The Mike Ireson Column
Like many people I watched England’s opening game of the rugby World Cup, not the best game of rugby you’ll ever see but the right result.
Now I don’t watch a lot of rugby. Normally the England games and maybe the odd part of a game when channel surfing. So I’m often left wondering about the exact rules when various decisions are given but I get by.
What strikes me though without fail and it’s something that as an avid football fan I find amazing, is the discipline of the players.
The contrast between football and rugby in this respect is like night and day. In the rugby you have 30 brutes of men involved in a heavy contact sport knocking seven shades out of each other, but doing it with the manners of country gentlemen.
Some of the contact is eye watering to the bystander but you don’t see one player rolling around clutching a leg or head. They dust themselves off and carry on. Compare this to our beloved football and it can quite frankly be embarrassing.
An aggressive sneeze inducing some players to throw themselves to the ground like they have been shot by a sniper on the upper tier of the stand.
And then there is the attitude of the players. One fascinating thing with rugby is having the referee’s miked up. This allows us a wonderful insight in to how the game is officiated and the reaction of players to decisions.
Everything is done through the captain and the player involved. Both stand attentively, listen to what the referee says then conclude with a “yes sir” and off they go.
In Friday’s game after a decision went against England the referee called captain Chris Robshaw and the player involved over. The referee, explained what he saw happen and what decision he was giving. Robshaw got a few words in to questioning (in a polite manner) the decision. The referee looked at him squarely, said “you don’t get to make the rules up”, Robshaw looked to the floor like a puppy that had been chastened for weeing on the carpet, and shuffled off, scolded and put in his place.
Now compare this scene to the one a few weeks ago at Anfield when Mark Noble was sent off. The referee was surrounded by a pack of slobbering wolves trying to tear at the carcass of a deer. Despite the crackdown this year on players surrounding the referee we failed at the first hurdle.
Can you imagine if the referee was miked up at that moment? It would have been a wonderful insight but the guy on Match of The Day tasked with having his finger on the beep machine would still be off work to this day with repetitive strain injury.
Of course the incident cost the club a £50,000 fine and let’s be honest there will be plenty more fines given out, and not just to us across the season. Footballers at this moment in time just can’t stop themselves.
It’s a discussion I’ve had with a few people as to whether football could ever emulate rugby and change the discipline and manner in which the game is played. The conclusion is usually not and it begs the further question that if it did would it benefit the game.
How would we react if Mark Noble were stood like a naughty schoolboy next to referee whilst the error of his and his team mates ways were pointed out.
We as a crowd play our part in this difference. We will bay for blood at injustices to our team, vehemently defend our boys when they transgress the rules. And that is wholly part of the event.
What would happen if the England rugby team played a game at the Boleyn. And not in front of their usual crowd but in front of us. If we acted the same as we do for football, the cauldron of atmosphere, the passion at each decision and good/poor performance.
Would that transfer on to the pitch? Would players subconsciously begin to act more as footballers do and play up to/along with the crowd? Would that passion from the stands influence the players/referee?
Or is that type of discipline instilled so hard upon those players that no factors could change how they behaved?
And on the flip side what makes footballers lose their discipline? Is it just football culture, are they influenced by the crowd, or are referee’s perceived as weak and susceptible to giving a decision they shouldn’t?
Would a rugby referee change what happened if they officiated a football match, or would every game just end up abandoned with not enough players left on the pitch to be able to carry on?
I suspect the latter.
As much as we bemoan the way football is played would we change it? I suspect not.
Come on England