Out of Africa

All of my previous blog entries have been written with a sense of calm. I’ve tapped lightly on the keyboard, whilst transferring my rambling thoughts from brain to screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve been impassioned to write this latest entry, but maybe I’m tapping just a little harder.

Here’s the facts that have brought about this feverish state of mind: tonight, Ghana played Uruguay in the 1/4 finals of the World Cup. It’s a 1/4 final that not many would have predicted, though it has a sense of importance: Uruguay won the first two World Cups, and Ghana are Africa’s last representative at the first African World Cup. To put you out of your misery, in case you haven’t seen: Uruguay won. On penalties. A harsh way to go for Ghana, certainly, but a ‘fair’ lottery. But maybe it shouldn’t have gone to that lottery, because right at the end of the game, Ghana were awarded a penalty, which would have taken them through, had they converted it. Not just any penalty mind, but one awarded for deliberate cheating, when an outfield player for Uruguay (subsequently sent off) handled the ball deliberately on the line. Anyway, Ghana missed it, cue much gnashing of teeth and cries of unfair play.

Yes, it is unfair, but so was England’s goal that was ruled not to have crossed the line, and so is any goal that is chalked off for an incorrect linesman’s flag. But that’s the beauty of sport. So much rests on key decisions, and often they are called wrong. It’s human error, only this time it’s from the officials, not from those on the pitch. Are the officials expected to be infallible? Of course not, they are only human, like the players. They make mistakes, but their impartiality is never called into question, and surely that’s the most important thing. Sport is great because it throws up upsets, because the best don’t always come first, because the story doesn’t always have a happy ending. It’s unpredictable, and that’s often the best thing about it.

The script said that Ghana should have gone through tonight. That much is obvious. The African people were behind them, and the World outside of South America were behind them. But to pity them is to patronise them, and this is something that Africa has endured more of than most. If the situation was reversed, and a Ghanain player had handled on the line, Uruguay would have had the chance to win the game. The Ghanain player would have been lauded, and the World would have accepted it far more readily. There’s no great sportmanship in football any more, because it’s only partly a game, and the money and National expectation have placed it on such a pedestal that we have lost the sense of football as entertainment, and see it only as winning or losing, as justice being done or not. I’ve seen the Ghana players holding up mock yellow cards in an attempt to get the referee to book the players of other teams. They’re no worse than the Uruguayans, or any others, but it’s a sad indictment of what football has become.

Anyway, here’s the solution: man handles deliberately on line, goal is awarded, man stays on pitch. Fair.

Just one further observation, and a pet hate of mine: the sense of ‘deserving’ in football. By this I mean the situation where a team dominates play, squanders chances, and ends up losing 1-0 to the opposition’s only meaningful attempt on goal. You did not ‘deserve’ to win. Football is about putting the ball in the back of the net, and no more. If they score more than you, you deserve to lose, not win, because possession, shots on target etc mean nothing, apart from to Andy Gray and other football analysts. It’s an odd concept, and seemingly unique to football. We love the sense of justice being done, and are up in arms when the perception is that this isn’t the case. It’s not solely a British thing, but it’s most definitely ‘not cricket’…