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Sportsmanship makes fleeting appearance
by Paul Gardner, September 30th, 2012 1:11PM

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TAGS:  england, germany, referees


By Paul Gardner

LONDON -- German striker Miroslav Klose has been much praised -- and rightly so -- for his recent act of sportsmanship. He put the ball in the net for Lazio against Napoli only three minutes into the game. The referee signaled the goal -- and then annulled it when Klose owned up to using his hand to score.

OK, the Napoli players did kick up an almighty stink before Klose confessed and, as things turned out, Lazio was soundly beaten, 3-0, anyway. Never mind, what Klose did was so unexpected, so rare in these days, that it seemed almost shocking. And that’s where we are these days when, in the world of professional sports, a simple act of honesty comes as a stunning surprise. We are much more accustomed to cynical silence, like that of Thierry Henry, whose deliberate hand ball ensured that France, and not Ireland, progressed to the 2010 World Cup finals.

I just used the word “sportsmanship” and I’m right now wondering when was the last time I had occasion to use that word -- not in an abstract sense, but as an accurate description of a real-life action by a real-live human being?

Not for a heck of a long while. We’ve grown used to accepting a rather different attitude, a cynical attitude that regards sportsmanship as a romantic dream. Our acceptance is really something that we should be ashamed of. There has been in England recently a neat, and sad, exposure of the modern attitude to sportsmanship.

Let us pay a visit to the village of Bashley, in southern England. There is a soccer club here, but this is very definitely not Premier League territory. Welcome to a much tinier Premier League, that of the Evo-Stik Southern League -- which the BBC lists as “three steps below” the pro fourth division -- i.e. seven steps below the EPL.

Bashley’s stadium holds just 4,250 spectators. The big game of the year came on Sept. 8, a first-round Cup game against Gosport. Bashley tied that game 1-1 and on Sept. 11, in the return game, was looking for a win at Gosport. Late in the game, with the score tied at 2-2, Bashley scored. Or maybe not. The ball went into the net where the Gosport goalkeeper, in a moment of petulance at having conceded the goal, whacked it hard into the side netting. In which there was a hole. So the ball ended up outside the netting. That was where the referee saw it. Neither he nor his assistant had seen it enter the goal, so all that Bashley got was a corner kick.

The game, still tied at 2-2, went to overtime, with Gosport coming out on top 3-2. Bashley felt cheated, not only of a famous victory, but of the $15,000 that advancing to the second round of the Cup would have brought in.

The story of the phantom goal was not really in dispute. Bashley vice chairman Tim Titheridge told the BBC: “A number of Gosport players, management staff, supporters and officials admitted that a goal should have been given, expressed sympathy and some even apologized to members of our club.”

Bashley felt so aggrieved that it announced an intention to write to the English Football Association (FA) to request a replay. But there is little chance of that. FIFA disapproves of replays, as do most soccer authorities -- they upset schedules for a start, and there is the dreaded possibility of “setting a precedent” that would open the floodgates for numerous other replays.

Titheridge said the referee was horrified when later informed of his error. But he exonerated the referee while criticizing some of the Gosport players: “We don't blame the referee for not seeing it, but we do blame the Gosport players for not owning up.”

But there was no Miroslav Klose among the Gosport players to speak up. “I could not see what happened,” said the Gosport coach Alex Pike, “but after the game I asked my players what had gone on and two said they didn't know, two said it wasn't a goal and seven said it was a goal. The indication is it was a goal.”

But Pike then swept sentiment and sportsmanship aside and spoke with the measured, rational tones of the modern game:

“There is a lot of prize money at stake and I would not expect my players to own up. These things happen in soccer.

“I attach no blame to my players. I can't speak on behalf of the club, but if they asked me I would tell them I am not willing to re-play the game.

“I don't agree that it is an extraordinary circumstance, this sort of thing happens in soccer all the time. A replay would be a futile gesture. What would they do? They are only writing to the FA because they ended up losing. They had the same opportunity to score in extra-time as us.”

Pike’s last remark, of course, completely overlooks the solid fact that it was the phantom goal that took the game to overtime. Without that goal, Bashley was likely a 2-1 winner after the regulation 90 minutes. But even with that huge injustice, it is Pike’s voice, Pike’s view, that carries the day.

Klose reminded us, for however brief a moment, that sportsmanship is not yet dead. But Pike lets us know that it is no match for hard, practical realities.



10 comments
  1. Brian Threlkeld
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 3:16 p.m.
    I like this column, but there seems to be some confusion in the narrative. It reads: ~~~~~ "On Sept. 11, late in the game, with the score tied at 2-2, Bashley scored. Or maybe not. The ball went into the net where the Gosport goalkeeper, in a moment of petulance at having conceded the goal, whacked it hard into the side netting. In which there was a hole. So the ball ended up outside the netting. That was where the referee saw it. Neither he nor his assistant had seen it enter the goal, so all that Bashley got was a corner kick. "The game, still tied at 2-2, went to overtime, with Gosport coming out on top 3-2. . . . ". . . . ". . . . The Gosport coach Alex Pike rationalized, “. . . . They had the same opportunity to score in extra-time as us.” "That remark, of course, completely overlooks the solid fact that it was the phantom goal that took the game to overtime. Without that goal, Bashley was likely a 2-1 winner after the regulation 90 minutes. But even with that huge injustice, it is Pike’s voice, Pike’s view, that carries the day." ~~~~~ That last paragraph just does not make sense with the preceding narrative. "Without that goal, Bashley was likely a 2-1 winner." What??? The text has *been* describing a Bashley goal that was *not* awarded -- but *that* sentence reads as though the news is about a Gosport miss that *was* credited as a goal. To be clear: The only disputed goal that's described in the article is a Bashley goal that was not credited, at a time when the score was tied 2-2. "Without that goal," the score *remained* tied, 2-2. *With* that goal,"Bashley was likely a *3-2* winner" at 90 minutes -- rather than Gosport's prevailing by that score AET. I *think* that puzzling paragraph *should* have read, "That remark, of course, completely overlooks the solid fact that it was the officials' failure to credit a legitimate goal that took the game to overtime. With that goal, Bashley was likely a 3-2 winner after the regulation 90 minutes. But even with that huge injustice, it is Pike’s voice, Pike’s view, that carries the day."

  1. Brian Threlkeld
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 3:53 p.m.
    Alas, I keep forgetting that this comment application eliminates paragraph breaks. What a pain in the behind. ¶¶¶¶¶ Anyhow, Klose's commendable conduct brought to mind a much earlier instance of outstanding sportsmanship -- one that, oddly, was virtually the precise mirror of what happened in the Bashley-Gosport match -- albeit at a *much* higher level of competition. ¶¶¶¶¶ In the 1962 World Cup in Chile, the Soviet Union and Uruguay met in the third match in group play on 6 June. The Soviet Union needed a draw or a win to advance to the knockout stage; Uruguay needed a win. ¶¶¶¶¶ The Soviets were up 1-0 at half, on a 38th-minute goal by Aleksei Mamykin. A 54th-minute goal by José Sasía, against the run of play, tied the game for Uruguay at 1-1. Then, in the 75th minute, the referee awarded the Soviet Union a goal, by Igor Chislenko, putting the USSR up 2-1. ¶¶¶¶¶ At that point, however, Igor Netto, the Soviet captain, conferred with Chislenko, and then went to the referee, Cesare Jonni, informing him by gestures (he and Jonni, an Italian, did not speak any common language) that the ball had not actually gone in the goal. It had passed outside the post, but then gone through a hole in the side netting, thus ending up in the net behind the goal. At Netto's insistence, the referee rescinded the incorrectly awarded Soviet goal, and the score remained 1-1. ¶¶¶¶¶ Eventually, in the 89th minute, Valentin Ivanov scored a legitimate goal, and the USSR won, 2-1, advancing out of the group phase. ¶¶¶¶¶ Here's a photo of Netto: http://pesstatsdatabase.com/viewtopic.php?f=182&t=9435 ¶¶¶¶¶ ~~~~~ ¶¶¶¶¶ Paul rightly notes that "there was no Miroslav Klose among the Gosport players"; we could just as well say that no one associated with Gosport was as good a man as Igor Netto. And, for good measure, let's acknowledge as well that the contrast between Klose and Netto, and, say, Maradona, does not require elaboration.

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 5:41 p.m.
    When I think sportsmanship, I think this incident: http://youtu.be/bS1LuSiRrLI Given his history I don't think we'll ever really know why Di Canio did this, but I like to think it was genuine.

  1. Ihor v Kutynsky
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 5:47 p.m.
    Nice of Klose,but AFTER celebrating,noticing the furor of the opposing team,thinking about the consequence in subsequent games(possible rough play),his reputation,national team chances,it wasn't really such a noble gesture as everyone assumes.

  1. Austin Gomez
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.
    Bah, humbug, Paul! One of the few times that I must DISAGREE with your opinions: SPORTSMANSHIP or SURVIVAList! Miroslav Klose will be playing all season against Italian teams (especially, when Lazio meets Napoli again), and for "Common Sense" purposes of lastin Health &'physical - mental' Well-Being & Safety, Klose better be HONEST & 'confess' (as he did moments later, upon seeing the 'VENOM' of the angry/homicidal Napoli Players! Hence, Klose is a WISE Person in telling the Referee (with "fighting-mad" Napoli as a 'deterrent'). Klose FEARED of what would happen to him later in the Game (without Referee being able to come to his assistance) & thought sapiently to tell the TRUTH (but only as an 'After-Thought)--- only due to FEAR! As the Bible states, 'Fear of the Lord is the first step toward Wisdom." So Klose "wised" up, in other words ..... not in HONESTY but out of FEARFUL consequences later on & in games to come! SPORTSMANSHIP, No! WISDOM, Yes! HERO, No! SURVIVALIST, Yes! let's not make him as "Poster Boy of the Month" but "Smart Man of the Month" (warding off the "Act of Revenge")! Let's set this ACTION straightforth & truthful! As the Romans say: 'Sapientia et Veritas vitam salvam semper faciunt!" ['Wisdom & Truth will always make one's Life SAFE!]

  1. Austin Gomez
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 6:28 p.m.
    btw, Shame - Shame on the Italian Referee! After Miroslav Klose's "confession," this "Handling of the Ball" is a MANDATORY 'Caution,' whenever an Offensive Player DELIBERATELY attempts to Score a GOAL by the use of one's HAND: All the Elements of FIFA's "Letter-of-the-Law" (which can never be set-aside nor broken)! AMEN!

  1. David Mozeshtam
    commented on: September 30, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.
    The Netto story is a lovely story indeed; unfortunately, it's not true. It's a beautiful myth which for many years has been trumpeted in the USSR (and now Russia) exactly as Brian describes it here.

  1. Emilio AlHaq
    commented on: October 1, 2012 at 5:56 a.m.
    One of the first rules of journalism is not to change a quote. Not only has Gardner done this but he has ‘borrowed’ a lot of the content for his column from the BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/mobile/football/19589825. Meaning that this opinion piece is nothing more than extremely poor ‘churnalism’ with Gardner’s usual inept ‘insight’ thrown in.

  1. A douglas Stone
    commented on: October 1, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
    I think there is much confusion in the public about this issue. As someone who has now played soccer somewhat competitively for 45 years I regard a bad or missed call by a referee as just like a bad bounce of the ball, or slipping on the wet turf. It is part of the game and you just have to get on with it. To start showing "sportsmanship" and asking refs to overturn calls that went in your favor would just lead to chaos. One side's clear call is the other side's "I'm not sure if it crossed the line... I didn't have a clear view...my hand was against my body..etc.". It is unfortunate if what seems like a clear call to be made is missed, but trying to decide which ones are clear enough that the other team should "confess" and ask to have it overturned is almost always unreasonable. In particular, in the case of the famous Henry hand-ball, often when a player is running he tries to pull his hands in and trap the ball against his torso but misjudges it and it hits his arm. It isn't really intentional, but he gains an advantage and it should be called - if it isn't then "play on". (I am not Irish or an particular sympathizer of either team). Refs can't see everything clearly. I guarantee that if one side started "owning up' to hand balls, every time someone chest trapped too close to a shoulder people would be screaming at them to confess their sins and we would have - yes - chaos. So all this talk of "sportsmanship" vs. "cheating" is overdone in my view. I do recognize exceptions. Intentionally deceiving the referee with dives or fake injuries (although I agree with Gardner that real diving is rare). Reaching up and hitting the ball with your hand intentionally in a head ball scrum is a tough one, sometimes you lose your balance in the air. But in the end I do think the particular example of Bashley-Gosport is an exception, since apparently the Gosport goal-keeper knew the ball was in and only was able to disguise that fact by the existence of a hole in the net - this is a clear enough case that I would hope for a confession and I don't think it would lead to chaos (as opposed to "did it cross the goal line" confessions - which would). But in general this bemoaning lack of sportsmanship when refs miss a call is overblown - human error in refereeing is part of the game and it evens out.

  1. Andres Yturralde
    commented on: October 2, 2012 at 1:33 a.m.
    Your point is well taken, A douglas Stone. It's a tough call. For what it's worth, I say we try to keep our prejudice and bias aside, and take things on a game-by-game and goal-by-goal basis. Based on the circumstances, I think Klose did the right thing. Whether it was done out of sportsmanship or out of fear is really beside the point.


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