Saturday, April 09, 2011

Rooney, Rangers and Governing Football

When football authorities talk, the world listens.

Some applaud, others get their underwear of choice twisted, many gloat. Most dissect, discuss, debate.

Two very different examples this week raised similar questions.

The English FA banned Wayne Rooney for two matches for his less than eloquent response to scoring a hat trick against West Ham.

And UEFA have threatened to come down hard on Rangers for the hellish karaoke of their travelling supporters.

Both bodies have the authority to act.

And act is something they like to do every so often to prove that they still exist and they still have that authority.

The fact that Wayne Rooney's traditional articulacy makes him unlikely to start beguiling us with snippets of Kipling as he meets with his own triumph and disaster is widely accepted.

That Rangers fans on trips abroad are unlikely to enhance the breathtaking architecture of mainland Europe with moving performances of Handel's Messiah is nothing new.

That doesn't mean the authorities should not act.

"You've let us away with it before" is no defence at all.

Moreover we know, and our experience of this in Scotland might be particularly bitter, that footballing authorities are hardly set up to be rapid response units.

They look, they hear, they ignore, they bury their head in the sands, they deflect.

And then, finally, they act.

All of this is nothing new.

What interests me about this week's response is what comes next?

Are the English FA really now going to be cracking down on every instance of bad language? Or only the incidents that are caught on camera? Or only the incidents that come shortly after the FA have launched a good behaviour initiative?

Is Rangers fine from UEFA and the banning of away fans a punishment based on previous bad behaviour? Is it now a standard fine for certain behaviour by fans? Or will it only apply when fans indulge in behaviour that has politicians and journalists in a flap in their home countries? Will it only apply to teams who have been in games that have recently been criticised by UEFA's top man?

None of this is in any way a defence of Wayne Rooney. And this blog has been consistently critical of what some Rangers fans to consider to be acceptable behaviour at a football game.

What I don't like are kneejerk reactions that aren't then followed up by more action.

The FA might have appeased those whose moral outrage was given another airing when Rooney snarled into the camera.

But how many examples of bad language will go unpunished this weekend? At how many grounds in England will language that is both foul and abusive be ignored both on and off the pitch this weekend?

And what of UEFA and Rangers? Will it be publicly stated that this is the first in a sliding scale of punishments? Or is this just a one off?

Because as it stands I don't see a £100,000 fine and a three game ban doing much to dissuade some cretins of their right to sing whatever they want. I suspect that a three game ban on away fans will be seen as a challenge, another way to earn a badge of honour.

Will UEFA be calling on the SFA to explain their role in allowing Scottish football to reach 2011 with issues of sectarianism still hanging over us like a polluted smog?

Will every club in Europe that has had reported problems with fans behaviour, with racism, sectarianism, homphobia, be given notice that this is a new, tougher UEFA?

I suppose we'll have to wait and see. For now, I'll remain pessimistic.

These are different crimes. And I offer no defence for Wayne Rooney or for Rangers.

But I think it illustrates the way in which football's governing bodies fail the game.

Will a two match ban from the English FA do anything to dissuade footballers, and in this case Rooney is a figurehead not a one-off, that they're not an over protected group of giant man-children, essentially untouchable by even the game's highest authority?

Will fining Rangers £100,000 and banning their fans from away games really be interpreted by those fans as UEFA saying that their songs and chants will never again be tolerated? Will fans of other clubs see what's happening to Rangers and decide en masse that they should leave their own brand of ignorance at the turnstiles the next time they go to a game?

I suspect not.

And partly that's because the FA and UEFA have fallen into the trap of the publicity stunt punishment rather than the positive attempt to rid the game of problems.

Like the worst sort of politician, those who run football now see the impact of a headline in the short term being more important than real change in the long term.

That is a dereliction of their duty.

But, happy that they've done something and - far more importantly - been seen to do something, the FA and UEFA can again get their heads down and say nothing more.

They can adopt their more comfortable positions of cosying up to big name players and kneeling before the demands of big clubs.

Meanwhile, matches sat out and fines paid, footballers can continue to live as cossetted, snarling bullies and the unreconstructed fan can continue to use his support of a football club as a rallying point for a war against decent behaviour.

And, counting the cash in their ivory towers, UEFA, the FA, the SFA et al might not even notcie as the silent majority of supporters simply drift away from a game that is being stolen from them.