Pressing Issues: Managers, players and writers should have a good grasp of the laws of the game

2019-02-01 11:19

Let me declare from the onset that this column was inspired by Dr Errol Sweeney’s Hanging judge column on page 18 in this newspaper.

What ticked me off most is the line where he observed: “For example, I recently heard one former player say quite blatantly that if a player gets touched by an opponent, he has a ‘right to go down’.”

Not that I was rankled by what the good old doctor wrote – it was the comment he attributed to a former player, whom I presume was one of the so-called “experts”, that irritated me.

It is amazing how these so-called experts have mushroomed all over the place. And if one could count the times they get it wrong or totally mislead viewers, listeners and readers, it is no wonder that many couch potatoes usually use the half-time break as a chance to go and do something else, such as grab a beverage from the fridge or visit the latrine.

I am one of those who never bothers to watch or listen to the studio talk during half-time. There are a number of reasons, two of these being that I am not interested in listening to somebody explain to me what I have seen, as if I am a dimwit; and sometimes, if not most of the time, the experts just talk balderdash.

On a few occasions, I have heard some expert say such claptrap as that “an away goal counts for two”. Then there was one, on whom you could bet your last dollar that his opening half-time comment would start with words to the effect that such and such a club “started like a house on fire”.

I wish I could get an opportunity to ask him: How does a house on fire start?

If you are passionate about something, sport included, it is your duty to familiarise yourself with the rules.

I so wish that, one day, as one of the experts dishes out such gibberish as this usual one – “the referee would have given that as a foul if it was outside the box” – the host could ask: “Which law are you quoting?”

Well, my little understanding of the laws is that a penalty is a foul that is committed inside the penalty box. So, if the referee could give it inside the centre circle, he should award it if the offence happens inside the penalty box. This is one of the reasons that Victor Gomes has become enemy number one among most PSL clubs.

This is a man who does his best to apply the rule book to the letter. He does commit mistakes sometimes, but, in my view, they are few and far between.Some of the experts have actually tried their hand at coaching and failed dismally. Now they sit at a desk as commentators and tell active coaches what to do.

This lends itself to the following description (I think whomever came up with it had their tongue firmly stuck in their cheek): “An expert is someone who has failed in that particular field.”

Then they go on and tell other people how it is done.

Maybe the people in this category can take consolation from Danish physicist Niels Bohr’s observation that “an expert is a man who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a narrow field”.

Which brings me to another oft-quoted wisecrack from the man regarded as the best Liverpool FC manager so far in history, Bill Shankly: “The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they do not know the game.”

I think he should have added: “Club managers and players know the game, but not the rules.”

My observation over the years is that many football managers (called coaches in this country) and most players actually know very little about, if anything, of the laws of the game.

This is what causes all the tantrums, gesticulations and theatrics we witness from managers and players week in and week out when a decision on the field goes against them.

We sports journalists are also sometimes guilty of the same offence as the “experts” quoted above.

In the more than three decades that I have covered football, I have realised that some of my colleagues also do not bother to familiarise themselves with the laws of the game.

Some even use words without understanding their meaning or origin just because they heard or read about someone who did so.

In one of the multiple incidents I have witnessed personally, a colleague referred to a certain player as a “skipper”. When I enquired, he said it was because said player was a “field marshal who controlled the midfield”.

It came as a shock to him when I explained that the word ‘skipper’ meant captain and even explained the origins thereof.

While I am not preaching that coaches, players and sports (especially football) journalists should be able to recite the laws of the game like a Muslim quoting from the Qur’an or Christian going through the Lord’s Prayer, it would be useful to have an acceptable grasp of the laws.

Follow me on Twitter @Sbu_Mseleku

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May 19 2019