Great game of footy Tuesday night. Celtic won and went forward to the knockout stage of the Champions League. (The club Championship of Europe.) Some may find it out of character for me to be lauding the victory of a Scottish club over an English one, but you will understand if I tell you that the English club was Manchester United. And although both teams’ managers, one of whom is a Knight, are Scots, it’s the non-Sir, Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, who does not spit his chewing gum out onto the pitch.
The only sour note to the match is my usual gripe: refereeing. There were two crucial decisions in this match, and he got both wrong.
Why, oh why - I’ve just been to the barber’s and am still talking in Daily Mirror-speak - why, oh why, as the game gets faster and more skilful, (not, sadly, thanks to the British-born players, who are hardworking but, Rooney apart, generally pretty unenterprising), do the refs get slower and more indecisive? Worse, why do the more arrogantly stupid ones get picked for the more important games? It seems that the more red and yellow cards you give out, the more impressive your CV, whereas the measure of competence should surely be exactly the opposite: the fans pay to watch football, not referees being rewarded according to the number of times they hold up the game.
The busiest ref. in the Premiership, Graham Poll, has refereed more games than any other this season, and has given out 54 cards, or 4.64 cards per game. The Premiership cards-per-game average is 3.3.
And one last statistic: Poll has issued twice as many bookings to away teams as to home teams. Who's making the decisions?
But the real battle is being fought out at the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane, Oz. The attention of the English-speaking world, with the exception of a few minor colonies, is focussed, not on Baghdad, but on 22 guys in white. In case you’ve been in one of said colonies or on Mars, the Ashes have started. It starts at midnight and ends at 7.30 am UK time – hence my bleary-eyed appearance. I’d like to explain cricket simply, but the only way to understand it is to see it. And if you know baseball it’s even harder.
Unfortunately the ’Gabba is a bit of a graveyard for English cricketers – the Aussies call it the 'gabbatoir' - and things are, as usual, not going well. I was there 48 years ago almost to the day – I was very young at the time – with equally disastrous results: Oz won by 8 wickets with a day and a half to spare. We can only hope for a monumental tropical storm.
Former colonials may be intrigued to learn that England’s opening batsman - if we ever get the Aussies out - will be Alastair Cook. You’re never too old.