by Richard Brook
Football is a sport that is no stranger to the “war of words” and the odd controversial comment by accident or design. Such squabbles are normally the territory of the managers, the players, the fans and occasionally opposing board rooms. Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has taken things a step further, in the build up to tonight’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg, by falling out with the Bantam’s club chaplain.
Lambert claims that Reverend Paul Deo was being “disrespectful”, although Lambert did not know of whom he was speaking at the time. Lambert was answering questions ahead of the crucial second leg tie when it was pointed out to him, that in the midst of the all emotion at Valley Parade, following the League Two side’s impressive win against Lambert’s Premier League men, the stadium announcer reportedly jubilantly advised supporters to “book their hotel rooms for London”. The announcer transpired to be Reverend Deo.
Such an announcement would clearly be premature, and would almost certainly have been made and taken as being somewhat tongue in cheek. It is also unsurprising that people associated with Bradford City Football Club might get a little carried away, as their team from the fourth tier of the English leagues turn over an established Premier League side, and get a sniff of a Wembley final into the bargain. As Reverend Deo himself puts it his comments were made in “that moment of celebration context”. Lambert though did not hide his displeasure commenting:
“Football’s got a great habit of kicking you somewhere. It’s disrespectful to do that. We’ll see what happens after the game. It was their home game, but it’s disrespectful to do that to other teams”.
As well as pointing out the emotion of the moment, Reverend Deo denies putting the comment in the black and white terms that have been reported. Deo explains that he phrased the statement much more softly along the lines of Bradford fans “could be forgiven for having a look at hotel rooms in London”. He also points out the obvious: Whatever he said, as stadium announcer it was not intended to be disrespectful of anybody.
To make matters worse Lambert admits he did not even hear the comments, which have drawn his response. There are few emotions less justifiable than second-hand outrage. It is reminiscent of when Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand found themselves in hot water over their telephone calls, made during a radio broadcast, to former Fawlty Towers star, Andrew Sachs. By all means make your own judgments about the taste and decency of what was said, but you were not offended by the broadcast if you were not listening live. The emotional response to such an incident is to the person relaying the words, who will have coloured your own perception, through their tone of voice and body language. Indeed in Lambert / Deo incident there is a difference between the words Deo claims to have used as against those that Lambert has been told about. Nevertheless the vast majority of people who complained about Ross and Brand had, like Lambert, not heard the words that had offended them first hand.
A better example of disrespect over this particular League Cup semi-final might be television presenter, Eamonn Holmes’ decision to refer to Bradford City as a “pub team” in reaction their comfortable 3-1 victory, at Valley Parade in the first leg. Holmes replied to criticism on twitter, stating that it was a “compliment”, designed to highlight the significance of the achievement. Late Tackle magazine’s twitter account queried Holmes’ use of the word compliment Holmes’ response appeared agitated: “Not saying it again. If u don’t choose to see the gulf between the sides Bradford have beaten – so be it. Amazing achievement”.
Incredibly Lambert went on to be just about as disrespectful as it is possible to be about Villa’s semi-final opponents, prefixing the particular statement with the words “no disrespect” as if it were a get out of jail free card. Analysing Villa’s season Lambert commented, “Chelsea [8-0] was really low… but I think because of what happened and who we were playing – and that’s no disrespect to Bradford – that was really, really low”. I am not naive enough to question the fact that a Premier League team losing to a League Two side might regard that game as the low point of their season. Paul Lambert though has surely been naive in raising the point, while asking anyone to sympathise with him regarding perceived disrespect. As Ian Hislop famously told Angus Deayton, on Have I Got News For You?, “You may not need the entire moral high ground, but you need a couple of inches.”
It could well be argued that this is a “couple of inches” that Aston Villa and Lambert never had in the disrespect debate with Bradford City. Shortly before the semi-final first leg, Villa put their half-season tickets on sale. In their wisdom the club marketed these tickets with the promise “Guarantee A League Cup Final Ticket”. This is clearly incredibly disrespectful to Bradford City in its assumption that before a ball had been kicked in the semi’s Villa were already in the final.
One wonders if Villa’s marketing team are so confident ahead of this evening’s fixture. In terms of the effect of their promise the only real worries are ill will generated with their own supporters and potentially looking a bit a silly, as legally the words would be regarded as the “mere puff” of advertisement.
Paul Lambert might want to look a little closer to home before talking about disrespecting opponents. After all football has “a great habit of kicking you somewhere”. In all probability football will not be delivering any nasty blows to Lambert tonight. Aston Villa should be capable of overturning the deficit against Bradford, in front of a capacity crowd at Villa Park. If they cannot do it then they simply do not deserve the Wembley place they are playing for, and that the club openly advertised they had taken for granted a couple of weeks ago.