you have the time, check out:
- How ‘English’ Is The English Premier League? – Part I
- How ‘English Is The English Premier League? – Part II
- How ‘English’ Is The English Premier League? – Part III
I’ve covered a lot in the above series relating to the impact and necessity of foreign influence in the EPL – and I believe it’s very relevant as it already answers some of the questions that this two part article on ‘Anti-football’ will pose.
1. The Systematic Targeting Of Arsenal
1.1 The Context: Technique vs Physicality
It has now become widely acceptable that for some teams, the only way to stop Arsenal is to kick the hell out of them. There are teams that with all due respect, will never be able to match the technical superiority of Arsenal.
It has become urban legend that the only way to play Arsenal is to throw them off their stride with an overly physical game that involves a combination of rotational fouling and a more coherent strategy of ’hard tackles’ to take Arsenal’s creative players out of the picture.
In the Sky Sunday Supplement on 28/02/10 – Patrick Barclay of the Times aptly captures the issue of deliberate Arsenal targeting.
When Barclay is asked whether Arsenal have a case when they say they are deliberately being targeted, he responds:
Some teams simply cannot beat Arsenal at football so they go about it in a different way and it’s down to referees to stop them from things like yesterday.
Tackling in English football is out of control and must be addressed by the authorities before more damage is done to the game. There’s a wildness and a physicality about the English game which I don’t think is healthy.
It’s important to make a distinction here between the teams in the EPL that have resorted to this insalubrious tactic – and the teams that are for most part, able and willing to play respectable football that doesn’t have a seedy element to it.
The teams that usually occupy the top 8 places in the EPL table, as well as other selected teams like Burnley, Wigan, Portsmouth and Fulham are not the issue here.
These teams for most part approach the game with a healthy mindset of playing football. Coupled with a healthy and non-dangerous application of physicality, they are eager to go toe to toe with opposition in not only entertaining, but also in achieving a fair competitive edge.
The argument I have is against Birmingham City, Blackburn, Bolton, Stoke City, Hull City and Sunderland. My issue is also with a cabal of English managers within this group, namely Sam Allardyce, Phil Brown and Tony Pulis.
These 3 managers have anointed themselves as the guardians of the unsavoury brand of English football and excel in promoting the anti-football agenda on and off the pitch.
1.2 The Culture And Mindset of Thuggery Disguised as Good ‘ole fashioned grit and steel
For too long, the inability to play football has been excused by the relentless promotion of physicality and brute force as a virtue.
This ”we’re well ‘ard” culture is typified by constant references to attributes such as grit, graft and steel. They are portrayed as the quintessentially English virtues of the game, and those who choose to approach the game in a different way are ignorantly labelled as weak and spineless.
I see it as a culture that is stuck in a time warp of a Neanderthal approach to football and one that is desperate to retain a dying tenet and brand. It’s a desperate attempt to remain relevant in a constantly changing sporting environment.
It has become common belief that this sort of physicality disguised as the virtue of ‘commitment’ – is one that needs protecting as it is the very representation of a dying breed of what is typically English in football.
It’s a culture that suggest that football is a contact sport and therefore the English brand of physicality is part and parcel. There’s a difference between being physical and being reckless and dangerous.
A common cliché bandied about in the media is that “you need an English spine” to achieve anything in the game. This is coupled with the shameless and unprofessional promotion in the media of teams that are seen as having this so called core and backbone.
In truth – this culture and approach has masked a significant deficiency that fails to address the inadequacies of English football. Furthermore, anything that is seen as different is labelled as ’not worthy of the grit and steel’ that is the joy of the English game.
It is a culture that has heavily contributed to the demonization of the foreign influence in football. Arsenal is acutely affected as they are a visible representation of what is ’Not English enough for the establishment.
It cannot be acceptable for physical aggression to continue to be seen as a valid substitute for the inability to play football. It is also counterproductive to suggest that anyone who chooses a different approach to this ugly side of football has no place in the game.
This approach to football is just thuggery – plain and simple.
2. Defending the Indefensible
2.1 The Apologists and Sympathizers for Ryan Shawcross
Take a look at the news wires over the last 48 hours and you wouldn’t be mistaken to think that Ryan Shawcross was about to be anointed as a Knight of the Realm – and Buckingham Palace had asked the football world for a public reference.
I would re-mortgage my house for the opportunity to see how the media and apologists would react if Shawcross had broken the leg of Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard.
The point is simple. Aaron Ramsey is the one in hospital and is the one who’s career has been threatened. This misguided self righteousness that seeks to show plastic support for a professional who needs to take responsibility for his actions is just sickening.
I don’t care if Shawcross was distraught and left the stadium crying to go and lay under his mother’s bosom. The only reason he reacted that way is because he realised the consequences of his actions.
Clearly, maiming Aaron Ramsey wasn’t as he thought it would be like with that “I’ll get in his face and up his nose to see if he can take it” attitude.
Once is a tragedy, twice a coincidence and 3 times in 4 years is just unacceptable. Any attempt by the media apologists to defend the reputation of Ryan Shawcross and the systematic targeting of Arsenal is just bang out of order.
2.2 The Case Against Ryan Shawcross
- Shawcross dangerously tackled Francis Jeffers in 2007 from behind and broke his ankle.
- In 2008, Shawcross deliberately lunged at Emmanuel Adebayor with his studs up when the ball wasn’t even in play. Adebayor was out for 4 weeks because of that rash and malicious challenge.
The media and apologists should stop insulting our intelligence and cease with the sickening wheeling out of Shawcross as the saint of association football. It doesn’t suit him.
The lad has form and if he stood in front of a judge with that form he’d get a custodial sentence that laughs in the face of this “Shawcross is a first time offender and needs a second chance nonsense”.
Instead, he gets rewarded with an England call-up as if in affirmation that his behaviour is the virtue that should be aspired to when seeking to play for the national team.
2.3 Intent Doesn’t Come Into It
Let’s quit this nonsense about whether Shawcross had intent or not in executing the tackle. His apologists can’t get into his head, in the same way they can’t get into the head of any other footballer to selectively determine intent.
The only thing we can go on is the context and environment, as well as the player’s previous form in carrying out malicious tackles.
Whether Shawcross had intent to injure Ramsey is irrelevant. The bottom line is that it was depraved indifference.
When you approach a game against Arsenal with that systematic and strategic rotational fouling and reckless physicality supposedly to put them off their game – there is a viable risk that what happened to Ramsey will happen.
It’s like getting behind the wheel of a car when your drunk and thinking that it’s not possible to injure or even kill someone. No drunk driver goes into their car with the intent to kill or maim someone else.
However, because they constantly drive drunk with impunity, the law of averages suggests that they will kill or maim someone eventually. It’s the depraved indifference of the drunk driver that is the issue and not his intent to kill or maim.
In the same way, we need to stop this talk of ”Shawcross didn’t have any intent”. He was reckless, period.
Join us in the final instalment of this article tomorrow when I address whether the case Arsenal is making is a hill of beans, or whether it’s justifiable. I’ll touch on the role of the players, managers, match officials, administration and the media.