Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Am not the type given to the habit of going out to watch a football match then leaving before the final scoreline has been established. Put simply, I just prefer going the whole hog, unless something more urgent comes up. But then again, considering how passionate I am about this game, its hard to imagine any other thing that would be so urgent to warrant the abandonment of football watching season on any day.

Now, that was the case last Saturday. Am sitted somewhere watching this game between Man U and Bolton, when my buddy Rocko (my very hospitable host down here at the coast) gives me a call. He is hanging out with some friends who are new in town, so he wants me to join them. Things are getting dense on the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo having just conned the referee into awarding him a dubious penalty, so naturally am a bit reluctant to ‘abandon’ the match. When I checkout, its with the misguided notion that I can catch the Arsenal match out there in town anyway.

When I finally catch up with Rocko and his ‘crew’ (two very beautiful mamasitas, to be more precise), they’ve picked their spot at the furthest corner in this joint where a live band is belting out some olden Luo tunes. The ambiance is excellent, and some revelers are already busy dancing the night away. The Arsenal game is on, but hard as I try to peer through the packed dance floor, all I can make out on the tiny TV screen at the front is the green grassy background of the pitch. The match commentary is completely drowned by the loud music and the scoreline bar is virtually illegible. Defeated, I give up and not to rock the apple cart I decide to stick to the ‘core business’… I only learn the following morning that the Gunners were stunned 2-1 by Hull City!

Since I didn’t watch the match, I still haven’t come to terms with the fact after staging some wonderful display of football lately; Arsene Wenger’s men fell to the little known Hull City of all the teams! Prior to match I had read some very interesting trivia on these teams. Incredibly the two were meeting for the first time in the league in 93 years and only for the fifth time in all. More staggering was the fact that Arsenal holds the record for the team that has stayed in the English top division for the longest period without relegation (these guys have been up there since 1919) while little Hull are enjoying their first taste of top flight football. The difference in class between the two couldn’t be contrasting. We could as well say that the two have never played in the same league.

Football is strange game though. At the end of the day, all those facts and figures didn’t count for much. Since I know quite a few souls that were left grieving by that result (even here at shabik), I’ll chose not to follow the trail any further; but not before I deliver a few more home truths. Am no prophet of doom (never has been), but with these kind of inconsistencies and instability, am getting more convinced by the day that Arsenal is still not yet ‘ready’ to reclaim the high pedestal that they once upon time majestically occupied in the Premiership. Truth be said, when you give away 'easy' matches like those, in the long run, they will count against you - big time.

Back to that Man U vs Bolton game. While Cristiano Ronaldo is widely known for his amazing ability to win and convert penalties, I felt particularly offended by his theatrics that led to that first goal. Television replays clearly showed there was no contact between him and the defender. No wonder even his own teammates looked abit sheepish in accepting Rob Styles’ howler of a decision. In short, Bolton were yet again robbed by the referee, just like they were in their previous game when Emmanuel Eboue scored Arsenal’s equalizer from a clearly offside position.

Lets face it here, the standards of officiating in the EPL have been abit questionable lately. From bookings, reds cards, to ‘goals’ (allowed or disallowed) you just keep asking yourself what has become of the men in black. Am afraid, at this rate, the high levels of refereeing is soon going to be a thing of the past. One gentleman who goes by the name Mike Riley, in particular, has not endeared himself to many players and fans of the game. This is the guy who almost booked the entire Man U squad in that epic clash at the Stamford Bridge. The seven yellow cards he liberally flashed out to the Red Devils almost landed Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in trouble with the FA briefly contemplating imposing a fine on the team. Interestingly, Rio Ferdinand (an increasingly abrasive character nowadays) was singled out for aggressive mannerism in contravention of the ‘Respect Campaign’.

On Saturday, Mr. Riley was at it again with yet another disjointed performance at the Merseyside derby. On one end of the pitch he was he waving play on when Yakubu had been clearly shoved to the ground in the box by the out-of-sorts Liverpool defender, Martin Skrtel while on the other end he was busy doing what he does best – brandishing yellow cards. Inevitably, the one man who failed to escape his wrath was homeside favourite, Tim Cahill, dismissed in the second half for a second bookable offence. And that effectively killed off the match as a contest.

While the spirit of ‘Fair Play’ is one of the core values of world football governing body, FIFA, it hasn’t helped the case that some of the more influential managers like Fergusson have found it convenient to engage in mud slinging contests with the whistlers whenever they feel aggrieved but completely turn a blind eye when a bad decision favours their teams. With the exception of a few upright men, selective judgement continues to afflict many football players, coaches and fans alike. A case in point is the ludicrous argument overhead from some the Man U fans after final whistle. These guys simply refused to own up to the fact that Ronaldo had duped the match officials. In the end one fellow cheekily quipped, “Basi toweni hio bao moja!” Now that’s outright ridiculous! In as much as Wayne Rooney came of the bench to seal the win, it can’t be denied that Rob Styles’ poor decision knocked the wind out of Bolton’s sails, having held out so well up to that point. At times all it takes is one single decision to change the course of a football match.

To end my lengthy talk-about, here is an enchanting tale. A few years ago Arsene Wenger (yes, the one and only) did the unthinkable thing of requesting for replay to an FA Cup match with… (it must have been West Ham - someone jog my memory please) following a bizarre incident resulting into a controversial ‘goal’. What happened then was that the West Ham players had played the ball out to allow for the treatment of an injured player. But for some inexplicable reasons Arsenal players chose to completely disregard the unwritten rule of fair play applied under such circumstances. In an incident involving Nwankwo Kanu, Marc Overmars and Immanuel Petit, instead giving back the ball to the opposition, the trio carried on with play from the resulting throw-in leading to a goal which the referee allowed anyway. Justifiably so, West Ham were infuriated and lodged a formal complaint though the FA was reluctant to issue a boardroom ruling. In the end it took the wisdom and benevolence of Wenger to request for a replay. His wish was granted and Arsenal won ‘again’, fairly though this time.

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