by Kevin Galvin
I’ve just about had it with Sky Sports’ football coverage. The former players giving biased (and frankly ill-advised) analysis, the ‘banter’ (another word I hate) ‘between the commentary teams, the pointless statistics about how many times Rio Ferdinand has spat over the course of a game, or the amount of times Alex Ferguson has chewed on his piece of gum during a particularly stressful period of play. I’m sick of being attacked by football, pundits roaring over each other to be heard on a Saturday afternoon, Torquay v Exeter City on a dreary Monday evening, or the contemptuous mocking of a foreign player who probably expresses himself better in English than the ‘boys’ in the studio ever could.
Above all this though, there is one phrase that makes my blood boil, my fuse burn out and rage spots to appear on my neck like Homer Simpson trying to contain his anger (admittedly, the last one doesn’t actually happen); the phrase ‘A good height for the goalkeeper’. This one phrase can turn even the most spectacular, acrobatic save, into something mundane, expected even. I mean he’s just leapt four feet sideways and somehow managed to twist his body in the air in such a way that he got the slightest of fingertips to stop the ball going in, he’d be useless if he couldn’t even do something that simple right?
It doesn’t matter how much of a vicious, swerving thunderbolt it is; whether it’s in the corner or taken right in front of goal, once it’s anywhere above a foot off the ground, it’s deemed to be ‘a good height’ and therefore should be a routine save for any net minder worth his salt. This complete disdain for one of the most important positions in football is just systematic of the attitude toward goalkeeping in the modern game.
Take a recent example of David De Gea against Spurs. The Spaniard came in for some criticism (and rightly so) for his performances at the beginning of the season, but ever since it’s been somewhat of a trend to jump on the 22 (yes twenty-two!) year old’s back, every single time one of his moves weren’t of absolute perfection. After making a plethora of top drawer saves, the Spaniard gets his hand onto a cross in traffic. I’m aware it wasn’t the strongest punch ever, but he did the best he could given the amount of bodies in the box (some people fail to remember that outfield players aren’t hollow when ‘keepers come for high balls). This ‘mistake’ led to the North-London side passing the ball completely unopposed across the United box and slotting it home.
Having forgotten the past eighty-nine minutes, Sky Sports ‘expert’ pundit Gary Neville (Since when has a right back ever known anything about goalkeeping) begins to castigate De Gea for the error, which was subsequently picked up on by world media and accentuated to a point where the general consensus was that the twenty-two year old was at fault for the loss! Having had an absolute stormer it was now the Spaniard’s fault that his team dropped deep, invited pressure, and allowed a free goal from a ball that rebounded well outside the six-yard area?!
This is just one example of many in which ill-advised tripe spouted by the ultimate tabloid sports channel has started a disquieting shift in mainstream attitudes toward the game. The subject of the handball is yet another one which infuriates me to my very core, and is now beginning to permeate down the lower leagues through a blatant lack of education. Under law 12 of the FIFA laws of the game ‘handling the ball’ is defined as being hand-to-ball, intentional, and the position of the player in relation is taken into account, but clearly stated ‘the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement’. This is the same rule that has applied for over fifty years, and has seen generations use successfully. So why in the last five years has media sources like Sky manipulated a long standing rule so that at the hint of any contact, deliberate or not, now results in a penalty? Defenders now have to take this ridiculous stance of having their hands in a handcuffed position behind their back in order to avoid a handball call, throwing their balance completely out and rendering them totally useless, just to avoid being called for something that should never have been an issue in the first place. The answer to this (slightly elaborate) question is this, goals. Every year the Premier League sees more goals than nearly every single other European league, has seen a big jump in the average amount of goals since the old First Division days, and has seen a .2 increase in goals per game since the Premiership’s inception in 1992 (If that doesn’t sound like much, it equates to 55 extra goals every season).
Pressure is now being put to take the sport from football and turn it into an entertainment spectacle. Everything needs to have incident, controversy, winners and losers, and heroes and villains. The ringleaders in this fiasco will always look for something, or more often, somebody to praise and somebody to blame for this increase in scoring rates. And so that phrase was born to place the blame on the most lonesome character on the pitch, this rise in goalmouth activity shows a direct correlation with the introduction of the same corporations that have invented it. Thus proving the whole motto is a myth and that there is no such thing as ‘a good height for the goalkeeper’.