So often the stories we choose to write, and to read, about football have absolutely nothing to do with the match on the pitch. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. It merely reveals the fascination we have with the game—with the heroes, the villains and the storylines that make football, well, more than just football.
Unfortunately, more often than not those stories have a tendency to rile and insult and ignite tribal loyalties. Take Saturday’s events at Loftus Road, for example. The anticipation for Chelsea’s visit to Queens Park Rangers was based mostly on whether Anton Ferdinand would shake the hands of John Terry—who was alleged to have racially abused the QPR defender nearly a year ago—and Ashley Cole, who publicly defended Terry following the incident.
Ferdinand snubbed both, and the next day’s papers were littered with the sort of garbage only a ridiculous pre-match ritual and one of football’s most reprehensible characters (the timing of Cole’s hock-a-loogie was not a coincidence) could expel. Of course, it helped nothing that the actual match was utterly dire.
So began the fourth match-day of the 2012-13 Premier League season. Thankfully, it was closed out on a rather more uplifting note.
Ahead of Monday’s contest between Everton and Newcastle, Goodison Park put on a short, simple, yet moving and exceptionally classy pre-match ceremony in memory of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Last Wednesday’s release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s findings had exonerated Liverpool fans of blame for the 1989 stadium crush, and prior to kickoff Everton Football club made a heartening display of solidarity with the fans and families of their local rivals.
“Evertonians have been unshakable in their support of the victims,” stated the public address announcer as two mascots—one in Everton’s blue; the other in Liverpool’s red—walked onto the field. The entire ground applauded as the names of the 96 scrolled across the Goodison screen, which at the end of the presentation had a final, stirring message: “Merseyside United.”
What an entirely different range of emotions than those aroused at Loftus Road, and how altogether better.
Stories, whether about football or anything else, don’t have to be controversial to capture the imagination; they don’t have to be crude to captivate. Good stories, like the one told at Everton on Monday, are good because the narrative, in and of itself, is good.
Obligatory goal-line technology paragraph: Of course, there was a football match that took place at Goodison Park on Monday—one that managed to bring the goal-line technology issue back to the fore. I’m well and truly tired of this debate and have covered it extensively in the past. Therefore, I’m merely going to link to this, this and this (the latter is a Q & A).
But the basic equation is this: Ball Crosses Line + Goal Not Given + Technology Exists + Fans Know Correct Decision Because Of Replays & Mobile Devices = Game Risks Disconnect With Fans That Could Lead To Its Being Thrown Into Disrepute. Simple.
Comebacks: Never a dull moment when AS Roma are playing. After going 2-0 up inside the first 16 minutes through Alessandro Florenzi and Erik Lamela the Giallorossi, who hosted Bologna on Sunday, conceded three times in the final 18 minutes to completely blow what looked for long spells to be a comfortable result. Alberto Gilardino was the hero for Bologna, scoring twice and assisting the other as Bologna fought their way back to earn their first win of the season.
Rayo Vallecano quite nearly pulled an even more impressive comeback on Sunday against Atletico Madrid. Atletico, who are an adventure at both ends of the park, had taken a 4-0 lead into the final 10 minutes before it all nearly fell apart. Andrija Delibasic scored twice in three minutes for Vallecano to pull the guests to within a pair of goals, and in the 89th minute Leo cut the lead to one.
Atletico manager Diego Simeone refused to throw his players under the bus following the tense finish, instead taking the blame on himself for what he said were a series of “rushed” substitutions. “I think they were doing pretty well; then I rushed into the changes,” he remarked in his post-match press conference. “I hurried the substitutions and the responsibility for the end of the game is mine.”
Plummeting Palmeiras: Don’t look now, but Sao Paulo club Palmeiras could find themselves in the unusual situation of being relegated this season while still qualifying for the Copa Libertadores—South America’s Champions League equivalent.
Following Sunday’s 2-0 derby defeat at home to Corinthians, Palmeiras are second from bottom in the Brasileirão and are also on the hunt for a new manager with just 13 matches remaining on the schedule. World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari was dismissed by the club last week and the Verdão have now won just three of their last 14 matches in the league.
Eight points stand between Palmeiras and safety, yet because of their improbable victory in the Copa do Brasil they have automatic entry into the second stage of the 2013 Libertadores.
Let’s talk about Marseille: They’re not flashy (which is probably why they’ve managed to fly under the radar somewhat) but Marseille’s 1-0 win away to Nancy on Sunday maintained their 100 per cent record in Ligue 1 and moved them two points clear above Lyon at the top of the Ligue 1 table.
The Ayew brothers—Andre and Jordan—have been key to the Marseille attack, along with the suddenly-rejuvenated Andre-Pierre Gignac, but it’s been in defense where L’OM have really impressed this season, having allowed only one goal in five matches. Rod Fanni and Nicolas N’Koulou have been rock solid in the heart of the Marseille defense, and 31-year-old midfielder Benoit Cheyrou has quietly gone putting together a fantastic start to the campaign in the centre of the park.
Marseille were a decent defensive side last season despite a 10th place finish that was down to an inability to find the back of the net more than anything else, and if new manager Elie Baup can somehow coax more goals out of his side this time around he might well be celebrating a championship in eight months’ time.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer