FACTS ARE SACRED … COMMENT IS FUN?
Bob Mortimer hates opinions. The preface of his (excellent) autobiography, And Away … includes the important point that the book contains “very little opinion or advice”. And yet he loves football, a sport where it is almost impossible not to have an opinion. And he has a football-related podcast, Athletico Mince, where he is forced to give his two pence. “I have spent 50 years making sure I have no opinions,” he explained to Adam Buxton in 2018. “And then I signed up for a football opinion show, so I had to change that quite quickly.” Football will do that to you. Referees, managers, pundits and tea-timely emails are all paid to have an opinion. And thank goodness for that. It would be deathly boring if everything in the beautiful game was a statement of fact. If everyone agreed that Alejandro Garnacho’s volley was better than Wayne Rooney’s, or that José Mourinho is a better manager than Pep Guardiola, then the world, the pub, the pillow-talk – we presume – and the group chat would be a poorer place.
One of life’s great joys is reading the opinions of L’Équipe, especially after a PSG game. Following Newcastle’s visit to Paris, Big Website’s cousins from across the channel did not disappoint with their infamous ratings: Ousmane Dembélé was gifted a 6/10 despite wandering around the right wing with all the menace and inquiry of Geoff Shreeves at an Indian restaurant. Tino Livramento and Anthony Gordon, both excellent on the night, were only afforded 5/10, while Lewis Miley received a 4/10, despite the 17-year-old’s astounding display on his first Big Cup start. Opinions, even bad ones, are fun … sometimes.
There are, however, a few things in football that are not up for debate. We can all agree that Frank Lampard’s shot against Germany crossed the line, a binary decision. We can all agree that Arsenal’s fluorescent tiger-striped away kit belongs in a bin. And, like Eddie Howe, we can all agree that PSG should not have been awarded a penalty in injury time against Newcastle. The reasons why Livramento should not have been punished are many (the ball deflected first off the Newcastle defender’s chest, plus his proximity to Dembélé, and the fact that his arm was in a natural running position). There is probably a wider discussion about VAR being fit for purpose, whether decisions being correct are more important than sucking the fun out of the game, whether we should care at all about the plight of two teams backed by Saudi and Qatari wealth.
But two important consequences have emerged from the fiasco. The first is that the VAR, Tomasz Kwiatkowski, who recommended to review the on-field decision, has been stood down from Big Cup duties on Wednesday; as close to an admission of Uefa guilt that Howe and co will get. The second is that there was one Newcastle fan, Carl, who rang up TalkSport to say he had to turn his Christmas lights off after the match because it made him too miserable, while a second caller, Peter, had to fight back tears, his high-pitched north-east accent resembling a character that Mortimer would have been proud of. Absolutely electric festive entertainment. Opinions, even bad ones, are fun … sometimes.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s the best goal I’ve scored! They were being slow with the ball, borderline time-wasting. The lad’s gone down from the corner – the keeper – when no one’s touched him. Then the ref’s giving him the ball back and he’s waiting for me to come up to him … so I’ve probably nudged into him, yeah. There’s a little bit of contact but absolutely nowhere near enough to drop the ball and fall on the floor. I’ve been desperate for that first goal … so there was no chance I wasn’t putting the ball in the back of the net. Keepers notoriously get a lot more decisions, but in a scenario like that there is absolutely no need for him to go down and drop the ball – kudos to the ref for seeing that and working out on the balance of play that it wasn’t a foul” – if you see a more bizarre goal this season than Sam Cosgrove’s injury-time winner for Barnsley against Wycombe last night (Gary Crosby for millennials?) Football Daily will happily eat its own socks – and we’ve been wearing them for at least a week.
FOOTBALL DAILY LETTERS
An unfortunate incident with a Video Assistant Referee in Paris? But let’s not forget the true winner – the petrochemical industry” – Darren Leathley.
While technically brilliant on his behalf, Alejandro Garnacho’s overhead kick at Everton came about because of a hopeless cross, as many of these goals do. I prefer a team goal with many passes (Barry Glendenning and I agree on the beauty of Ethan Pinnock’s goal against Liverpool) or a blistering counterattack. I propose separating out the over-hyped overhead kick from the real goal of the season contenders” – Tony Wilson.
Mention of World In Motion (yesterday’s Memory Lane, full email edition) reminds me to share this. If you’ve never heard it [we have, but others might want to feel our pain – Football Daily Ed], I can only apologise, but I’ve suffered long enough and it’s your turn now. Yes, it’s Peter Beardsley doing the rap” – Mike Slattery.
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