The Perils of Keeping Contact
In the 1968 League Cup final between Arsenal and Leeds Jackie Charlton stood just off the goal line at a corner and as the ball came in jumped into the Arsenal keeper Jim Furnell and physically prevented him from getting the ball without seeking to play the ball himself. Leeds full back Terry Cooper scored from the resulting loose ball. There was a fair amount of controversy about it at the time though in truth it was such a dour game that any neutral still watching might have been relieved with anything that brought about a conclusion. It doesn`t pass uncommented in many of the autobiographies of the players of the time with most accepting that it was a foul. Charlton was pulled up on it pretty much any time he attempted the same tactic afterwards.
Now over 40 years later the distinction between creating a physical presence to inhibit the keepers ability to defend his goal and physically preventing a keeper from defending his goal seems equally blurred. It`s an issue highlighted in the Stoke v Spurs game last weekend with one or two incidences in which physical contact was substituted for the legally permissible physical presence. Wenger has drawn attention to this probably with the upcoming Blackburn game in mind and the troubles that Fabianski had there last season. In reality that game owed as much to Fabianski`s failings as it did to any over robust application of Allardyce`s skill set. Still it`s also true that Blackburn were encouraged to test the boundaries every bit as much as Stoke were last weekend.
In a typically confused piece in todays Mail Graham Poll first directs an assertion at Arsene that there is nothing wrong with the use of physical presence before concluding that Arsene has a point. Referees should be free to determine the legality of a physical challenge says Poll after first telling us that Chris Foy wasn`t apparently able to do so correctly.
Likening the tactic to Rugby more than football as Wenger did was bound to create the usual storm of pious protest about the virtues of the English game and the inability of non-English to play a proper man`s game. But sometimes the game has to be reminded that boundaries are always there to be tested and the further you allow them to be pushed back the further you move away from the principles of the sport. That Wenger chose to highlight the issue at this time is understandable and eminently sensible but whatever cynical motives might be attributed to him shouldn`t detract from the validity. Bad practice can creep in anywhere it fails to be identified and referees need to be refocused regularly as part of any process of ensuring best practice.
Above all though likening Stoke to a Rugby team no matter how obliquely has the benefit of being able to picture Tony Pulis in indignant, tight lipped rage adorned with baseball cap desperately defending his right to make as much physical contact with the opposition as he can get away with on the basis that none of his players have a bad bone in their body, are loved by their mothers and are kind to children and small animals. It`s proper football innit!
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