I can be a really nice person, I promise. Just give me a plate of shashlyk and khachapuri – Russia and Georgia’s answer to barbecued meat and hot cheese pastry – and I will even be reasonable civil. But sometimes football can be really, really stupid. Not the whole sport of course, but almost everywhere you look nowadays there is a steaming pile of idiocy that needs sorting out. In this column, I intend to right the wrongs in the game we all love, whether anyone likes it or not. The thing is, I reckon some of you will even agree with me…
When I was but a wee lad, summer football training camps were all the rage. My first coach was rounder than Danny De Vito, but I can still remember how he described a perfect header as a ‘bullet from a gun’ – bang! He taught us how to tackle with technique by rolling the ball over your opponent’s foot, enthusing at the panache with which Bryan Robson would execute this move, and was the most positive authority figure I ever had the pleasure of admitting was right.
At the end of the week, we had a five-a-side tournament, and a penalty shoot-out competition with actual trophies as prizes, and after practising all week, I won both (my team may have helped a bit with the five-a-side). Thing is though, and brace yourselves – it was American penalties. The MLS at that time had introduced an ice-hockey version of the spot kick, where the taker would dribble from halfway and have the freedom to shoot however he wanted.
Now to the In-Gur-Lund ‘purists’ – more on them in a future column – this is verging on heresy. Penalties have been taken from the 12-yard spot since the dawn of time (well, you know what I mean), so they should never be changed. In terms of the full professional game I am against them being fully adopted, but for this level, it was great fun.
Recently, however, we have seen an absolute abomination in the shape of these bloody ‘ABBA’ format penalties. Seriously, what the hell? There are many reasons why this is utter nonsense, but I only have time for two.
Firstly, the motivation behind this idiotic move. Supposedly, this has been brought in to be fair to both sides in the shootout. I know that modern players are pampered beyond belief, but this just takes the Carling. What next, milk and cookies if they fall over? Full-time nannies to cook every meal for them? Actually, that last one probably does already happen, but surely one of the brilliant aspects of football is how players must rise to challenges.
In all seriousness though, surely we should be aiming towards encouraging mental toughness, not sliding helplessly towards a beige, soulless everyone’s-a-winner attitude. Holding your nerve as you take a penalty is a real test of character; if you’re not up to doing that, be it taking first or second, then you don’t deserve to win a shootout.
And anyway, is it REALLY an advantage to take spot kicks first or second? People may have their preferences, but football’s not here to make everyone’s life more comfortable. If they want to even things out, does it mean penalties will end up being alternated between ends to avoid one set of fans intimidating the opposing team’s penalty takers? I’d argue that’s much more influential than what order the kicks are taken in. Before you know it, teams will end up playing every game in neutral venues. Utter tosh.
Pressure and Intelligence
Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, is the eyeball-grating, nutsack-crushing insistence of every single goddamn person on the planet regurgitating some excruciating ‘pun’ relating to some hairy Swedish singers as if they’re a comic genius. You could see this coming a mile off when the concept was given its letter-based name; I can barely stand typing it once, yet alone again, but the worst part is you just know this is never, ever going to end. If any of you saw that video doing the rounds a few years called ‘the barman hates you’, you’ll know what I mean. Two screeching, giggling ladies are bluntly interrupted by the star of the show who succinctly informs them of their insufferable presence; that’s how I feel reading twitter nowadays.
You know what, while we’re here I’m going to add a third reason. Last weekend saw the Community Shield between Arsenal and Chelsea, which became the first English match to go to penalties under this experiment. As you will all know full well by now, there was some confusion for the poor befuddled multi-millionaires over who should take the next kick. After Theo Walcott scored for Arsenal, Nacho Monreal’s teammates waved him back as he stepped up, even though the Spaniard had correctly grasped the rearrangement of the first two letters of the alphabet.
This whole pile of tripe is painful enough without watching players struggle with something even my five-year-old daughter could grasp. Enough.