Saturday, 23 January 2010

Rivalries in Football

The BBC Sport website the last week or so has been pretty well populated by stories of the aftermath of Manchester City's 2-1 victory in the League Cup over Manchester United. Tevez's celebration towards Gary Neville after scoring the winner, and the middle finger gesture that it got in return sparked quite a few stories, and the subsequent bitching in the press has furthered it.

It's now gotten to the point where the FA are apparently stepping in to try and diffuse the situation. Personally, I don't agree with that sort of action. I think that to an extent at least it should be encouraged.

A small tribute to Feyenoord, the team I follow in the Eredivisie

Now I'm in no means here saying that violence should be encouraged, or that things should get out of control. I think that cases of fans throwing things at the players on the pitch is utterly wrong, and that outside of the ground things should be amicable. Things definitely shouldn't escalate into riots and violence, as happened earlier in the year when West Ham played Millwall. Fans should get on, and violence just shouldn't come into it.

However, I don't think that any sort of tension or aggravation should be instantly diffused. If there's one thing that can be said about modern football, it's that it quite often lacks the sort of tenacity and passion that it used to have. I don't care how much the players are being paid, or how many of them are English. All I care is that the players care for the club they represent, and go into each and every game with the desire to win and nothing else. They should be going for every ball, chasing everything, putting in the effort that merits their huge salary. I want them to feel how the fans do, elated after every victory, bitterly disappointed after every defeat, regardless of the huge house, trophy wife and various comforts they go home to.

The fact is that the players should care, and I don't see how Manchester United and Manchester City players having a go at each other is anything other than a good thing. The tension should be there. The players should be wanting to win. They should be as passionate and as bitterly involved in the rivalry as the fans are. It's just how football should be. You only have to look at players like Robinho and Berbatov who, talented as they are, come under huge amounts of stick because they basically don't appear to give a shit about the club and fans who pay their wages. In contrast there are players like Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy, who can be forgiven for various poor performances on the ball, because they at least put their heart and soul into the game and worked hard for as long as they were on the pitch.

The fact is that rivalries and derby games are the ones that get the fans stoked up, and they should affect the players in the exact same way. There is absolutely no game in the season (aside from maybe finals) that I care about as much as the match against Manchester United. The rivalry is absolutely massive, and bitter as hell. The Merseyside derby against Everton is also pretty huge, but it's a bit more friendly and there's usually not as much riding on it (sorry Evertonians, but it's true). Sure, not winning the league title last season was gutting for me as a Liverpool fan, but doing the double over the Manc shite and beating them 4-1 at Old Trafford especially was a pretty sweet result.

The rivalries are what football's about. The Old Firm is the only reason anyone still gives a shit about Scottish football, the rivalries between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Inter and AC Milan and the like are some of the most exciting games in football, and the result means a massive amount to the fans involved. I'd take any trophy over beating Manchester United, but the margin isn't that great, and it's important for me that we win derby games like that, because victories like the 4-1 one last season seriously put me in a good mood for like two whole weeks.

Which is why it's important that the players in the game have passion, why they understand the significance of the huge derbies and do everything they can to win it for the fans, rather than turning up for the match just to collect their paycheck. It's why, as much as I think he's an absolute arrogant fuckfaced cocksucker, I can at least like Gary Neville in the respect that he gets into the derby atmosphere and cares as much as most of the fans do. And it's why the FA should just leave the situation alone and not do their best to suck some of the remaining passion out of the game.

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