I was going to share with you my plan to sort out football TV rights forever, but I’ve got something else to comment on. Not the Carling Cup final, about which I have nothing to say beyond the Vidic decision being rather questionable, and everyone else in the world has already said that, even Alex Ferguson.
No, I’d like to address this as a sort of open letter to supporters of the Premier League’s Big Four. Like everyone, I was horrified by the injury to Aaron Ramsey at the weekend; it does really upset me to see a player’s potential going to waste whilst they sit on the sidelines, to say nothing of the fear that they’ll never be the same player again. It’s also a great shame for Arsenal, who have taken on a young British talent and done a great job of developing him.
However, I don’t really think anyone is to blame here. If you can bear to watch the incident again (I can’t bring myself to stick the YouTube link here), it’s not even a tackle, because Ramsey doesn’t have the ball: it’s a loose ball, more in the path of Ryan Shawcross than Ramsey, and both players have every right to go for it. Ramsey simply gets there faster and Shawcross has no time to pull out. It’s not malicious, it’s not even rough play – it’s just an awful accident. In a physical game, these things unfortunately happen.
But Arsene Wenger and Arsenal’s supporters have cited this as yet more evidence that their players get roughed up unfairly. One Arsenal supporter I know suggested that the team is actively persecuted in that other teams seem able to get away with it, and I don’t doubt that lots of supporters agree with him.
The thing is, this is common among supporters of all the Big Four. They routinely accused football hacks of being biased: one of the Guardian’s writers noted with amusement that last season he received at least one email accusing him of bias towards AND against each of the Big Four. The managers encourage this: Ferguson with his moans about the fixture list, Benitez with his ‘list of facts’. It’s a standard tactic to create unity, to claim that everyone else is against you, the media don’t like you, the authorities favour other teams.
Personally, I don’t believe any of it. Most of these things have rational explanations. Yes, Ferguson plays mind games with referees, but the reason Manchester United get more injury time when they’re behind at Old Trafford is probably because when teams are winning there, they try to waste time. I was at the Villa game there in December where we won 1-0, and Ferguson was rightly furious that there were only three minutes of injury time. Both sides had made three substitutions and Villa had dragged out a couple of late minor injuries to run down the clock. Nobody mentioned that, because the story was Villa winning at Old Trafford, not United getting ‘lucky’ with another late goal. But that’s how conspiracy theories work: the facts that don’t fit the pattern go unnoticed.
All I want to say to Big Four fans is this: why not enjoy it? This is the golden age. You get to watch great players and your team wins most of the time. You get to participate in the world’s biggest club football tournament whilst the rest of us look on as ‘interested neutrals’ (or disinterested neutrals where most of the interminable group stage is concerned). I know it seems like it’s going to last forever – it certainly does to those of us who remember the days when our club had a vague chance of winning the league at the start of the season – but nothing lasts forever. Eventually things will change, and then you might just regret having spent those years of greatness preoccupied with the injustices – whether real or imagined – that your team suffered.
And with that said, I’ll wish Ramsey a speedy recovery.