Monday, 14 September 2009

Proportion and Distortion

There have been some terrible scenes throughout the UK over the past few days. Protest marches, effigies burnt, witty slogans on banners, pins in the eyes of voodoo dolls… All because of two separate incidents in one football match. I suppose it’s a good thing we’re not looking for a paedophile here.

Adebayor’s stamp on Robin van Persie deserves a ban, that isn’t in question. As a football fan, I’m supposed to be shocked. And I am: his behaviour was shocking, I’m shocked. There. He was wrong to do it and, more likely than not, will be punished for it.

But, the thing is, I don’t believe for one minute City’s forward began the game with the aim of stamping on one of his former team-mates, with the aim of injuring one of the opposition players or with the aim of doing somebody some damage. Robin van Persie, on the other hand, disagrees:

"We are both professional footballers and I know that the game is physical, I too have made hard and sometimes mis-timed challenges but never with the intention of hurting an opponent. He set out to hurt me today.

He had his own agenda today and that is bad for football. It's bad for the game we all love.

The statement issued through the Arsenal website suggests that van Persie thinks that Adebayor began the game wanting to kick either him or his fellow team-mates. From what I witnessed yesterday, Adebayor started the game with the aim of helping his side to victory.

Then what happened was as follows: City were on the back foot and the ball was cleared to half-way. Adebayor was on his own and in possession. As he tried to skip past one tackle, he knocked the ball too far and lost it. At that same moment, van Persie comes flying in the two feet recklessly, failing to win the ball and ends up in front of Adebayor. Who then, in my opinion, decides stupidly to kick out at him – not in some pre-meditated attack, but because of an ill timed and two-footed challenge.

That, by no means, makes Adebayor’s actions right or above punishment, he deserves whatever punishment he gets – I don’t want to be accused of condoning his actions or the injury to van Persie’s face. But neither am I condoning a witch hunt of somebody who looks to have reacted in the spur of the moment and who probably now regrets what he did.

It’s not as if Robin van Persie has never lashed out in the heat of the moment, or been a bit careless with his elbows. I don’t recall other victims of such incidents issuing statements on club websites. Thomas Sorensen didn’t feel the need to when he was stamped on and shouldered by the very man who has “made hard and sometimes mis-timed challenges but never with the intention of hurting an opponent”.

Neither Robin van Persie nor Arsenal needed to bring this incident to the media’s attention – it was already there. They could have complained to the FA in private, who would probably have looked at the incident anyway: the referee clearly didn’t see it, otherwise he would have punished Adebayor.

The second incident, on the other hand, has been blown out of all proportion. And because it was from the same man as the first, then needless to say the gallows are being prepared and the black cap dusted.

So then, Adebayor scored. Then he proceeded to run 90m down to the other end of the ground to celebrate with the opposition fans. Fans of his former club. Fans who hadn’t a good word to say about him beforehand. Fans who had booed and jeered every touch of the ball he had.

I wrote something not so long ago about removing homophobia from football and was told I was overreacting and it was just banter. You wouldn’t call racism banter, so why would you call homophobia banter? Celebrating a goal against a set of fans who had been mercilessly taunting you right in front of them, I would say, is banter.

A lot has been made of Adebayor’s celebration, but not a lot has been made of the behaviour of some of the Arsenal fans. Now I know most Arsenal fans are like most City fans and most fans of other teams – sensible and hate Manchester United – but the minority who hurled themselves at the stewards, threw coins and hot dogs, and tried to burst onto the pitch shouldn’t go blameless here.

Adebayor was ill-advised to celebrate how he did, but if the Arsenal fans that reacted can’t take a bit of banter from an ex-player when they had been perfectly willing to dish it out to that ex-player, then football probably isn’t the sport for them.

If we as people can’t rise above retaliating with violence to a counter-taunt, then we should be taking a long, hard look at ourselves. Not at the man who simply celebrated a goal, dishing out what he had taken throughout the game. Why should the fans be allowed to be offensive, but not be offended?

As far as I’m concerned, the matter should be finished. He was booked for the celebration and, as Graham Poll explained on Sky Sports News, that’s the punishment that applies in the rules for what he did. Other players have done it in the past – even van Persie turned and ran towards the City fans when he equalised to celebrate in front of them, shouting a few obscenities.

It was heat of the moment stuff. He was booked and he’s apologised for doing it. Players have done it in the past and been booked, they’ll do it in the future and get booked. There’s no need to punish them on the pitch with a yellow card, then off it with a ban. And didn’t Henry do something similar in one of Arsenal’s matches with Tottenham?

Adebayor did exactly what the vast majority of us in that position would have wanted to do. He knows what he did was wrong in the circumstances and was punished accordingly with a yellow card – they add up over the season and result in bans, too. Try and tell managers with key players banned for receiving one or more of five yellow cards for celebrating by taking their shirt off that cautions don’t mean much post-match.

And in this entire furore, most people have forgotten the stern defensive display that City put in and their excellent finishing on the break. You’d have thought that these two incidents happened and then some football broke out, not the other way round.

David Mooney


  1. A couple of years ago I travelled to Hamburg on a Luthansa flight. The video entertainment featured a short montage of funny mishaps from the World of Sport.
    After the inevitable skiing accidents and Show Jumpers falling into the lake. I was staggered to find the Birmingham supporter taunting the Villa keeper after the notorious own goal at St Andrews. ( The Birmingham fan received a prison sentence )
    That's the way the Adebayor celebration will be remembered in a couple of years time:Inflammatory, preditable and absolutely hilarious.
    Nobody will remember the Van Persie celebration or the foul mouthed abuse he aimed at the City supporters near the corner flag. Perhaps if a City fan had thrown a bottle and hit one of the Arsenal substitutes the Media would have taken it more seriously.
    The FA will have to be careful because Barry and Lescott have got to play against their old teams and Adebayor will have to return to the Emirates next April. Any sign of weakness and those games will all be potential flashpoints.
    As for the stamp, only one person knows whether it was deliberate. He'll get banned because Clattenberg will say that he didn't see it.
    The FA have also got to realise that Video technology has overtaken the Premier League. Every Arsenal supporter in the Ground knew that the cameras had caught Van Persie being kicked in the face. It was the same at Fratton Park when every City supporter knew that the Richards goal shouldn't have been disallowed.
    That's the power of text messaging. It doesn't require much imagination to think of an occasion when this is going to happen in the last minute and cause a serious riot.

  2. 100% spot on with your comments David jnr, your dad should be very proud of you. I felt that there was an anti City bias from the moment MotD began it's coverage. Once again they showed every Arsenal chance, but failed to show the several chances we had barring the goals and SWP's miss from Adebayor's run.

  3. Have to disagree. He should not be punished as he only reacted to someone trying to deliberately injure him. If you don't want a kick in the face don't commit a cowardly and snidey foul with intent to harm. As for the real villain of the piece (apart from the arsenal fans who kicked off outside the ground and showed themselve to be thugs aswell as racists) is one van persie. His ugly goal 'celebration' and two-footed tackle should be looked into by the FA but, as we know, won't be.