Fair play is really a beautiful word. Especially since it’s English. And the idea behind it! Really great. But may I ask where this still exists in today’s football?
I would like to pick out a particular game situation and look at it in the mirror of time and how fair play has not only disappeared but has long since been turned into the opposite. Of course, I would also like to make suggestions on how to win it back. And thus do something good for football and the still large fan community.
There was once a time when players intuitively decided on the pitch when someone was injured, seriously injured, and they stopped playing. An attentive referee then let the paramedics onto the pitch to give the man the help he needed. Following this, no matter which team was or would have been in possession of the ball at the time, he resumed play in accordance with the rules with a dropped ball. The teams very quickly agreed who had or would have been awarded the ball and this team was then allowed to continue the game.
Then came a time when the teams no longer stopped playing but instead kicked the ball out of bounds after either noticing themselves that someone had seriously hurt themselves or having their attention drawn to it by the opponent or the spectators. No objections. The treatment could be carried out, the player taken care of, the game continued, with a throw-in for the team that would not have been entitled to the ball. This team then thanked the other team with a gentleman’s agreement by throwing the ball back to the other team. The spectators were even included in the deal in this way, because they were asked to applaud kindly, and they gladly complied with this request. So far it would still be acceptable.
But what happened little by little? The ball, which might have been played out of bounds in a promising situation, far in the opponent’s half, in an attacking situation, was first knocked back far into the opponent’s half by the opponent – that team with the injured player, who should therefore have been grateful — instead of throwing the ball straight to them. The team that had interrupted its attack to allow for the treatment of an injured player suddenly found itself confronted with a much less favourable situation. All of a sudden, “promising attack” became “how can we free ourselves again here”, especially since the opponent, after this “absolutely fair and applauded return action” had done his duty after all and had of course acquired the right to immediately follow up again and put the opponent under pressure. Well, this is where the first serious doubts about the still so-called “fair play” begin.
But that was not enough by a long shot. There came a time when the teams, and especially the players, began to realise that if you were lying on the ground, you could always provoke a stoppage in play because you were protected by the spectators, who drew attention to it by gradually increasing whistles. So it happened that especially players who had caused a dangerous counterattack with a stupid loss of the ball — of course not without quickly attempting to cheat at the decisive loss of the ball, having been fouled and falling down accordingly — simply remained lying on the ground.
What happens now? The players, whose “fouled and injured” player simply lies on the ground regardless of the physical maladies, suddenly stop resisting. The spectators start blowing their whistles and the attackers, who were just ready to swarm out and use the ample space in front of them to score, are forced to play the ball out of bounds. They do so, by now highly reluctant (there was one game in England where they didn’t and scored on the counter-attack; the other team protested the score; it was a real scandal). The seriously injured man is healed by the medicine man with a miracle cure within seconds, the team of the “injured” player also quite correctly gives the throw-in awarded to them back to the other team — yes, they hit the ball far into the opponent’s half so that it goes out as close to the corner flag as possible, apropos “promising counter-attack” –and the spectators still clap their applause artfully.
Fair play is treated a bit like the ball: Kicked and kicked…
By the way, when the officials noticed that not every falling player made his turns on the ground according to the severity of the injury and thus quite a few good opportunities were prevented, they came to the realisation that it should not be left exclusively to the obligation of the so attentive spectators and also not to the behaviour of the opponents on the field when the game should be interrupted, but that it is exclusively up to the referee. This would bring us back to the good old rule. Just like in the old days. If someone is really injured, the game is interrupted.
But it’s not so easy to get rid of the ghosts you called. The people’s soul, once brought to the boil, cannot be cooled down so easily. This means that there is a great deal of insecurity on the part of the players and the whistle blowers. The players know that they can get the crowd against them if they just keep playing. The referee, who I’m sure often realises on the pitch that it’s not a serious injury, is also put off. He would like to apply the rule, only he is not allowed to. The spectators grumble or whistle.
Here is a fairly recent case that gave rise to the record:
On Friday, 20 November 2009, the following match situation occurred in the Düsseldorf – Cottbus pairing from the second Bundesliga: a Düsseldorf player went down in his own half when Cottbus was on the attack. The Cottbus players were unsettled and didn’t really know what to do. They pushed the ball back and forth two or three times. As an away team, you have an even harder time against the boiling popular spirit. They probably hoped that the player would recover quickly and get up so that they could continue their attack. Besides, they could invoke the rules that the referee should be responsible for stopping the game and continue to attack. But they did not want to be unfair at all, although they knew well that the players often only simulate their injuries. Some even stopped playing, did not get back into position, especially as they had to reckon with the ball being pushed out of bounds at any moment, as the lying player simply did not want to get up, possibly because of an injury after all.
Suddenly, a Düsseldorf player energetically intervened. He won the ball for his team. Forgetting the player lying on the ground, forgetting any notion of fair play. Suddenly there was space in front of him, as the Cottbus players had stopped playing. The space was used to good effect, the attack was carried out perfectly, and the score was 2:1. The commentary was typically German, i.e. embarrassing and without any subtlety, with a “it’s their own fault, they could have played the ball out of bounds”. But the ball was in and the goal counted.
There was horror everywhere, complaints from the Cottbus players, the content of which the man with the huge bubble in his head, the man at the microphone, certainly could not convey, but which one could make up oneself. The Cottbus coach, “Pele” Wollitz, was indignant because he saw that his men had stopped playing, precisely to play the ball out of bounds, to be fair, but then it was simply spied away from them, the injured man had surely long since risen again by miracle healing, since it was signalled to him “hey, we’ve got the pill”, that the Düsseldorfers were clearing their own consciences by saying to themselves: “You did go on playing” and so on, are all things that could be perceived – and conveyed – in passing (although that hardly belongs here). It doesn’t change much about an incredible perceived injustice.
But that is not related to this single game situation. It is the injustice inherent in the whole game. The realisation that the choice of means to achieve success is conclusively indifferent, the realisation that the commentators would never show even the slightest bit of sensitivity, for a match situation or for a loser, the realisation that there is definitely no fair play, the realisation that the media only want to give you a game objective that you simply can’t be prepared to accept, namely winning, and the realisation that there will never be a place for a loser in this world again, are all capable of spoiling your enjoyment of this sport.
By the way, the referee, Bibiana Steinhaus, disallowed an absolutely correct goal by Cottbus in injury time to equalise the score at 2:2. The ball came into the penalty area from a corner kick and a Cottbus player headed it in. The goalkeeper did not get to the ball because he was obstructed, if at all, by his own player. However, it is impossible to rule out a goal scored from the penalty area, where there is no physical contact, anywhere. This meant that in the post-match analysis of the match situation, the experts puzzling over what she might have seen or given was actually inconclusive, if one disregards the fact that it was said: “she will have seen some tugging or pulling or pushing.”
That here the question should be raised that even if there had been something like that, that it was guaranteed to have been perpetrated by the striker on the defender and not the other way round? And if it may also have been the case in this situation that a striker actually touched a defender in contravention of the rules, then the next question follows: but if it should be the defender at the next cross who would be “caught” in a comparable way by Ms Steinhaus or any other referee in the same action, then surely he/she would give a penalty? Quitt pro quo?
Since, unfortunately, one can only answer the latter question oneself with a “… not in a hundred years”, in conclusion, and especially in the context of the recent manipulation scandal, one gains the final insight: the referee decides how the game ends. As Christoph Daum once put it a short time ago, and was of course ridiculed for it, since his team had just been denied a goal that was absolutely in accordance with the rules: “The referees are more and more turning from match directors into match deciders.”
And if everything else hadn’t already put you off the sport beforehand, then it’s this last realisation that settles it once and for all. If one did not have the very slight hope that these words would be heard at some point…