In fairness to football, nobody has actually tried to defend Callum McManaman’s stud-based inquiry into Massadio Haïdara’s leg last Sunday—except, that is, Wigan owner Dave Whelan and the Football Association, the people with power and influence. Then again, that was enough to remind us that the people with power are largely (and I hope this doesn’t sound unpleasant) thick, thick, thickos.
Whether it’s Whelan, with his classic insight that “The ball was there and McManaman got the ball as clean as a whistle,” or the FA with its refusal to review—and therefore indirect endorsement of—the incident based on archaic precedent, the men with their hands on the triggers appear to be operating below normal capacity in terms of brain power. They are a leg short of a chair; they are an eyebrow short of a symmetrical face; they are a Dan Brown novel. We’re so often driven to believe that these people are selfish, money-mad con men that it’s easy to forget they are usually stupid too. Here is a reminder.
The concern with Whelan’s quotes, of course, is that his is not a willful ignorance, patched together as a part of some slick PR campaign. When he says that his team’s player “got the ball as clean as a whistle,” alongside admitting that he has actually, genuinely, seen the incident to which he’s referring (the large-scale merger of Callum McManaman’s foot and Massadio Haïdara’s leg), there’s a real chance that he might really mean what he’s saying. Imagine that. He might believe his own words. For this to be the case—for him to really mean it—serious mental deficiency is a required explanation. It is not for me to question another man’s intelligence, but conveniently his own words have already completed an exhaustive inquiry.
Some detail for you. Whelan reckoned that McManaman “played the ball” first and “then followed through and they collided.” That, alone, isn’t an entirely unfair version of events, though it does nonchalantly skip over quite how hard and high that “follow through” was. But to take from even that description the conclusion that the Wigan player, McManaman, got the ball “as clean as a whistle” is either a fundamental misunderstanding of the phrase “as clean as a whistle,” supposing that it means “not very clean; if anything, extremely dirty,” or a fundamental misunderstanding of the core idea of getting the ball “cleanly” in a tackle. The deal with a clean tackle is that you don’t break the opponent in half either before or after getting the ball, David. Football 101.
For further clarification, if you murder an opponent and then walk away with the ball in your hand, you can’t say you won the ball cleanly. And our man Dave Whelan would probably agree with this. But, Dave, the same rule does apply if you take the ball from an opponent and as a part of the very same movement you murder them. It seems simple to me, but my genius does often obscure how complex some of the ideas I’m writing about can be, so I thought it was best to explain in detail.
So, that was Whelan’s opinion. A very rich man, who owns a Premier League football club and has all of the opportunities to influence other people that that position suggests. It was nice also to see some quotes of his from a couple of years ago complaining about a red card not shown retrospectively to Wayne Rooney when playing against his team: hypocrisy, another joint venture between David Whelan and Other Stupid People.
Alone that might have been bad, but then the FA joined in, confirming that “In the case of McManaman, it has been confirmed that at least one of the match officials saw the coming together, though not the full extent of the challenge. In these circumstances retrospective action cannot be taken.” Or, in short, that it is bound by its own rules and so can’t punish a stupid lunge which deserves to be punished. And why has it restricted itself to not using retrospective action when a referee has seen an incident? It’s never quite said—rule-making is a closed-off, secretive business, you understand—but we’re left to suppose that it’s one of three reasons: 1. It might undermine referees. 2. There would be too many appeals. 3. Watching replays on TV gives people headaches.
None of those three anti-retrospective action points stands up, obviously. First, referees are already undermined when everyone can see that they’ve made a huge mistake like on Sunday, and a system which can admit its own mistakes has more integrity than one that can’t. Second, worrying about resources rather than justice seems to run counter to point one, worrying about undermining referees, and what’s more, is clearly the work of The Baddies. Third, no-one would have had to watch more than one replay of the McManaman challenge to know that it deserved a red card.
That wasn’t a very difficult deconstruction to do because the arguments weren’t very subtle or well thought out, and that’s even before anyone talks about the idea that retrospective action needs to be kept of the table to help maintain a link between top-level and grass-roots football. Or, in short, it wasn’t a very difficult deconstruction because the FA and people like David ‘Davo’ ‘Dave’ Whelan really aren’t very clever.
The people in charge, we’re left to conclude, aren’t very clever. I don’t know if I’d prefer it to be this way or for them to be doing it deliberately. There is a solution though: revolution. I’m on my way to FA headquarters looking to come out with someone’s head on a stick. Please join me, I will bring the stick.