Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Does the punishment fit the crime? Sanctions in Association football

Roy Hay

Uruguayan national team and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is in the news because he has been banned for ten matches for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The sanction has provoked an outpouring of rage and defence by Liverpool manager Brendon Rogers and the CEO Ian Ayre. The former says the Football Association has ‘punished the man rather than the incident’. He is right of course and that is exactly what should be done in such cases. Why? Because the man has previous and while a one-off incident might be dealt with entirely on its merits a serial offender needs to have his overall behaviour considered as in a court of law by the sentencing judge. The jury may only be presented with the facts of the specific case and be adjured to ignore any other information, but the decision on the penalty for those found guilty, by admission of the alleged offender or after trial, rests with the presiding magistrate.

 In fact, according to the written reasons of the FA Regulatory Commission which determined the sentence in this case, there is no mention of Suarez’s previous misdemeanours and they say it was the truly exceptional circumstances of this case which led to the additional seven match ban on top of the automatic three match penalty for violent conduct.[1] The committee, which was made up of a lawyer, Thura KT Win, FA Council member, Roger Pawley, and former player, Brian Talbot, did not take into account Suarez’s past record—which included a seven-game ban for biting while he was a player at Ajax— and judged the altercation with Ivanovic in isolation.[2] So if this is true then the Rogers’ objection falls, but the issues of whether the sentence fits the crime and who should determine it and on what grounds remains.

In 1994, Glasgow Rangers’ striker Duncan Ferguson was sent to jail for three months for head-butting an opponent, John McStay of Raith Rovers, on the field. There were complaints about the severity of that sentence, but the man was on probation for two previous off-field offences at the time. Willie Woodburn was suspended sine die by the Scottish Football Association in 1954 following a string of on-field incidents. It is possible that this sanction was ultra vires and it was not challenged in court because of the player’s loyalty to the club he played for. Woodburn said subsequently that he should have appealed the ban in court and indicated that would do so in the different circumstances of 1968 when interviewed by leading journalist Hugh McIlvanney for a book by John Arlott.[3]

Suarez grew up in Uruguay before moving to Groningen in Holland and then via Ajax Amsterdam to Liverpool. While in Holland he was banned for biting an opponent and last year he was sanctioned by the Football Association for racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United. On the latter occasion his manager Kenny Dalglish flew to his defence so rapidly and vehemently that he was told to pull his head in because of the effect it was having on the club’s brand.[4] Playing for Uruguay in the world Cup in South Africa, Suarez saved a certain goal for Ghana by handling the ball on the goal-line. Ghana missed the penalty and Uruguay, minus Suarez who was correctly sent off, won the subsequent shoot-out to clinch the game. Suarez quickly went from being pilloried for the offence to a national hero for saving his side.
You could easily believe that this man has no respect for the laws of the game or the society of which he is a member. He wants to win at all costs and will do anything to achieve the result. His manager puts a somewhat different gloss on the behaviour of his star player.

This is a guy who I see on a daily basis trying very hard. His two passions in life are his family and Liverpool Football Club. He throws his life into that. It is part of his make-up – you can't change that – but I genuinely think he is trying to adapt those traits he has grown up with as a kid to life and the culture here. Each time he makes a step forward we find ways to beat him with a stick and beat him down. I can understand if he felt like that [wanting to quit England] in a moment of reflection.[5]

The ‘traits he has grown up with as a kid’ or ‘his impulse takes over,’ reflect the widely-held belief in England that Uruguayans and Argentinians like Diego Maradona will cheat in any way they can to achieve a result. There are enough examples to sustain this view for consideration but such stereotyping is not very helpful. Uruguay has won the World Cup twice playing excellent football within the laws and spirit of the game and reached the semifinal in South Africa in 2010. On the other side of the ledger there was an infamous episode in Mexico in 1986 when Uruguay kicked Scotland off the park to secure a scoreless draw and an earlier battle with Glasgow Celtic in 1967 involving the leading Uruguayan club Racing.

So it is not clear that Uruguayans are uniquely culpable of bending or breaking the rules to achieve results, but the belief persists. Whether it was part of the unconscious mind-set of the members of the tribunal which imposed the penalty on Suarez is imponderable but the penalty itself was not excessive and in line with those meted out in recent seasons to among others the England captain Rio Ferdinand for missing a drug test and Suarez himself for racially abusing Evra.

[1] The Football Association and Mr Luis Suarez, Liverpool FC, The Decisions and Reasons of the FA Regulatory Commission, 25 April 2013,

[2] Dominic King, ‘Sorry Suarez will not appeal ten match ban,’ Daily Mail, 26 April 2013,

[3]  John Arlott, ed., Soccer: The Great Ones: Studies of Eight Great Football Players, Pelham, London, 1968, pp. 89–106.

[4] Now writing for the Daily Mirror, Dalglish has attacked the independence of the FA Regulatory Commission. Daily Mirror, 27 April 2013,

[5] Rogers later added, ‘He is a genuine good-hearted man, who from time-to-time his impulse will take over. We’ll see it again, in top sports people.’ King, ‘Sorry Suarez’.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Anzac Day Footy

An edited version of this article Anzac sport celebrates a unity that didn't exist was published in the Age on Anzac Day 2013.
To write about sport and war is to risk censure: Why bring sport into it? Why bring war into it? Why combine the two? Moreover, in trying to balance personal attitudes towards war and military institutions with feelings of sympathy for the individuals and families killed and maimed by war, writers invite contradiction and ambiguity into their argument. The writer’s taste for one can turn sour because of the lack of appetite for the other. So why bother to struggle with this dilemma?

Like it or not, in contemporary Australia, in late April, it becomes necessary, if not mandatory, to contemplate sport and war. Our leading football codes put the connection front and centre. The AFL and the NRL both conduct highly publicised and highly popular Anzac Day matches. It’s a new tradition to which supporters of both codes have been drawn in large numbers. Since 1995 Collingwood and Essendon have battled for Anzac supremacy at the MCG. St George and the Roosters commemorate the day in the NRL. In recent years a cross-Tasman NRL game between Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors has also been added to the Anzac Day mix. This year sees the first instance of Anzac footy in New Zealand, where the Sydney Swans will take on St Kilda.

And there’s something to be said for it. Both codes provided a number of troops who served at Gallipoli and across Europe, many of whom were never to return. Collingwood lost six players, Essendon seven. So these clubs’ own histories add to the solemnity of Anzac commemorations.

Yet something is missing in these memorialisations. Many things in fact. Whole segments of a bloody and divided story are left out of the tale we are usually told.

We were not a nation united in support of Britain’s prosecution of the First World War. Many Australians were set against it. The voting patterns in the conscription referenda, first in 1916 (the ‘Yes’ vote lost narrowly) and again in 1917 (‘Yes’ lost by a wider margin) make it clear that most Australians were against conscription. Many of them would have also been against the war.

Opponents to conscription came from many quarters. Catholics, republicans, the Irish, socialists, unionists and pacifists all had reason to be anti-war and anti-conscription. And they came together as a united force. The ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland web site claims:
One reason why so many opposed conscription was that it provided a focus for a lot of different points of view about the war. Some people opposed the war; others were opposed to conscription as a principle; others were saying that they were hurt by the economic situation of the war, and were protesting against that; still others were voting to protect unionism; others were protesting at the British treatment of the rebels in Ireland. Normally these people might not have agreed with each other on many things, but they all agreed on the conscription question, and the issue gave them all a chance to express their opposition.
As Melbourne’s dominant sporting code, Australian Rules football reflected that diversity and opposition. One of the leading figures in the anti-conscription movement, Archbishop Daniel Mannix, happened to be a cultural and spiritual powerbroker within the Irish-Catholic community of Collingwood and his opinions and instructions carried great weight for many supporters of the Collingwood Football Club. He came increasingly to speak out against the war and conscription, especially after the Easter Rising on 1916. While Mannix’s influence was counterbalanced by Collingwood Football Club patron, John Wren’s support for conscription (even while Wren's own newspaper was against it), this tension underlines the point that there was little collective sense of unity of purpose in relation to the war.

In a fascinating piece of writing in 1916, ostensibly a letter to Oriel (writer of ‘The Passing Show’ column in the Argus), a strange and ambiguous attitude to the war is taken by a Victorian ‘sport’. The correspondent answers the frequent calls for footballers and barrackers to give the game away and join up to support their brothers in the trenches.
Abandon football! Give up our glorious winter pastime, which affords us the very best opportunity of exercising our lungs, in shouting objurgations at our brave boys’ opponents over the fence! No, no; the proposal is likewise ‘over the fence.’ Can we forego the intellect-stimulating pleasure of instructing the umpire in the rules which he ought to know but doesn’t? You ask us to go to the war; but if we did who would advise Dido Denver, that bonzer ‘wing’ man, as to his play? Dido should go too, you say? Well, that’s the limit. Who’s to feed the forwards if Dido goes? Unpatriotic? Who’s unpatriotic? You should hear us sitting at the tailboard of the van singing ‘Australia Will Be There.’
No, mister; if the Germans come here they’ll soon have the sense to know that the Australian game is the best – better than all your Rugby, or Soccer, and all those. Supposing all the footballers went to the war, what would become of the old game? Supposing all the ‘barrackers’ went, the sport would go bung just the same. The crowd makes the ‘gate,’ and the ‘gate’ makes the game. What you ask is out of the question; but we’ll tell you what we’ll do. Appoint a German as umpire, and we’ll show you what loyal Australians we are. We’ll call him everything we can lay our tongue to, and deal with him after the match. There’s a fair dinkum offer. We’re sports, we are. (22 January 1916)
Bristling away behind the attempts at humour and the wanting to appear good-natured might be a sarcastic anger that questions why we are fighting in this war. Perhaps it also puts the suggestion that this war would best be fought by the exponents of “Rugby, or Soccer”, the Poms. On the other hand, maybe the piece is simply an ironic ‘white feather’ attack on those who refused to enlist. One way or the other, it points to a social resentment that runs deep.

The problem of the contemporary remembering of ANZAC is that the narrative it drives is wrong, one of an already united nation forging its identity on a Turkish beach. When we see the Collingwood and Essendon players lining up before the clash we are led to see them in unity, as different factions of one overarching national brotherhood. We are encouraged to believe in a myth.

Pies and Bombers players run through the Anzac Day banner. (Getty Images: Mark Dadswell)
A mature and sophisticated Anzac Day footy narrative would see the teams as representing divergent positions across the Catholic/Protestant, republican/imperial divides. It would tell stories of both protest and loyalty. We would be asked as viewers/spectators to reflect on how diverse and antagonistic communities came to see themselves as united (or not) through the sacrifices made in war. It might even encourage the radical idea that our presently diverse and divided communities are similarly capable of establishing symbols of unity.

Nowhere does the myth as it stands acknowledge that at the time of the Gallipoli landing many Collingwood supporters (and supporters from many of the Catholic inner-city football clubs in Melbourne and Sydney) would have been very strongly against what they saw as the British imperialist war. Nor does the myth reveal the fact that the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) was largely made up of protestant soldiers. The embarkation lists in 1914-15 indicate that a small percentage were Catholic. In the three nominal rolls I looked at around 12 per cent of the initial enlistments were Catholics. And while Catholic enlistments increased in the later stages of the war, there was an initial reluctance, especially in the inner city.

Another point lost in the telling of Anzac is that between 20 and 25 per cent of troops in the very first Australian troop ships were British born, many of them recently arrived migrants. (Now revisit a crucial vehicle in the re-building of the legend, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli and see if the soldiers’ accents reflect that statistic.) The first to fall at Gallipoli (from the 11th Battalion) were in about equal measure Australian and non-Australian born.

If it is important to commemorate Anzac Day then it is important that we remember it well and not just via slick commercialised performances. We should remember it in as much detail as we are able. We need to remember who was there, who wasn’t, why they were there and why many refused. Until the commemorations do this they will remain evasive moments of myth-making. We need to remember all, or nothing.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Soccer and Anzac: conference abstract

This is the abstract for the paper I will be delivering at the ASSH conference in Canberra in July:

In the contemporary memorialisation of the nexus between sport and Anzac, Australian soccer does not figure prominently, if at all. Hegemonic codes of football and other 'established' sports take centre stage. Australian soccer, however, was very much a part of Anzac and there is an argument to be made that at crucial moments it was more involved than the two present-day codes of football that commemorate the Anzac tradition most aggressively. This paper looks at the place of soccer in the early stages of of the mobilisation of the AIF, into the Gallipoli campaign and beyond. It argues that soccer was in fact over-represented in the AIF and, as a result, in the Rolls of Honour, one of the main contributing factors to the game's lowered significance in immediate post-war Australia.