It has been a telling week in the media. Aaron Ramsey’s dreadful injury, and in particular Shawcross’ tackle, have divided opinions everywhere. More pertinently, the way the story has been presented has differed wildly – while most reasonable writers have noted that it was a terrible and avoidable moment, only some have called for a change of mindset in the English game, while others have shrugged it off as ‘one of those things’.
There is nothing wrong with a difference of opinion. I maintain that the Shawcross challenge was not in the same league as the Taylor or Smith equivalents from recent seasons. Some disagree with me entirely, and that’s fine. Having the debate in the public domain has kept the issue on the back pages for four days, and that can only be a good thing. It is an issue that requires attention.
But at the same time, the absolute worst type of journalism has reared its ugly head as a result. There are certain parties that, for any major news story, wait to see what the general consensus is, and then go utterly against it to create controversy. It is perfectly deliberate – I don’t think for a second that these writers believe the words they write, as no-one in their right minds could subscribe to such a preposterous view.
That comes with the territory in the blogging world – there are so many that some see controversy as the short cut to being noticed. It matters little that 90% of the comments slate the writer, because all they care about is that there are comments. But you should be able to expect better of columnists paid to write for our national newspapers. Unfortunately, some of the more poisonous of their number would rather write an abysmal piece for attention, than an intelligent one that causes less of a stir.
There was a good piece on Gunnerblog yesterday, exposing a few such examples. The published views included the belief that Wenger should apologise to Shawcross for being angry at the challenge (no mention of Shawcross apologising for the challenge), that he was wrong to condemn the challenge in the first place, and even worse – that Ramsey had somehow ruined Shawcross’ glorious England call-up by having the temerity to have his leg broken on the same day. Classy.
Tim at 7am Kickoff then posted another insightful piece, exposing one of the most poisonous articles I’ve ever read, that of a Stoke columnist claiming that Cesc and Wenger couldn’t care less about Ramsey, they just wanted Shawcross sent off and paid no attention to the stricken Welshman. The entry is so packed full of lies I can’t even begin to go into it here, but it is an embarrassing read for even the most blinkered Potters fan.
The trouble is this – by getting angry with these idiots they get the attention they so desperately crave. They sit on the comments section, shouting back at anyone who criticises them, lapping up the extra hits and their moment of glory. Fifteen minutes of fame and all that.
But as I said, that is understandable in a world stacked with blogs trying to differentiate themselves. But former players who are being paid to spout this offensive nonsense? How do they even get the job? If anything, it shames the editors more than the columnists themselves, that such drivel is not only tolerated, but encouraged.
The easy answer is always to say ‘well, ignore it’. But when you read something that is offensive to that degree, it is almost impossible not to react. The only good news is that one such article destroys the credibility of the author – if Collymore wants to make a point he really believes in next week, is anyone going to take him seriously?
The main problem is that these columns shift the focus away from the rational and constructive talk, giving the authorities an excuse to do nothing. You can already see how this is going to go – the debate will continue for the next few days, only to be replaced by a new argument based on whatever happens this weekend. A few lone voices will continue, trying to force the change, but sooner or later everyone will go back to normal. It has happened before, it will happen again.
The FA certainly won’t make any strong decisions. Instead of making drastic changes or enforcing stiff new penalties, they only ever do one of two things. The first is to change trivial rules, usually a tweak of the offside rule, or a change of procedure when a player is down injured. The second is to announce a strong new rule, but fail hopelessly to enforce it. The recent example of this is their claim that if three or more players hound a referee, they will support multiple sending offs. Seen that happen?
We may, at best, have a couple of weeks grace – if a strong challenge comes in early from a Burnley player this weekend, they might be carded. But it won’t last.
All we can hope is that in a few years, we haven’t gone full circle again to talk about another horrific injury. Because ‘I told you so’ plainly doesn’t work.