I think it’s been as good a competition as I’ve seen for many, many years. We’ve seen some wonderful football, some spectacular goals, some magnificent individual displays and team performances which have taken the breath away. We have seen colourful fans and superb stadiums.
We have seen so much that is good that it seems awful, genuinely awful, to have to focus on the bad, but the bad has come through loud and clear too.
So, unfortunately, tragically, has the ugly. This has been a World Cup of contrasts.
Football is a wonderful game. I know of no other sport where there is such drama, where there is such excitement, which requires such a high degree of skill from its players or can generate such emotional investment from its fans.
I watch other sports, and I even enjoy some of them although many leave me baffled and unmoved. Football is the supreme game, the one that will always be my favourite, the one that will always have a place in my heart.
It offends me to see men like Sepp Blatter treat it with such callous disregard. You cannot watch the rulers of our sport and not feel disgust and contempt. The decision to award a World Cup to Qatar is a travesty, and so palpably corrupt that it it is almost unbelievable that they’ve gotten away with it, and would now bend the whole game to support their dishonest decision. The sheer scale of what has happened here is hard to quantify, and with so much money on the line it is hard to argue against it being an act of gross criminality.
Yet even as the game was still reeling from the pre-tournament revelations about bribery, Channel 4 dropped another bombshell with its documentary on match-fixing. I watched it with the same stunned anger I’m sure many of you felt, and asked myself the same question. How long have we been watching a rigged game?
Here, in Scotland, we had years of it, and some of the people directly responsible for it remain in post. Never has it been so apparent to me that reforming the game is a task requiring action way beyond what happens on our doorstep. If all of Scottish football’s guilty men walked off the stage tomorrow, leaving in place the kind of leaders we deserve, then it would be a step in the right direction but no more.
The higher one goes on the football ladder the more the stink makes you want to gag. For years we have asked why FIFA and UEFA have not stepped in and taken some of these matters out of the SFA’s hands. Watching the behaviour of the governing bodies over the last few months you get the distinct impression that these are the last people we want coming to our rescue.
There is too much graft in the game. Too many little favours being done behind the scenes. The more you look at the bigger picture the more you come to suspect that the reason we’ve never had FIFA or UEFA intervention is that they can’t do it, because then they’d risk exposing their own malfeasance and their own hypocrisy.
Scottish football, and UEFA, lost David Taylor recently, when he had a heart attack in his office. Taylor was not a trailblazer or a radical. He was a bureaucrat, an administrator, a box checker. He did as he was told, and he wasn’t there to rock the boat, although this boat is in serious need of some rocking. He was an uncontroversial figure, maybe because during his time here there was so much that was still under wraps.
Those days are gone. There are no secrets anymore. We know who the guilty men are and what they’ve done.
If his replacement comes from Scotland it will probably be someone mired in the scandal of the last few years, and, as such, it will probably be someone who will fit in nicely with the UEFA and FIFA culture of back-door deals and contempt for the ordinary fans.
Whilst the sport has never been more loved, when the spectacle has never been better, when the game itself has never been this good to watch, I have to remind myself that it’s still waist deep in scandal, that the barbarians are not at the gates as much as they inside the walls having a Hell of a party. There is no sign of it coming to an end.
What it makes me realise is that our battles here in Scotland are only the start of the fight we’re facing on a wider front. The game itself has never been this good, but its governance is broken at every level, and no revolution in the way the sport is run can be won or lost in a single nation. Changes are needed on a much larger scale.
The Augean Stables of Nyon and Zurich, and the regional HQ’s in Miami, Kuala Lumpur, 6th of October City, Luque and Auckland too probably, need cleaning out every bit as badly as those at Hampden Park, perhaps more so, because if our supporters revolution in Scotland ends up in their hands I want to know, we all want to know, that those hands are clean.
That’s the bad, the bad of this World Cup, along with heavy handed policing.
Which brings us around to the ugly, and we’ve had our share of that too.
There is a truly gruesome YouTube video going around of a vicious biting incident, one that turns the stomach to watch.
I refer, of course, to the England supporter attacked inside a ground, apparently with a racial motivation. What makes this worse, what makes it raise the hackles even more than it otherwise would, is that it was carried out by a fellow England fan.
Truly there is no place at all in football for the kind of person who would do this. A biter and a racist. Either one should have you drummed out of the sport forever … but a combination of both? Which club would want him associated with it? Which nation would want him to walk around underneath its flag as a representative?
We all know the answers, because this mindless thug’s behaviour off the pitch has been mirrored, in ghastly fashion, by the fallen star of this year’s competition, Luis Suarez.
As last season wound to a close I think it was impossible for any true neutral not to have gotten swept up in the drama at Liverpool and their quest to win the title for the first time in decades, and coming during the poignant Hillsborough anniversary commemorations.
Everyone connected with the club, from their charismatic and brilliant young manager Brendan Rogers to the captain Steven Gerrard, who had one of the finest seasons in his career, pulled together in an effort to get the club over the line, and they came agonisingly close to making it.
Luis Suarez was one of the driving forces in the team, and his presence was the only reason I felt mild disquiet as I cheered the club on through the final series of games.
When Jose Mourinho and Chelsea snatched three points by virtue of some of the most negative football I’ve ever seen in my life my anger was intense, and real, and I shared Suarez’s frustration. I didn’t bite anything. When, against Palace, they shipped three goals and blew a golden chance to regain momentum, and I watched Suarez and the other players looking genuinely devastated I mustered a little human sympathy for him, but not much more.
His World Cup goals ought to have been the crowning glory in a season where he took giant strides towards rebuilding his shattered reputation, but today it’s in ruins again.
Some have labelled it a personal tragedy for the player, but they appear to be largely ignorant of how little impact it will actually have on the life of someone who’s wealth is in the tens of millions at present, and who knows full well there are clubs out there, including his own, who are willing to increase his fortune by millions more.
Liverpool and Uruguay have come out in defence of the player. Kenny Dalglish has said the club has to hold on to him. There has been an eruption of anger against the governing body for taking what many see as draconian action. Everyone involved in this outpouring of support for someone as disgraced as Suarez ought to be ashamed.
On the day Leigh Griffiths signed for Celtic I posted an article where I expressed my delight at the move, but I posed a question as to how much football fans will accept from their heroes.
When he was caught signing the Rudi Skacel song in an Edinburgh bar just a few weeks later I was torn between wanting Celtic to aggressively protect the player from the firestorm the media was trying to whip up and wanting him read the riot act for what he had done.
There was no point where I was in any doubt that his behaviour was idiotic at best, and I finally accepted the media’s coverage as something unpleasant but necessary, because regardless of what people think of the press those who were trying to excuse Griffiths behaviour by pointing the finger of blame elsewhere were only kidding themselves on.
The Green Brigade took appropriate action to let the player know what the feeling in the stands was, and I thought it reflected well on them, and on this club, that Leigh was well and truly put on notice by the supporters themselves, and told to screw the nut. The club should have gone further and sent him to every Kick It Out workshop going, and he may yet face criminal charges for what he did, but all that is by the by. The people who count most – the fans – have drawn the line, and it has answered the question I set for myself in that article.
Liverpool is a greater club than the one that is grubbing around after an idiot who has disgraced their jersey. It is sad to see so many of their supporters refuse to accept that it is Suarez – not FIFA – who has damaged their club and brought shame to it.
It is shocking to see them pander to such a low-life.
This is football though, this is the dark side of the Beautiful Game, one where we excuse people anything as long as they can kick a ball.
On the night Suarez was given his ban I watched, with fascination, as Gordon Strachan shot down an entire studio of talking heads as they tried to label the player an aberration and the behaviour of the Uruguayan FA as out of touch for continuing to support him. Gordon pointed out, and rightly, that it is sheer hypocrisy for anyone in the game to accuse these people of behaving outrageously when, as he put it, this is a sport that had defended adulterers, drug abusers, wife beaters and all.
The problems are not confined to Luis Suarez, but to the whole culture that swirls around the game, which glories talent with the ball above the moral side of the sport, above social responsibility, a game which forgives domestic violence, blatant criminality, which has convicted criminals pulling on jerseys on the pitch and sitting in the stands, in charge of clubs.
It is the game that forgives debt dumping on a grand scale, which lets a rapist emerge from his disgrace and his imprisonment and finds him a club, revealing an utter contempt for the supporters which takes your breath away. It is a sport whose leaders are corrupt, whose players are greedy and overpaid, a game run on money and what keeps the taps pouring it out … a game I love more than I ever have.
This World Cup has been wonderful, and it’s shown the Beautiful Game in a more beautiful light than I’ve seen it for years.
Yet with the good, we must take the bad, and with the bad we must accept the ugly.
If only it wasn’t so, but it is. And you can live with it or you can try to change it.
Full credit to everyone out there who’s trying to do just that.
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