Aston Villa and the Goals that did not Happen

Aston Villa

The Aston Villa futbol team is embroiled in an interesting situation that gives me the opportunity to speak about the ideas of Enlightened Self-Interest. Aston Villa was involved in two incidents, one last year and one recently and the way those situations played out brings interesting questions to mind in regards to what is best for the team. I’ve written about this before.

The incident a year ago involved Aston Villa and Leeds United. In that game Leeds United was fighting for promotion to the Premier League in English Futbol. I won’t go into details but each year the best finishers in the lower division move up to the Premier League while the worst finishers in that league move down. There are enormous financial interests at stake because being in the Premier League is far more lucrative than being in the lower level.

In any case, Leeds scored a goal while an Aston Villa player lay injured on the pitch. The Aston Villa team largely stopped playing after the injury assuming that game would be stopped. It was not and Leeds, as I’ve stated scored. There was a huge kerfuffle and the manager of the Leeds team, Marcelo Biesla, instructed his players to allow Aston Villa to score uncontested to make up for the situation.

This year Aston Villa is at the bottom of the Premier League and facing relegation. In their game against Sheffield United their goalkeeper fell back into the net while holding the ball. This is a goal. The Video Review team somehow managed not to see this despite it being readily visible to other cameras and almost every fan and player at the game. Play went on. The head coach of the Aston Villa team, Dean Smith, did not allow Sheffield to score a goal at the next stoppage in play.

This leads us to the idea of enlightened self-interest. It is easy to argue Leeds acted against their own interests by allowing Aston Villa to score while it’s equally easy to assume The Villa acted in their behalf by not conceding a goal. But, is this the case?

Leeds generated an enormous amount of goodwill by their gesture of sportsmanship. Their manager and the team as a whole are viewed upon as honorable and decent. Meanwhile, as you can well imagine, Dean Smith and his team are largely being vilified in the press and public forums.

Is the short-term gain of possibly getting to or staying in the Premier League worth the long-term loss of prestige and personal integrity? It’s not a question that has easy answer and different people will put forward reasonable conclusions on both sides. This is often the case when dealing with life, there are no simple answers, despite what pundits might tell you.

Now, of course, I’m no wall-flower. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand and not have an opinion here. I’m not that sort of fellow. If you read my blogs and my novels, you’ll know that I share my thoughts all too freely.

A pat on the back to Marcelo Biesla and Leeds United. You’ve got my support. A job well done. Dean Smith? Aston Villa? I won’t be cheering you on, ever. Not that you care.

Tom Liberman

Ann Coulter Hates Soccer or is Really Bad at Satire

Ann Coulter Hates SoccerIn my endless quest for news I read lots of stories and today, thanks to a lead from Scott Meslow from The Week, I saw an opinion piece by Ann Coulter deriding everything soccer. Normally it’s not something I would take on but I’m going to make an exception in this case because there is a small part of me that thinks Coulter was trying to be funny.

Ann, trust me on this, the piece comes across as angry, petty, and just plain stupid.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I’m a soccer fan and all my great-grandparents were born right here in the United States of America. I’ve been watching soccer since Soccer Made in Germany was on PBS back in the 1970’s. I became a big fan of the Dutch side Ajax when they were dominating the soccer world in the mid 1990’s. I’ve rooted for Holland on the world stage ever since. That’s not really the point of course.

I can understand why some people don’t like soccer. It’s a nuanced game with a huge amount of continuous action but relatively little goal scoring. It’s not setup well for television as there are no natural breaks in the game except half-time. If you don’t like soccer, then don’t watch it. I’m not a big fan of car racing. I’ve got a couple of buddies who love it. I don’t get it, I don’t enjoy it, I don’t watch. I don’t deride them. They love it the same way I love baseball. Good for them. Enjoy life, do what you love.

Coulter seems to be just angry and plain wrong so often it’s astonishing. Her first point is that individual achievement has no meaning in soccer. Tell that to Messi and Ronaldo. She argues that boys and girls play soccer together and therefore it’s coeducational ignoring that girls play football until a certain level and it’s the same in soccer. She argues that humiliation and injury aren’t part of soccer and these are apparently things to be desired. Her point is wrong and wrong. Injuries and embarrassments happen in soccer all too frequently and it’s a shame they do.

Each point, one after the next, is wrong.

This is when I started to think maybe she was writing satirically, trying to be funny. But she’s not. It’s not light-hearted banter, or perhaps I just don’t have a sense of humor. It’s mean. It’s reaching. It’s trying to find reasons to dislike something and associate anyone who likes it with a political party. I’m absolutely certain there are many Republicans who love soccer and many Democrats as well and at least one Libertarian (me). I’m positive political affiliation and soccer love are not in lockstep with one another.

And I suppose here’s my real point. If you like something, I’m glad that you like it. It’s great you enjoy making Star Wars Lego TIE-Fighters. I’m thrilled you get enjoyment from doing it. I’m happy that you’re happy.

What sort of person hates the fact that someone else is enjoying themselves? It’s just nasty. It’s vicious. It’s an indication of a terrible poison burning inside a person. How can anyone be so angry because someone else is having fun at a big old soccer party?

Of course the other possibility is that it was an attempt at satire. Then it’s just bad writing.

What do you think? A poisoned mind that hates everything different? Failed satire? Successful satire and I’m just missing it? I’d particularly like to hear from anyone who is a Coulter fan.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Flopping for Fouls

FloppingI wrote the other day about a situation in baseball where the players actively deceived the umpire and one of the big questions that is plaguing the NBA playoffs this year is a related issued called flopping. It’s not only basketball that suffers from this “strategy” as soccer players routinely hit the ground as if they’ve been brutalized and even in the tough-guy NFL I frequently see the instigator of a little scuffle suddenly fall down from a light tap in order to get a personal foul penalty called on the other team.

To pretend in this manner is called flopping. Flopping is not good for the sport, the fans, the officials, or the players. It is deceit. It is trying to gain an unfair advantage by lying to the officials. The NBA and EUFA (European soccer’s ruling body) are trying to cut down on this practice by calling penalties on the person faking and also fining said individuals. I think this is the correct policy to pursue.

Flopping, embellishing, working the refs; all these things are cheating. It is certainly an acceptable form of cheating. It is certainly practiced far and wide in virtually every professional sport, but it is cheating, plain and simple and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it when the player for the team for which I am barracking (that’s the Australian word for rooting and I like it) does it and it infuriates me when an opposing player does it. It’s out of hand and it should stop.

The question becomes how do we get it to stop? One way is the current system wherein officials call a penalty of some sort on the person flopping. Another is for the league to review video after the game and issue fines for flopping. I wouldn’t even mind some shaming by posting mandatory pictures in the locker rooms around the league of the most egregious violation. All these methods are legitimate. I’m on record as being for methods of officiating games that remove the human element and these tools will reduce flopping also. The reality is that flopping would stop almost instantly if the players themselves would stop doing it, if they would stop cheating and try to win through their legitimate talents.

Mike Golic of ESPN radio’s Mike and Mike in the morning often says that he doesn’t blame the players for doing whatever it takes to win. He played the game himself and his opinion has enormous sway. I disagree with him. I think this winning at all costs mentality is damaging to sports and dangerous for our country as a whole. One of the things that made the United States great was the work ethic of its people. Work hard, play hard. Work fair, play fair.

I would ask Golic if he taught his sons and daughters to lie to get a better grade? To lie to beat out an opponent? That’s all flopping is, lying to get a favorable outcome.

Flopping is an embarrassment to the player, to the team, to the league and there was a time in the United States where integrity in defeat was admired more than winning at all costs. If we don’t think that by allowing floppers to influence the outcome of events we aren’t teaching people that they should flop in non-sporting venues then we are fooling ourselves. We are raising generations of floppers. They will flop at school to get a better grade, flop at home to get out of doing the dishes, flop at work to get a co-worker fired. Do we want floppers running this country or do we want the best and brightest? Would you promote a flopper at work over a hard worker? Have you witnessed floppers getting ahead at work? Flopping isn’t just for the NBA, it’s epidemic and it’s hurting our country.

It starts with personal integrity and setting an example. Explain why it’s wrong even if your team gains an advantage. Boo, particularly when it’s a player for your team doing the flopping. Most of all, don’t ever flop yourself! Give it your all and shake the other person’s hand if you are defeated. That’s what being an American is all about, that’s what builds friendship, that’s what builds admiration, that’s what builds a nation.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (300+ pages of flashing blades)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Sports as a Force of Good

Cards and Cubs CoupleI was watching European football (soccer) on ESPN3 this past Saturday morning and happened to see a rather heart-warming site in the Bayern Munich v. TSG Hoffenheim match. It wasn’t a particularly good match as Bayern won rather easily but at one point there was a goal that reminded me about much of what is good in sport and how it brings people together.

Bayern plays their home games in the town of Munich, Germany in the Bundesliga which is Germany’s top football league. Just to explain how it works to those not familiar with the league systems of football I’ll give a quick overview. Each country has several divisions and the top division is the most important. At the end of each season the teams that finish near the top of their division get to play extra games in special tournaments and this generates a huge amount of revenue. If they are playing in a non-top division they also are promoted up one division for the next season. In contrast, teams that finish near the bottom of the division are relegated or sent down to play the next year in the lower league.

The system is somewhat flawed but what I really want to talk about is what I saw during the Bayern Hoffenheim match. Bayern is one of, if not the, most traditional powerhouse in German soccer with a history that dates back over a century. The play in question involved a player named Arjen Robben making a beautiful pass to Franck Ribery who then scored much to the delight of the near 70,000 fans in attendance.

Why do I make such a big deal about this? Arjen Robben is a Dutch player while Franck Ribery is French. The fans are mostly German.

How can this not be a sign of the progress of humanity?

We think of nationalism and patriotism as good things and I wouldn’t disagree although perhaps the definition of both words is something I should go into detail in another blog but, sadly, those two ideas can be, and have been, used in ugly ways in the past. Love of your own country can be manipulated into hate of another group of people and this can lead to violence and ugliness. When we see sport bringing traditional enemies together it might not be saving the world but it is certainly makes it a less hate filled place. It’s hard to be a racist when your favorite player is of a different race. Not that it’s impossible but again, that’s another topic.

One imagines a world where we fight our wars on the playing field and go to the pub for a beer afterwards with the winners smiling and the losers dreaming of next year while buying each other pints.

So, for those of you who aren’t sports fans why not give your local club a chance this year by going to a few games. Even if you’re not lucky enough to live in Munich, St. Louis, or Hoffenheim you can witness camaraderie that crosses economic and possibly national lines and maybe make a new friend or two as well.

By the way, aside from the Ribery goal Bayern got a hat trick from Mario Gomez. He was born in Riedlingen and has some pretty progressive views about homosexuals in sports.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist