The Peter Corrigan Column: Hot on Totti, cool on total mayhem

Click to follow
The Independent Football

We must be grateful that the Italian FA and their mouthy star Francesco Totti have decided not to appeal against his three-match ban for spitting in the face of Denmark's Christian Poulsen during their match last Monday. We will thus be spared a repeat showing of Totti's ability to produce such an impressive amount of spittle and dispense it with telling accuracy.

We must be grateful that the Italian FA and their mouthy star Francesco Totti have decided not to appeal against his three-match ban for spitting in the face of Denmark's Christian Poulsen during their match last Monday. We will thus be spared a repeat showing of Totti's ability to produce such an impressive amount of spittle and dispense it with telling accuracy.

Although he was eventually persuaded that an appeal would only prolong the disgrace, his lawyer had already flown in to work on a submission which would have been based on Totti "being a sensible and socially responsible person who has helped people in difficulties". Presumably, this eagerness to assist his fellow man is never better illustrated than when someone bursts in flames in front him and Totti keeps him doused down until the fire brigade arrives.

The other point is that an appeal tribunal might have flung him out of the tournament. His appalling behaviour, no matter what provocation he claimed to have received from Poulsen, deserved no less.

Would that the disciplinary zeal Uefa showed over Totti was evident in certain other messy areas - particularly in the goalmouths when corners are being taken. It's like watching scenes stolen from Come Dancing. Obviously, players are going to jostle for space and position as they wait for the ball to arrive, but what is happening is more akin to taking your partners for the Gay Gordons. Arms are linked, waists are encircled, toes are trodden on and helpful hands take up any slack in the shirts.

And these heaving mêlées take place right in front of referees, who, if they are watching, do so with unseeing eyes. It is difficult to make the accusation that this abandoning of vigilance is in any way condoned by officialdom. But it is strange that the referees' attention to detail in every other activity on the pitch, which is so acute, should suddenly be invaded by acquiescence when a corner is awarded. It is as if goalmouths have been designated as areas into which referees are warned not to go unless there are at least two of them. Let's be fair, what happens in those few seconds before the ball comes in, with 15 or even more players contesting a few square yards, takes some policing.

This is not a new phenomenon. One of the few lasting memories of last month's FA Cup final between Millwall and Manchester United is of Dennis Wise endeavouring to shadow Paul Scholes for a corner by getting inside his shirt.

But the referee did something about that. No one is doing much about it in Portugal, and the fact you are watching two games a day tends to emphasise the problems. Indeed, it adds greatly to the viewing fascination if you keep a close eye on who is doing what to whom. During Holland's game against Germany on Tuesday, Ruud van Nistelrooy was pursued by a grappling defender so ardently that it would have provided enough evidence for Uefa to consider bringing in a sexual harassment law.

Such laxity in this area makes some of the harsh decisions even more of a mockery. Paramount among the injustices so far was the sending off of the Russian goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov in their match with hosts Portugal.

A Russian defender made such a hash of a back-pass that the keeper was forced to dash out of his area to try to get to the ball before the advancing Pauleta. The ball was a yard outside the box when they reached it simultaneously. Ovchinnikov had gone in with his feet and won the ball, but as he fell back from the impact it might have looked from where the Norwegian referee, Terje Hauge, was standing that he handled the ball. The video replay suggested that he didn't touch it and that, if he did, it was slightly with his forearm and not intentionally.

Hauge did not have the benefit of the replay, but there would have been more than enough doubt to justify him holding back on the mandatory red card. Happening just before half-time, the dismissal had a profound effect on the game. Portugal went on to win and Russia were doomed to a quick homeward journey.

Where referees have been consistent is in whistling up the scything tackles that occur with worrying frequency around the halfway line and thus out of danger. Bookings are plentiful in that area, but do not seem to be working.

What we have seen so far helps to convince me that football should introduce a rugby-style sin-bin. Ten minutes in the cooler would carry far more impact as a deterrent and might save a few red cards. The sin-bin would have been far fairer punishment for Switzerland's Bernt Haas on Thursday night. As it was, his red card helped to change the course of the game. England are likely still to have won, but the game would have lasted longer as a contest. And that's the main thing, isn't it?

Greedy, but not evil

Everyone agrees that what St Helens rugby league players Sean Long and Martin Gleeson did in betting on their team to lose in a match against Bradford on Easter Monday was wrong. Equally, all agree that there was no hint of skulduggery or any suggestion of match-fixing, and the amount of subterfuge involved can be gauged from the fact that both placed the bets in their own names. Yet on Thursday night a Rugby League panel banned them for three and four months respectively and ordered them to pay fines and costs totalling £10,000 each. St Helens added to their burden by deciding not to pay them during their suspension; a bit of opportunist cost-cutting that will go down well with the shareholders.

It was an extremely harsh punishment for an offence that ought to have been judged not by the stern mores of the past but in the light of the galloping gambling habits of the present day. And not a word of admonishment to the bookmakers whose incompetent odds-making led to it all in the first place.

Of course, we cannot tolerate players betting on their teams to lose, but this was more a case of insider dealing than of cheating; an example of greed and stupidity against which the League could have made their objections clear with a ban of, say, a month each.

Insider dealing has long seeped from the Stock Exchange into gambling thanks to the expanding activities of bookmakers to whom nothing is sacred. A book was run on the recent appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and there would have been plenty of ecclesiastical support with the help of a few quid from the roof fund. I had a hot tip for the Bishop of London, and lost my money.

Responsibility for the greed and stupidity I referred to earlier should be equally shared between the players and the bookies. Before the players could display their greed the bookies had to be stupid enough to offer St Helens, with nine points' start, at odds of 10-11 before the team line-ups had been studied.

Saints were fielding a team packed with reserves and a heavy defeat was inevitable. I'm sure the two men in question weren't the only rugby league people to dive in. Of course, had St Helens achieved a miraculous win we wouldn't have heard any more on the subject. Bookies have a habit of pointing out unusual betting only when they lose.