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Cameroon kick-off won’t harm the game

England boss Neville’s anger, but clash shows they’re just footballers

27 June, 2019 — By Catherine Etoe

England boss Phil Neville. Photo: EL Loko

“THAT wasn’t football, for me,” waistcoated England manager Phil Neville told the BBC on Sunday evening after his team’s bruising Women’s World Cup encounter with Cameroon.

“There are young girls all over the world that are seeing that behaviour and for me it’s not right,” he added.

While a composed England emerged with credit in a 3-0 win that was watched by a record television audience of 6.9million in the UK, Cameroon were castigated for wearing their hearts on their sleeves and their anger in their boots in their must-win Round of 16 tie.

From the white blob of opposition spit that landed on Toni Duggan’s arm, to the shove on the referee, rough-house tackles and near player strikes, it certainly made for uncomfortable viewing.

But was it really not football? Remember when Vieira spat on Ruddock? When Di Canio pushed referee Alcock? When France’s players went on strike during the 2010 World Cup?

Credit to Neville for casting aside the football gonks’ advice to utter only banal niceties in live post-match TV interviews and telling it as he saw it. And he was right – footballers are role models. But, as they so regularly remind us, they are also human.

So for all of their faults, to me, Cameroon were football. They were emotional, passionate, they felt hard-done by and could not hide their frustration. But will girls who had been on the brink of taking up the beautiful game before kick-off now be Googling words such as “netball”, “hockey” and, horror of horrors, “lacrosse”?

I don’t think so.

One thing that might be a turn-off, though, is the refereeing system that prompted Cameroon’s meltdown. Now, I have heard many players support the concept of VAR, even those who could be said to have been on the rough end of it. But many fans, commentators and pundits feel the extent of its use in this World Cup is ruining the game as a spectacle.

Suddenly it’s taking so long to make a penalty decision there’s time to make cheese on toast and do the washing-up without missing a second.

And if you’ve been generous enough to let the kids stay up for the late afternoon kick-off, with time added on for all the VAR faff, you’ll be lucky to get them in bed before the watershed.

VAR will hit the Premier League this season.

It’s hard to imagine it will be allowed to create as much havoc as it has in France, but unless these issues are ironed out, millions more will be uttering words to the effect of: “That wasn’t football, for me.”

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