Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shades of Andy Gray

Julian Assange must be kicking himself that he didn't break the news on WikiLeaks first that a middle-aged former footballer from Glasgow is a bit of a sexist. It fits into the same "does the Pope shit in the woods" camp as all those telegrams revealing that diplomats can be a bit bitchy about other countries.

I'm generalising, of course. Not all fiftysomething Glaswegian ex-sportsmen have unenlightened views on equality. Some are too pissed to say anything coherent.

What was so wrong about the Andy Gray/Richard Keys double act (now taking bookings for the touring production of Life on Mars on Ice) was not the patronising assumption that a woman who has passed all her refereeing exams and had already been a linesman in a men's Premier League match without crisis (Sunderland v Blackpool in December) might not know the offside rule.

It was the suggestion that the offside rule is difficult to understand. It may take up 200 words of the rule book, but the basic principle is pretty straightforward. There is no hidden mystery.

What is hard is applying the rule - ie, being able to look at three points of play at once (where two attackers are and where the last defender is in relation to them), which one might assume a multitasking woman could do more easily than a man - and having the courage to back your judgment, especially in the face of half a dozen snarling louts, plus the mob in the stands, who think you are blind.

Not to mention the idiots like Gray and Keys in the studio who then use super slow-motion to expose you. Why any man or woman would want to be in that position is beyond me.

Of course, Massey made these neanderthals look even more stupid by showing superb judgment and courage in deciding not to rule Liverpool's opening goal offside.

The Wolves supporters and players may have questioned her ability then, but TV supported her professionalism. It was not her knowledge of the rule, but her application of it that counted.

Anyway, the offside rule as it stands is stupid, in my opinion. Too often, a fine attacking move is stopped by a very marginal decision.

Even when the linesman is correct, the defence usually has more than enough time to respond to an attacking move that begins with an offside pass. I'd personally change the rule so that you are only offside if you are five yards or so in front of the last defender.

Then again, I'd also amend the rules of football to legalise hacking and tripping, which was one of the sticking points that led to the split from rugby in 1863.

The sooner defences are allowed to mow down attackers and get away with it, the sooner we lose the sight of players diving over imaginary boots to try and con the referees into giving them a free kick.

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