Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to walk with Dignity

No, this is not going to be an essay on how to march up and down your sitting room with a copy of “Mein Kampf” perched precariously on your head. Aspiring genteel young ladies need read no further. The walking I am referring to is the so-called “Walk of Shame”, the long, slow agonising trip back to the dressing-rooms after incurring the referee’s wrath. Whereas once this ignominy was reserved for the hard men of football, the change in the rules prohibiting body contact and repartee have meant that virtually every footballer will be red-carded at least once in his career. It is therefore a shame that so few footballers know how to react to the situation.

Do you remember Jim Gannon down in Cork? An off-the-ball incident and the ref goes running over, brandishing the red. Jim walks immediately – no histrionics, or arguments or exaggerated expressions of innocence. Some commentators have said that he must have done something, because he didn’t argue. Not so. There are still some professionals about who know that arguing with the illegitimate so-and-so is complete waste of breath. How many times have you seen a ref produce a red card, and then change his mind? No, nor me neither. Jim Gannon’s sending-off should be shown at coaching schools throughout the country as a prime example of how to walk with dignity.

Mick McCarthy, in his “Captain Fantastic” autobiography, recounts the time in France when he was sent off playing for Lyons. Apparently, the referee congratulated him afterwards for being the first player he had ever sent off who hadn’t argued!

Contrast that dignified way of “taking yer oil” [as the Derry fans say] with the usual prevarications. Remember the Derry full-back who could so easily have broken Wes’s leg with a dreadful lunge? Couldn’t believe it. Went for the ball. Travesty of justice. Certainly most reluctant to receive the oil that was handed to him.

Remember Kevin Moran’s lunge at Peter Reid in the FA Cup Final. My estimation of Moran went down a hundredfold after that. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision [and I was probably alone in Ireland in thinking that he deserved to go] Moran’s reaction to it was disgraceful. He lost it completely and had to be escorted off the field by team-mates.

Remember the Traitor’s brother getting sent off for Rockmount against us in the Cup? Not only did he spend a half an hour remonstrating with the ref, but actually gave us the two fingers while walking off. There must be something in the genes. All that he was saying was “Look, I can’t handle pressure.” It wasn’t even as if he was doing it for the benefit of his own fans.

The most obvious ploy in avoiding the red card is to go down injured yourself. The amazing thing about this is that referees still fall for it. Or maybe in waiting for the injured player to get up, he has time to reconsider. I know I’m not a very nice person, but I love seeing an opponent feigning injury to avoid getting sent off, then, when he gets gingerly to his feet, the ref produces the red. Love it!

Of course, if a manager is really quick, he can substitute the offending player before the ref has time to deal with him, particularly if he’s distracted by the welfare of the injured party. Doesn’t always work but one to file away in your managerial book of tricks.

I wonder how much would honesty work with a ref? Suppose you were a full back and had just put the opposing winger into the third row of the stand. Mr. Officious is galloping over, fumbling in his top pocket. Instead of saying, “I never touched him,” or “He should get an Oscar for that”, how about if you tried a totally new tack, something like, “Ref, I totally agree that was a terrible tackle, and I know I fully deserve to be sent off, but is there any chance that you could show some leniency? I promise there will be no further repetition of my hot-headedness.” You never know – this could totally confuse a referee weaned on confrontation, and you might just get away with it. Then again, perhaps not.

Of course, there is walking off and there is walking off. The speed at which you exit the field of play is always in direct contrast to your team’s fortunes off it. For example, if your team is doing well, you walk off slowly. If you are doing badly, run off. Remember Eric Lavine last year. Sent off for making a rude gesture to the linesman, Longford were drawing with us at the time. Lavine then took fifteen minutes to walk off, choosing to interpret the rule literally that says the offending party should go straight to the dressing-room, even though he was beside the touchline at the time. What would have been really interesting was if the ref had have sent him off again. That would really have sent the league’s administrators scuttling for their rule books.

Of course, I am a complete hypocrite. Anytime I ever crocked an opponent and saw the ref running over, I would gesticulate furiously at my dazed victim and loudly castigate him for unsportsmanlike behaviour. But, as my Dad used to say, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”

Exit, Stage Left.

With Dignity.

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