Saturday 27 June 2009
Has there ever been a more pointless debate about an incident that occurred during a live TV game than the one involving Millwall’s thrice-taken penalty against Peterborough United at The Den? Honestly, you would think people would have better things to do with their time but it seems everything is controversial these days – even if someone was merely following the rules of the game that are there for everyone to read in print if they can be bothered. Its not as if Peterborough even had a case, which probably explains Posh manager Darren Ferguson’s reluctance to talk about it after the game. He moved. It was caught on camera. End of story. Or so you would think.
The funniest part of the whole incident was keeper Joe Lewis’ adamant stance that he did nothing wrong, despite the fact replays clearly showed that he had moved both on both occasions before the Gary Alexander struck the ball, even if the first re-take was touch and go. He even moved on the third kick but Dave Martin had the good grace to end the farce there and then so we could get on with the game. However, in the days following the game he cried his heart out to anyone that would listen, including The Sun, who love a good story and described the entire incident as “potty”.
“It's a sickener that I saved two penalties and neither counted,” blubbed Lewis. “The ref wouldn't even tell me why. The linesman told me it was because I had come off the line. I got the feeling they wouldn't be happy until Millwall had scored. I wondered if it was worth diving for the third. Had I saved that they probably would have made them take it again.” Well, yes they probably would have because you moved again and this is the point Lewis, the pundits, Sky Sports News and seemingly everyone else who felt aggrieved on Peterborough’s behalf failed to acknowledge fully even if some did begrudgingly recognise it.
Despite changes in the rulebook regarding penalties, goalkeepers are not allowed to move of off their line and haven’t been allowed to for over 100 years. The reason for this is because too many keepers used to charge out to narrow the angle when penalties were first introduced so they only have themselves to blame really. However, the rule about moving on the line has been relaxed in recent years to give them a sporting chance after being told to stand firm until the ball was kicked, which has allowed for a grey area to creep in, similar to that of the offside rule and the non-existence passage loved by so many about “daylight”. A goalkeeper can move up and down his line, flap his arms about like a demented chicken and even do the Grobbelaar spaghetti legs but if he makes a significant move off of his line and makes a save then the kick has to be retaken. Hence why Lewis was penalised. Twice.
Shortly after the game Sky Sports rang up former ref Dermot Gallagher to get his expert insight into the matter and he clarified that yes, goalkeepers can move to adjust their balance within reason but they cannot make a concerted effort to move towards the ball to narrow the angle – as Lewis did on all three occasions. However, he then contradicted himself and muddied the waters by suggesting that although the referee and linesman were technically correct, it went against the spirit of the game. This last comment was particularly baffling. How can it be against the spirit of the game when someone has blatantly broke the rules? Well, it’s not for me to explain why. Best leave it to someone who is more mild-mannered and can offer a more rational judgement. Cue Barry Fry.
“They said Joe moved off his line, but 999 out of 1,000 keepers do the same.”
And there you have it. The saves should have counted because everyone does it. A rationale that’s best reserved for a TalkSport phone-in.
The simple fact is that Lewis broke the rules and was punished accordingly. The problem is that with today’s armchair referees and expert pundits putting the oar in this fact has become lost and rather than accept the fact that yes, the Posh keeper did move off of his line thus gaining an unfair advantage, the linesman and the referee have been put under the spotlight for simply following the rules of the game. Linesman Steve Creighton therefore deserves a little credit for sticking by his guns and being fair with the laws of the game rather than simply let it slide in return for an easy life.
And what about Lewis? It was clear that the decisions affected the rest of his game and he was continuing to play the victim with such comments as “I don’t think I did anything wrong”. He has also foolishly gone on record has saying that he will continue to move when facing any future penalty kicks and will not toe the line. Personally if I was a Posh fan I’m not sure what I would be more concerned about – the fact that your goalkeeper can let a decision get to him so badly or the fact that your goalkeeper doesn’t know the rules of the game.
Older readers may remember the same thing happening to Millwall goalkeeper Bryan King in the early 1970s. However, unlike Lewis, King saved all three spot kicks - and the rules were far less lenient back then. Had the third gone in on that occasion I wouldn’t have imagined King crumbling the way the Peterborough goalkeeper did and he probably wouldn’t have gone crying to the press either. Some people really need to grow up.
Sunday 21 June 2009
Writing in NOLU *105 and in reaction to John Berylson’s comments about the comparatively small attendances at some home games this season compared with US sports, Ant Meads made a point which really caught my eye:
“… the comparison with American sports doesn’t work. The way they are operated on a franchise basis ensures no real local competition for the fan base. Of course Boston Celtics sell out their games when there is no other club for miles.”
Now whatever else you say about Millwall chairman John Berylson, he speaks from the heart. And that’s fine at an emotional club like ours, but how far does the comparison with American sports really carry? Is it a fair comparison even? Nobody is going to argue with him that some of our attendances at The Den this season have been disappointing. That said, historically we have never been blessed with a massive regular support. Rightly or wrongly, that is just the way Millwall. But the comparison with waiting lists US sports clubs is misleading - certainly for as long as we remain in League One or even if we make the Championship for that matter. In fact if we’re going to start comparing, we need to look at America’s national sport baseball – which is as close to football is here in terms of national, historical and cultural importance.
Major League Baseball (MLB) consists of the teams which you are most likeliest to have heard of. Most famously the New York Yankees and JB’s own hometown Boston Red Sox. These clubs regularly draw crowds of 35,000 to 45,000 and as he rightly says, run a waiting list for season tickets. But these are sides which play – and expect to win - a continental competition very similar in size and wealth to the European Champions League. Hardly a straight comparison with Millwall is it? To do that we have to delve down below the MLB into the feeder leagues. These consist of the AAA leagues, which would probably equate to the lower reaches of the Premiership and Championship levels and will consist of teams you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re a bit of a nerd (like me). And then down to AA level – which could be termed a rough equivalent to League One football in English terms. Here you will find clubs that only baseball perverts inhabit. Welcome to my secret world…
Lurking in the twilight zone of minor league AA level, are sides which accept their lot in life as local development clubs for the giants at the top. There is of course neither promotion nor relegation in US sports, so any direct comparison is flawed at best. But let’s take a fairly typical AA side as an example – the Portland Sea Dogs who are coincidentally affiliated to JB’s team the Boston Red Sox. The Sea Dogs play in Portland, Maine – population 64,000, 112 miles north of Boston and America’s 6th most liveable city – like I say, a straight comparison with South Bermondsey isn’t easy…
So what sized crowds do Portland regard as normal? Well for starters their home Hadlock Field has a capacity of just over 7,000. Crowds in the 2008 league season show highs of 7,368 and 6,977 – with lows at 3,000 and a couple of 1,500s. Presumably when their season was a dead rubber. Nothing fantastic then for a club which has the sole market of Portland and surrounding districts to draw on. But even this comparison isn’t fair, because Millwall FC of course do not play in anyone’s ‘most liveable’ city. They play in a corner of South East London competing with at least two MLB sized businesses in Chelsea and Arsenal – and arguably more if you want to include Spurs and w*st *m. Whichever way you look at it, London’s 14 football clubs do not have any of the advantages that their US counterparts do. Perhaps the nearest place to London in American terms is New York City. Both have populations of 8.2 million (Wikipedia) and both are diverse cities that see themselves on a par. So how many baseball clubs play at an equivalent level to Millwall in NYC?
Two? That’s right, ignoring the world famous NY Yankees and moderately world famous NY Mets, who equate to Chelsea and Arsenal in our analysis, there are two minor league baseball teams playing in the whole of the city of New York. Both at A level (League Two in English terms – being generous), they are the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees. What kind of crowds do they draw? Figures aren’t that easy to come by, but in 2001 the Cyclones seem to average around 7,600 and in 2007 a club record attendance of 10,000+ is reported on their website. Good for them too, but given that their competition is one other minor league club and then the MLB giants, that’s hardly bedwetting time is it? Also, despite looking hard, I can’t find any reports of waiting lists for season tickets at AA or A level sides.
So what’s my point? To prove John Berylson wrong and make a monkey of our club chairman? No not at all. I am a very firm supporter of JB and will remain so. No. I merely want to show that, though the Millwall crowd isn’t as big as we all hope at the moment, on the back of five awful years and given who we are and where we are, the fact that we have any fans left at all is a cause for celebration. For that we have to thank JB’s financial backing. We do all of course need to get our families and lost mates back to The Den. But let’s not make comparisons that aren’t fair. I mean it’s a good job he didn’t mention QPR’s attendances when they were in League One. Then it wouldn’t have been so easy to take his heartfelt words apart…
Friday 19 June 2009
I’ve just been able to donate another £150 to the Mizen ‘Jimmybus’ appeal, so making a total of £480 generated by the sales of these badges. This has been a real success and I want to thank everyone who bought one. I took a bit of a punt on getting these made and it’s really heartening to have both covered the basic costs, as well as generate so much money for such a strong cause.
I’m very keen to develop on the NOLU principle of selling something to generate much needed cash for charity. So we may well try this again – with a different design - come the new season. Watch this space…