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Sunday, April 15, 2012

It’s time for football’s Luddites to cross the line

That egregiously cruel race, the Grand National, was won by a nose yesterday. Officials looked at a photograph to ensure they awarded the win to the right nag.

Football is different though. If the refereeing rules of football had applied to Aintree’s showpiece, a middle-aged bloke would have tried to run alongside the thoroughbreds and then made an instant guess at which horse had crossed the line first.

Such a scenario is almost too ludicrous to contemplate. But today’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley proved once again that when it comes to the beautiful game, fact is stranger than fiction.

If you weren’t watching, two London clubs -- Spurs and Chelsea – were competing for a place in the final and a chance of silverware. A lot hangs on the game: money, a place in European competition, pride, history. You know, it’s important.

During the game, Chelsea took the lead late in the first half with a fantastic strike by Didier Drogba, a goal that came arguably against the run of play.

Shortly after the match restarted following the half-time interval, Chelsea scored again -- except they didn’t because the ball didn’t actually go into the goal. For reasons unknown, the referee, Martin Atkinson, decided he had seen the ball cross the line in what had been a confusing goalmouth scramble; a tangle of legs and flailing bodies.

So, yet again, we had the farcical situation of television viewers watching replays that clearly showed the ball remaining resolutely out of the goal while, on the pitch, Spurs players made desperate protests that the referee waved away.

It would have taken a matter of seconds for the ref to check whether or not the ball had crossed the line by watching a replay himself, but the rules forbid this. Instead he has to guess and stick to his guns.

This wouldn’t matter so much if it was only the players who were shafted by football’s archaic protocols: their lives are so blessed a bit of injustice might help build their characters.

But what of the fans: the people who follow their teams through thick and thin, and pay through their noses to do so? Why should their hopes and dreams be held to ransom by dodgy refereeing?

Whether it’s allowed goals that weren’t goals, disallowed goals that were goals, offside goals ruled onside, or onside goals ruled offside, the game of football is turning into a joke because it hasn’t yet dragged itself into the 21st Century.

In the end Chelsea won the game comfortably, 5-1. But when a hugely lucrative sport gives so much influence to guesswork, we shouldn’t be surprised when an official makes a costly balls-up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why the long face?

So are we all happy now? As predicted, horses have died as a result of taking part in the 2012 Grand National at Aintree. Two to be precise: According To Pete and Synchronized.

The BBC did its level best not to mention this unfolding horror until its coverage was nearly over. Presenter Clare Balding facilitated the peddling of the usual line that it is the ‘kindest thing to do’ to destroy injured horses.

Really? Surely it would be kinder not to force these impressive and intelligent creatures to take part in this brutal obstacle course in the first place.

What kind of a sport continues as some of its participants lie dying on the ground – or are put down behind grim black screens?

That the Grand National is so popular is troubling enough. But more worrying is the propaganda surrounding the event -- and BBC has to take its share of responsibility for this.

The Beeb’s coverage of this carnage is always almost universally positive. In a country where fox hunting has been outlawed, how on Earth can we justify killing horses in the name of sport?

Maybe I’ve got this the wrong way around. Maybe we should reintroduce fox hunting and get William Hill involved. We could all have a flutter and Clare Balding could commentate.

But would she conclude that ripping foxes to bits is the kindest thing to do?

I doubt it.

The Grand National Scandal

You've got to love killing horses, haven't you? It would certainly seem so today. Yes, the Grand National is upon us once again.

A day when Britain displays extraordinary moral flexibility in exchange for a flutter and the chance to bounce up and down on the sofa, screaming "C'mon!" at the television.

If Clare Balding was presenting a BBC 1 special on live cock-fighting from Mansfield there would be an outcry. But today, she'll be at Aintree racecourse, introducing coverage of the 165th staging of the world's most famous steeplechase.

Sure, the point of the race isn't to kill horses -- but that is often the outcome. Ornais and Dooneys Gate were both fatally injured during last year's Grand National. For good measure, two more horses -- Minella Four Star and Regal Heights -- died during the Scottish Grand National at Ayr racecourse the following week.

Research by Animal Aid suggests around 420 horses are raced to death every year. The detailed statistics make sobering reading.

After last year's Grand National, the director of Animal Aid, Andrew Tyler, said: "The public has been conned into believing that the Grand National is a great sporting spectacle when, in reality, it is straightforward animal abuse that is on a par with Spanish bullfighting.

"This race should have no future in a civilised country. The BBC deserves special condemnation for all but concealing news of the deaths."

It's hard to disagree -- unless of course you think a few dead and injured horses is a price worth paying for a day at the races.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alan Davies: an apology

A friend said to me the other day that only positive articles should be posted on the Internet because there’s way too much hate out there already. Boy, was he right.

When I highlighted Alan Davies’ comments about Hillsborough on this blog I didn’t think he’d start getting death threats. Neither did I guess at the level of fury that would be aimed at me. It’s clear there are some people out there who feel like punching my face until it resembles a portion of steak tartare that’s been run over by a bin lorry.

One Twitter user even accused me of being a troll. Given the loathsome behaviour of trolls it’s hard to imagine a worse insult (although the same person compared me to Samantha Brick, so props for going the extra mile).

For what it’s worth, I think it’s utterly reprehensible that some people think it’s okay to make death threats because an individual has said something they disagree with.

That such threats have been made is less a reflection on my article and more a troubling indication that something has gone badly wrong in our society. However, I have to admit that my article -- and its tone -- only served to feed into this rotten part of the national psyche and I should have known better.

I still believe that what Alan Davies said was deeply insensitive but perhaps the claim that I am also guilty of this charge is not as far off the mark as I’d like it to be.

One thing is certain: the Hillsborough Disaster is not something that should be sullied by hateful vitriol or sensationalist journalism.

Perhaps Alan Davies should have kept his mouth shut – but then so should I.

Hate me if you must; forgive me if you can.

Humble apologies,

Mr Bile

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Alan Davies debate, 5 live Shelagh Fogarty programme, 04/10/12

Alan Davies debate, 5 live Breakfast, 10/04/12

Monday, April 9, 2012

Alan Davies – an explanation:

I thought I should explain why I brought Alan Davies’ recent controversial comments to the attention of the Twittersphere and – in turn – our esteemed members of the media.

I also thought it worthwhile to answer some of the critics of my article, which has been followed up by the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, and the Mirror among others (although none of them were good enough to mention where they read it first).

Firstly I should stress that I have no personal grudge against Mr Davies. I -- like many bored late-night channel surfers -- have watched him play the role of the dim-but-amusing jester in QI on Dave. He seems the personification of affable. I haven’t watched Jonathan Creek yet but I’m sure I will one day. Actually I won’t but the point is I don’t have a problem with him. Indeed, the reason I downloaded his podcast was because I’m a football fan and thought it would be funny and a good listen – reviews suggested as much.

However, when he started sounding off about Liverpool refusing to play on the anniversary of Hillsborough I was genuinely taken aback. Let me be clear though: I was shocked not by the fact he honestly believes Liverpool should be willing to play on April 15th -- but by the manner in which he made his argument.

Some critics have claimed I used selective quotes and failed to point out that Davies realised the profound horror of Hillsborough. During the podcast he said: “Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life in terms of football -- one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history.” But he only said this after more coaxing from co-host Ian Stone who said they shouldn’t “slag off” Liverpool’s decision to refrain from competing on April 15th. Of course Hillsborough was awful and a tragedy of historic proportions. The fact Davies said this did not erase the impact of his earlier insensitive rant.

Other critics have slated the way I wrote my piece. Fair do’s. I’m a journalist. I deliberately wrote the piece in a tabloid style to ensure it got traction and was noticed. If I’d written a dry article in the style of the FT this wouldn’t be being talked about and I wanted it to be.

Some people have said Davies’ “vermin” remarks were innocently made. Let be crystal clear: my article does not accuse Davies of racism and anyone who thinks otherwise is not reading what I have written. I accuse him of “breathtaking insensitivity”. Using the word “vermin” as a pejorative term is deeply unpleasant under any circumstances. When used against people associated with a football club like Tottenham, with its close ties to the Jewish community, the term takes on sinister undertones – whether these are intended or not. Even accepting that the last thing on Davies’ mind was that his words might have such an unholy resonance, he was na├»ve to say the least not to recognise this risk. A simple Google search will illuminate him – and others – of the clear association the word “vermin” has with the worst chapter in modern human history. Click here for an example.

To sum up, I wrote the piece I did because Alan Davies was – as a Gooner such as he might put it – “bang out of order”. He made his comments in a public space and my article ensured he would be judged on them in that arena. You live by the sword…

Postscript:

In a wider context I have a broader concern about football, a sport I love. Much of the discourse surrounding the game and at football matches is boorish, sexist, homophobic and – in some cases – racist. Deeply offensive songs and chants are regarded as “banter” and bad language is everywhere.

The game itself is being bought up by dubious characters from overseas bringing obscene reserves of money we can only hope they have honestly earned. The common man pays through the nose to see multi-millionaire mercenaries who switch clubs faster that Tiger Woods if more money is offered by another team, even an arch rival.

The relationship between fan and club has, in many cases, become an abusive one. The club exploits the fan, takes their money, pays no heed to their views and betrays them without a moment’s hesitation if it brings in more filthy lucre.

If Alan Davies has some outspoken comments to make he should aim his ire at the people who are turning football into a soulless franchise operation rather than make lazy and ill-thought out remarks that serve only to wound people who are already in pain.

Justice for the 96

Mr Bile


Alan Davies blasts Liverpool FC over refusal to play on Hillsborough Anniversary

TV funnyman Alan Davies is set to provoke a storm of protest for a foul-mouthed rant criticising Liverpool Football Club's refusal to play on the anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.

The Jonathan Creek and QI star made his shocking outburst during the latest edition of his popular podcast for Arsenal fans 'The Tuesday Club'.

The 46-year-old -- who once hit the headlines for biting a homeless man's ear in a drunken attack outside a swanky London club -- was discussing the dates of the forthcoming FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley.


Liverpool's clash with Merseyside rivals, Everton, takes place on Saturday, April 14th. Tottenham take on Chelsea the following day -- the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Liverpool refuse to play on April 15th as a show of respect for the ninety-six football fans who died in a crush at an FA Cup Semi Final at the stadium in Sheffield on that date in 1989.

But Davies seemed to care more about the fact that Liverpool's stance meant Chelsea were having to play their FA Cup tie only three days before their Champions League last-four clash with Barcelona.


He ranted: "Liverpool and the 15th -- that gets on my tits that shit. What are you talking about, 'We won't play on the day'. Why can't they?"


Laughing nervously, one of his co-presenters, Ian Stone, tried to point out why Liverpool FC don't take a business-as-usual approach to the most painful day in the club's history, saying: "Because it's too sad a memory."


But that simple and obvious explanation failed to deter Davies, who was on a roll.

He said: "Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on? Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was - 1971?"


Davies - who trades off his cuddly TV image - continued in his attack by savaging the Liverpool legend and manager Kenny Dalglish, who has defended the decision not to play on April 15th.

Davies raved: "Every interview he's given this season he looks like he wants to head-butt the interviewer. This tight-mouthed, furious, frowning, leaning-forward, bitter Glaswegian ranting, 'Liverpool FC do not play on April 15th'."

After beginning a poor impersonation of Dalglish, Davies broke off to say his attempt to mimic the Scotsman's accent was "terrible because I hate him".

Despite his fury on behalf of Chelsea - the last English club remaining in a European competition - Davies went on to admit he would think it was "awful" if they went on to win the Champions League.

Davies then aimed his sights at Tottenham Hotspur -- bitter city rivals of his beloved Arsenal. He claimed Spurs had refused to move a fixture back in 1980, two days before the Gunners were due to play a semi-final against the Italian club Juventus in the Cup Winners' Cup.

In another display of breathtaking insensitivity, Davies fired a scathing salvo at White Hart Lane bosses using a term the Nazis labelled Jews with in their vile propaganda. Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, is Jewish and the club has a strong Jewish following among its supporters.

He said: "What vermin run that club. They always have. Absolute vermin. Scum of the Earth."

Davies then began singing: "You burn your own town," a crass reference to the summer riots that devastated parts of Tottenham in north London.

During the podcast, Davies also made fun of the Arsenal striker and Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh who was recently pictured smoking a shisha pipe. He joked Chamakh was "stoned out of his box" and was Arsenal's "club dealer" peddling hashish to the rest of the squad from a "Range Rover with blacked out windows".

He also made potentially libellous remarks about Oliver Holt - The Daily Mirror's Chief Sportswriter. Insisting on referring to him as "Oliver Horseshit", he called the award-winning journalist a "dickhead", suggesting he had an issue with drink. "You can smell the alcohol in his tweets!" he laughed.

One listener to the podcast said: "I couldn't believe my ears. Alan Davies comes across as such a nice bloke on the telly but he sounded like a lout in this broadcast.

"He should apologise immediately to the relatives of the Hillsborough Disaster -- his comments were appalling. I can't believe they let him broadcast this rubbish."