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armchair centre back :: your call is important to us

well somebody's getting a penalty...
this weekend should have been a very happy one for dom and me, because for the first time in ages, the stars aligned and both of our premier league favourites had their games broadcast here. it's not always that easy to get epl coverage in canada, particular if you're a fan of a less "fashionable" team [hello, swansea] so a weekend where we could each see our team in action without having to wake up at seven and without having to fight over the remote because the games are happening simultaneously is an experience to be treasured.

or at least that's how it looked at first, before the officials got involved.

as it happens, the experience was kind of ruined for us because both of our teams got screwed by game officials making decisions that made less sense than i do before i have coffee in the morning. it's things like this that convince me that people who follow a sport, any sport, are really masochistic. you see something that you know is wrong, that everyone knows is wrong and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. because it's all about what the guy with absolute power says happened and in no way about the truth.

[although really, that might be good training for life. make your children watch professional sports, parents, because it will help guard against any feelings of optimism or autonomy they might be in danger of developing.]

first up, we got the arsenal game on saturday. dom is a big fan, having lived in north london, not far from the emirates stadium. of the teams that actually have a chance at winning things [see john oliver's brilliant explanation of this], they're definitely my favourite, because of dom primarily and also because of the exceptional man candy factor. now, to my mind, it's remarkable that arsenal can even field a team given the number of injuries they have, specifically the number of injuries they have to players who would normally be part of the starting line-up. [to watch the english premier league is to learn how many ways there are for a body to be painfully injured.]

arsenal were expected to win against hull, one of those teams that a lot of people outside their own city limits just ignore, but arsenal do have a tendency to make things "entertaining" by allowing lesser teams [and by "lesser" i mean "teams with less money"] to show them up. so it was exceptionally brutal that saturday's game ultimately hinged on a referee choosing to allow a goal whose scorer got into position by knocking down arsenal defender mathieu flamini [and possibly elbowing him in the throat].



and if you can spot the foul in that grainy internet video, it only stands to reason that the ref had a much clearer view...

we can say "what the fuck?!?" in as many languages as you can handle

the reason that sports have rules is so that the big guys don't just go smashing their way like cave trolls over everyone else [unlike in life].

people tend to dismiss arsenal fans' complaints of referee bias as so much butthurt, but when things like this happen, it should raise eyebrows. the game ended in a 2-2 draw, which isn't a total washout, but the botched call does make the difference between three points for a win and one for a tie. [note: this is not to imply that arsenal were at their best, or even their "walking wounded" best. most of the team seemed kind of demotivated and it was really just the jack and alexis show when it came to exciting performances. alexis sanchez didn't even lift his shirt a little bit when he scored a beautiful goal, which is just depressing. they still should have had the win.]

of course, on sunday, watching my beloved-but-unfashionable swansea, things got even worse.

one of the reasons that americans will tell you they don't like soccer is because that faking injury is such an ingrained part of the game. while my personal reaction is to suggest that any country that follows the kardashian family has no business criticising simulation in anything, i do understand the concept. it's supposed to be about physical/ mental competition, not getting a high school equivalency drama credit, so when one of these guys drops like they've been shot because another player breathed on them too hard, it's a little disappointing.



the most infuriating thing about that sort of move- and let's be clear, no one other than victor moses' manager is saying that that tumble was in any way legitimate- is that it triggers the most infuriating result in all of soccer: the penalty shot. i'll just state my opinion, for the record: i think that penalty shots are an abomination. you're asking a player who practices every day to kick a ball into what is essentially an empty net. keepers do occasionally stop them, but the odds are insanely in favour of the guy taking the shot. but the fact is that if you collapse in a heap inside an opponent's six yard box, chances are you'll be rewarded. [this is completely unlike hockey, where the penalty shot is a legitimate battle of brains and nerves, but ironically, penalty shots in hockey are almost never given.]

in this case, a+ drama student victor moses got his team rewarded with a victory: that penalty gave them a 2-1 win. and i actually think that a tie would have been a fair result. i don't think swansea deserved the win necessarily, because they just weren't on top of their game. some players [waves at ki sung-yueng and gylffi sigurdsson] did a great job. others [casts stink eye at wilfried bony who has been surprisingly awful so far this season] need to do some serious work.

i'm at least mollified that this case has gotten some serious media coverage, because swansea manager garry monk went off like a landmine, calling moses a cheat and saying that the decision to award a penalty was "a disgrace". that's a big deal. it's a tacit understanding in sport that no matter how terribly an official screws things up, you don't ever call them on it in public. that's partly politeness, but it's also partly because you just know that as soon as you open your mouth, you've basically taken your team into war with the people who set the rules. i fully expect that short of a swansea player literally being murdered on the pitch, garry monk will never see a call go his way again. [and even then, it'll probably just warrant a throw-in.] of course, if you listen to what monk had to say, he believed that his team were on the receiving end of a lot of questionable calls and he'd tried to contact the officials' union to have a word, but they'd not had the courtesy to call him back. i suspect that after this, he won't have to wait much longer for that call.

[it's also interesting to note that no less an authority than the bbc backed monk's opinions, if not his tactics. stoke city have apparently lodged an official complaint about commentator bias, all of which is just tossing fuel on the fire.]

and just in case there wasn't enough attention being paid to this, there were a handful of highly questionable penalties handed out today in the champions league:

here's cska moscow player seydou doumbia collapsing like a cheap deck chair, to earn his team a penalty and a draw with manchester city. [do you have any idea how hard it is to make me feel sympathy for manchester city???]

then there was an embarrassing dive from chelsea's branislav ivanovic [that link goes to a match recap, since all-powerful chelsea have apparently scrubbed the internet of any reference to a player of theirs being fallible] in their game against maribor. it's bad enough to do this when you're trying to salvage a point or three for your team. doing it when you're already up 4-0 is just the definition of cuntishness, assuming that was a real word that had a definition.[then again, that seems par for the course from the guy who thought he'd throw gas on the serbian- albanian fire last week.]

and finally the absolutely tragic case of jonathan silva. his team fought back from being down 3-1 and tied things up when he was penalized for a handball. [the fact that touching the ball with your hand results in a penalty shot is just one more reason why soccer should absolutely have dibs on the name football, but i digress.] it's bad enough to concede a penalty unfairly, but it really sucks when the referee tells you that you hit the ball with your hand when you actually and quite painfully deflected it with your face. 

one time, when i was up in arms about an employer's treatment of their workers, a peer gave me the advice "well you can't fight city hall". i consider that to be one of the worst lessons i've ever learned about the way in which the world works, both because it is so passive and defeatist and also because it's absolutely true. you can fight for lots of things, but once you start arguing with the people who set the rules and oversee their implementation, you've entered into a losing battle. even if you win, you're going to lose. in case you've ever wondered why soccer/ football fans feel the need to drink, it's really to numb the pain.

watching things like botched calls in soccer games should really serve as an education in the futility in fighting the powers that be. we all know that despite this apparent avalanche of errors, nothing will change; yet we still persist in the inexplicable optimism that change is possible.

never mind. we can always just sit back and wave our fists and scowl at our television screens and wait for that to make those officials seem all uncomfortable. 

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