Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Bird-brained approach

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Alessandro Del Piero. Photo / Getty Images
Alessandro Del Piero. Photo / Getty Images

Maybe Gareth Morgan needs a bell round his neck so we can all hear him coming. Flee, flee ...

Maybe we should keep him indoors all the time too - away from the Phoenix, where his well-intentioned presence around a perfectly good football team has coincided with the side's stagnation at the foot of the A-League table.

Not content with telling off Phoenix fans for not buying into his concept of 'total football', for not going to games in sufficient numbers and for incorrectly linking his comments on the Phoenix's playing style with their position on the table, our Gareth has now launched into a bizarre campaign against cats.

As far as we can tell, the two things are not related. Morgan, as one of the Phoenix owners, has been pilloried for suggesting a more entertaining style - one where they attack more, score more goals and attract more support. What a super idea. Wonder why no one else thought of it. Morgan has since protested that this has been misinterpreted as telling coach Ricki Herbert what to do. Funny, that.

As for cats, Morgan - wearing his philanthropic hat - has set up a website dedicated to telling us that cats are 'neighbourhood serial killers', that they should wear a bell round their necks to cut down the bird carnage, should be kept indoors most of the time and should not be replaced once they do the moggy equivalent of buying the farm. Thus our tui and fantails and native birds will be forever protected.

At this point, it's important to say that our Gareth seems a good bloke. His heart is clearly in the right place.

But he turned up at Phoenix training, taking copious notes and maintaining that the team needed to change its style.

Far from leaving the professionals to sort things out, Gareth then gobbed off in an interview about fans who expected immediate results. Just before the Phoenix were savaged in a record 7-1 defeat by Sydney FC, he said that many fans didn't understand the game; that they only looked at the league table; that they wanted instant gratification, such a change didn't happen overnight and that such impatience was "pathetic".

Terrible timing, but Morgan should acquaint himself with the tale of George Reynolds, the former owner of Darlington FC in the UK.

A self-made millionaire, Reynolds arrived at Darlington in 1999, vowing to take the little club into the Premiership. His first act was to build a stadium that held nearly 30,000 people. Ambitious, as their average crowd was about 4000. He then oversaw a regime which failed to bring in players necessary to take them through the divisions but which accrued large debts while the stadium remained under-populated. In 2005, after leaving the club, he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to three years in jail.

There's also the tale of Bristol Rovers, another lower division UK club. Their owners were so full of their own importance that they did not even realise they were being scammed when fake feng shui consultants advised them to shift the directors' box 45 degrees. Everyone inside had to watch the football by painfully craning their necks around. They also approved the placing a goldfish bowl, complete with goldfish, behind the goal so Bristol would score more. We are not suggesting Gareth & Co are heading for jail or even that they might be interested in goldfish. There's too many cats around for that.

But he might do well to consider that Manchester United's owners don't usually turn up at the training ground. Drumming up support by slagging off the fans is also a novel marketing concept.

When Sydney beat the Phoenix 7-1, one goal was made with a quite beautiful dummy by Alessandro Del Piero. Wasn't he a world class player from Italy? They turned up in their busloads to see him when Sydney played in Wellington. Bit of a clue there as to what might get fans along...

There's two points to be made - 1) sometimes money has to be spent to make money (to buy players suited for a style change rather than trying to force square pegs into round holes) and 2) Arsenal. For decades, the latter won games 1-0, were involved in many 0-0 draws and were consistent high achievers. They never had a problem filling their stadium.

Much of professional sport is built around a strong defence. I know this to be the case in football as, for many years, I have been a Tottenham supporter and thus only too cognisant of the effect of defensive frailties.

Winning attracts supporters. If the Phoenix were up the business end of the league table that Gareth doesn't like us looking at, their support would be enhanced. I'd bet our two cats on it.

Willy is fat, complacent and has never caught a bird in her life. Molly is a lean hunter and has caught some birds - but never a fantail nor a tui. She has also caught a small army of rats - most of whom have been released alive in the living room while she is suddenly diverted by the need to wash behind her ears. I'm not sure what this proves except to cock a snook at the so-called "scientific" evidence about domestic cats (as opposed to feral) and native birds.

Tell you what, Gareth, we'll put a bell on Molly if you wear one to Phoenix training.

- Herald on Sunday

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