He was banned for our sins (almost)

10 Nov

Former Prime Minister Thomas Ewart Huddlestone avoided an FA ban yesterday for an alleged stamp on Bolton’s Johan Elmander. Despite predictable howling from the press gallery, it was the correct decision.

At university I attended a course on the link between language and thought (is there a difference between Water and Twater?) and in part about how language can overwrite thought. In football its very easy for reality to be overwritten by sensational press copy. Not only can it cloud your judgement about what you are seeing, but often what you actually see comes prepackaged, prejudged and with a bunch of handy hyperlinks wherein pundits ruminate over what is to be done.

The incident at Bolton came complete with a misleading photograph, scandalised commentary and a raft of worthy articles advocating this and that. Rather than analysing what happened, people gleefully assumed the worst and skipped away into their own self-righteous reverie. If you’d only been following the press line then Huddlestone avoiding a ban would have brought you down to earth with a bump.

But if you take the time to look at it objectively, it was simply not clear whether Huddlestone trod on Elmander deliberately. So to crucify him for this when so many other genuinely insidious stamps go both unpunished and largely uncommented upon is slightly disturbing, if not surprising.

Spurs fans have been quick to condemn Huddlestone; revoking the benefit of the doubt after a couple of unsavoury incidents against Manchester City and FC Twente. Which is understandable. Equally so the impulse to prove your lack of bias by being critical of your own players. And there may well be an upside to it all if the scrutiny he’s been put under, albeit unjustly, helps him avoid actual lapses of judgement in the future – woe-betide him if we see a repeat of his windmill arms against the dutch.

However, as the fabricated furore dies down we’re in danger of missing the real lesson. People have joked that Huddlestone’s stamp against Nigel de Jong was justified as it was against Nigel de Jong. But what of his arm-swinging antics? It’s easy to forget that he had been persistently fouled for about 10 seconds before he finally lashed out. And for the sake of argument, Elmander had slid in dangerously against him, causing Huddlestone to hop out the way. Not to mention that Bolton had been frequently gone a little further than ‘physical’ that afternoon. Consider how Gareth Bale was cynically scythed down in the first few minutes (a reducer, or so I’m told) – the Sky Sports commentators fell just short of lauding the foul.

Huddlestone’s misdemeanours have been retaliatory in nature. He shouldn’t be absolved of any blame but if you’re serious about removing dangerous play, it starts in penalizing the systematic fouls, the gamesmanship, the antagonism that makes matches become so bad-tempered.

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