21 September 2008

Tigger, R.I.P.

It's a temptation when you've gone to the trouble of setting up your own strand of web (yeah, so much trouble...) to use it merely to rant about the petty injustices the universe has inflicted upon your pretty little head. I have largely refrained from doing that thus far (I think). This is partly because I'm an easy-going type of chap. It's mainly, however, because I don't want to be a sporting equivalent of those language pedants who go postal at the sight of a stray apostrophe, or derive an almost sexual thrill from the opportunity to shout at the telly, "THE WORD YOU'RE LOOKING FOR IS 'UNINTERESTED', YOU ILLITERATE BUFFOON!!!"

(Guess what the next word is going to be...)

But I've cracked. My entire being is seething with the righteous indignation of one who has listened to Mark Lawrenson talk shite.

It came during the "analysis" of the Liverpool-Stoke game on last night's Match of the Day. After listening to Rafa Benítez blather on about how the decision to disallow Liverpool's early goal was a "massive mistake" by the referee, we got to see the incident in question more closely. On viewing the replay, one could see that there was a Liverpool player in an offside position when Steven Gerrard played the free kick in (I can't remember if it was Kuijt or Torres, but I can't check it up: I thought I'd recorded the programme but my video respectfully disagrees). The offside player made an attempt at a flick-on - or perhaps it was a dummy - as the ball flew over his head and into the goal.

From the regular gantry camera angle, it was apparent that the player was just off. Just to be sure, Match of the Day provided a computer-generated representation of the situation, in which it was even clearer that the player was leaning forward and ahead of the offside line.

Not according to Lawro. While the virtual image was on the screen, he said that, to him, this was not offside. When presenter Ray Stubbs read out the part of the rule stating that if any part of the head, body or feet of the attacker is ahead of the second-last defender, he is in an offside position, Lawrenson called it "nitpicking" and "pedantic". Meanwhile, Alan Shearer sat there looking like...well, looking like Alan Shearer, if you know what I mean.

It was at this point that I kicked the cat at the TV screen (shame - nice cat, it was).

Every week, we watch and read supposed experts who pass more comment on the application of rules which they do not understand than on actual football. This has been the case for as long as I can recall, but for it to be demonstrated so plainly was at once comical and felicidally bothersome. For someone whose job it is to enlighten us plebs with his accumulation of wisdom to tell us that the manifestly correct application of the laws of the game was unnecessarily "pedantic" is an insult to the intelligence of the viewer.

(I've just thought of something - perhaps this idea could be used to justify the awarding of England's third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final! Let's have a go: the whole of the ball did not cross the whole of the line...but that's just being pedantic. Whaddya know - it works!)

This is a common concern. Most of today's TV pundits played in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, when the interpretation of what constituted 'interfering with play', as well as the treatment of physical play, were quite different to what they are today. The consequence of this for many of them is that they see such situations in the light of the rules and prevailing values of their heyday, rather than how things are now. It's one thing to believe that, say, any player ahead of the second-last man when the ball is played forward should be offside (I don't, by the way); but to criticise an official for implementing a rule as laid down (for anyone to see) is barmy. Thankfully, football is played in reality, not in Mark Lawrenson's head.

UPDATE: Raphael Honigstein took up the issue of Liverpool's non-goal on the latest Guardian Football Weekly (9:30 in) and has posted a photo of the BBC's PESified version of the offside call on his blog, just in case you thought I was mad.

Dead cat stone by Matt (mistergoleta).


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