In recent weeks I have lost a lot of faith in football. Racism, violence, refereeing and ticket prices have grabbed the headlines, rather than football itself. But this week’s action in the Capital One Cup produced a pair of Halloween thrillers to restore some of my love for the ‘beautiful game’.
So far this season has largely been defined by a series of unsavoury incidents that have thrown football back into the dark ages. The fallout from the Luis Suarez and John Terry incidents has spilled over from last year, while cases of fan trouble have been witnessed from down the road in Sheffield, to the murky backwaters of Serbia. If allegations are to be believed, referee Mark Clattenburg is said to have used racist terms towards Chelsea players last Sunday. This was the last thing the game needs. Meanwhile, the on-pitch discussions have focused on diving and dodgy refereeing decisions.
All these scandals have brought the game into disrepute. This is agitated by a British public still basking in the ‘Olympic spirit’ of this summer, who point to the world’s athletes as models of sporting professionalism. Footballers don’t do themselves any favours. The Reading-Arsenal match, with its absurd 5-7 scoreline, does certainly not right these wrongs.
There are problems at every tier of football at the moment, but at least the games this week served as a reminder on the joy of the sport. It truly was a remarkable night at the Madejski Stadium. 12 goals, last minute equalisers, extra-time, diabolical defending – this game had it all. Reading will feel hard done by, but when Marouane Chamakh scores two goals you know it’s not your night. Reading manager Brian McDermott’s reflection that “this feels like a funeral” was testimony to the emotional turmoil that both teams and supporters went through. The dust is still settling and only time will tell the consequences. Can Arsenal use this as the springboard for their first trophy in eight seasons? Will Reading’s defence recover from conceding seven goals?
There was also drama at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea took Manchester United to extra time to win 5-4. Even two goals from the veteran 38-year-old Ryan Giggs were not enough to stop the Blues. Of course, the specter of controversy was looming ominously over West London. Photos appear to show a Chelsea fan making monkey gestures towards Danny Welbeck.
Can football ever conquer this deep-seated problem on the terraces? Two entertaining televised matches can’t paper over the cracks of football’s recent flaws. But what it can do is reignite some passion in the sport as a spectacle and this can be no bad thing.
Author: Hugo Greenhalgh, LS Sports Editor