Soccer: Frames of frustration

By Anendra Singh

It wasn't as simple as sinking one's teeth into an opposition player's shoulder.

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, that is, realising he hadn't had his stress pills that day, proceeded to take a bite off Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic's shoulder a fortnight ago in an English Premier League soccer match.

It was an open/close case, really. No number of replays from different angles would have suggested anything otherwise, such as: "Oh, Luis was feeling a little congested so he was simply trying to blow his nose on the defender's shirt."

That he got a 10-match ban is laughable because in 2010 he had sunk his incisors into the shoulder of PSV Eindhoven player Ottman Bakkal, earning the nickname of "Cannibal of Ajax" courtesy of the Dutch media.

That English soccer authorities didn't take Suarez's history into account is equally mind-boggling.

But I digress, because my preoccupation is closer to home - last Sunday's Central League soccer match at Park Island, Napier.

It's more complicated than a dumb act of an unprovoked bite from some Uruguayan professional.

Did Bluewater Napier City Rovers defender Aaron Jones foul Western Suburbs substitute striker Darrell Hannah?

It's a pretty simple question, really.

The answer, I'm afraid, is anything but straightforward.

Video analyst Tim Motu may have captured some footage but it would be interesting to find if it sheds any more light than Hawke's Bay Today photographer Duncan Brown's two frames of evidence that saw referee Robert Scholes send off Jones in the 53rd minute.

Are the photos conclusive?

I'd say far from it. Ask five people from varied backgrounds and they'll tell you anything from Mona Lisa to apparitions of Elvis Presley having a Kit-Kat because there are too many twists to the plot to return a clear-cut verdict of guilt or redemption.

For instance, in the first photo, English import Jones seems to have got the ball cleanly in the penalty area although Hannah's striking right foot is between the defender's feet. Furthermore, Jones' left arm is hooking Hannah's right arm from behind.

In the second photo, one could argue Jones' curled fingers suggest the intention to hold or yank is undeniable.

The referee reportedly told Rovers coach Grant Hastings Jones had tripped Hannah.

Did Jones' feet come into contact with Hannah's from behind a few frames earlier?

Suburbs coach Lloyd O'Keefe, from his sideline perch, revealed his initial reaction was it looked like a goal-saving tackle until Hannah told him it was a "definite push".

It seems anything short of employing the services of CSI forensic experts will prove to be inconclusive.

The only thing I can say for certain is you have to cut referee Scholes some slack here.

In a split second the whistle-blower has to make a decision on whether Jones is culpable.

No doubt, as English Premier League referees' boss, Keith Hackett, once told me during a whirlwind visit to Napier is that the referees aren't perfect but they can be pretty sharp in perceiving the players' body language - that is, the need to cultivate interpersonal, cognitive and motivational skills to be successful.

Hackett, the former general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), the referees' governing body in a soccer-mad nation, had revealed: "I often say to young referees, 'You're like an actor on the stage, really. If you're tucked in a corner, no one can hear you'."

The retired 67-year-old ref should know because he has controlled matches in 35 countries.

It's fair to say referee Scholes was the best man on the field to interpret that dialect.

Not I from the media box - incidentally, my first reaction was Jones had yanked Hannah - not Hastings or O'Keefe and certainly not the cantankerous few baying for the ref's blood from the cow's corner.

No doubt, Rovers defender Scott Henderson, in the photo frames, must have had some interesting conversation with his family at the dinner table on Sunday night but Western Suburbs will perhaps challenge anything he submits to the contrary.

That brings me to my social division 4 game last Saturday.

When a perplexed opposition player asked why he was pinged for a free kick, the smiling unofficial referee apparently said: "You held his arm. If you had grabbed his shirt you would have been all right."

You see, that's where not only the ref but players and coaches' interpretation of what a tackle is has a huge bearing on culpability.

Does holding a player any time on the park constitute a foul?

I say it most certainly does and, if so, then Jones' sending off was justified even if the ref attributed it to tripping.

It could have been both, although Hannah and Jones could also be accused of auditioning for a role in some Hollywood blockbuster.

However, I say any time you lay a hand on someone in attack or defence then it ceases to be a game of soccer.

Grabbing someone in defence or fending off a tackler with the ball at your feet isn't the beautiful game.

If rules allow that then it ain't soccer - rugby, definitely.

A picture does, as they say, depict a thousand words but, sometimes, just sometimes, fewer words would make life a lot less complicated.

Conversely such adversity also brings out a team's character; something the Blues won respect for with nine men at the final whistle on Sunday despite losing 4-3.

Now imagine what 11 blokes could do with the urgency of those nine men.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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