The dream has to be that the BBC produces mediocre football TV regardless of gender. Women threw themselves under horses for that dream. The boys like the girls...
We thought we would have to resort to another mailbox about maths but we've had some grand opinions about Man United, Newcastle, Tottenham and more. Oh and maths...
Let's start from basic principles. Whatever Jon Champion should or should not have said, and whether ESPN were right or not to reprimand him, the fact remains that he was right: Luis Suárez is a cheat.
Now let's flesh out the principles. Cheating's a big thing that covers a multitude of sins - some deadly serious; some largely irrelevant - and nobody, not even a Ghanaian Manchester United fan, would suggest that Suárez is every kind of cheat. Match-fixing, for example, or doping: these are the wrongs that actually damage the game, and there's nothing to suggest that Liverpool's put-upon Uruguayan has ever dabbled in either.
On the other hand, diving is definitely cheating. So is exaggerating contact, feigning injury, claiming imaginary handballs (and corners, and throw-ins), and plenty of other nonsense; nonsense that is common not only to Suárez but to the majority of his colleagues up and down the land and around the world. Why, then, is Suárez explicitly "a cheat", when all this other cheating passes unremarked? This was neatly illustrated by James Lawton in the Independent, whose comparison of Suárez's "brutal cynicism" with four-time Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi - "Does Suárez take us, like Messi, beyond the boundaries of our own prejudice? Does he make us feel good about football? No, he doesn't" - blithely overlooked the fact that even the sainted Messi not only once punched the ball into the opponent's net, but then had the gall to celebrate the goal.
(I'm not saying, incidentally, that Messi doesn't make me or "us" feel better about football than Suárez does. He's much better, for a start. But to hang that point on a handballed goal just looks silly.)
It's a little simplistic to assume that Suárez gets stick simply because people just don't like him. They don't, obviously, and there are plenty of excellent, non-hypocritical reasons not to. (Why not quote your favourite paragraph from the FA's report in the comments?) But simple, straightforward antipathy isn't enough to explain the hysterical persistence of the disapproval. The most interesting aspect of Jon Champion's comments on ESPN wasn't the question of accuracy - as noted above, he was more or less bang on - but that he violated the great unwritten rule of talking about footballers: they are not what they do. They can do the thing; they never become the thing. They can do the verb; they never become the noun. A player may tackle like a thug, or talk like a racist, but you'll search in vain for any mainstream voice that will stand up to say: X is a thug; Y is a racist. Nobody is ever that type of player.
There are, I think, two competing theories for Suárez's exceptionalism in this regard. The first is that all his critics are jealous of him because he's well-paid and happy and dead good and furthermore he's dead good for Liverpool Football Club and everybody hates Liverpool Football Club and are jealous of them because they're dead good even though they're not actually that good at the moment but they are because they're special and better in ways that people who don't support Liverpool Football Club could never hope to understand. We can, I hope, leave that one to quietly fester on the darker corners of the internet.
The other is that he's become a pantomime villain. This one feels right. Pantomime villains, of course, aren't villains because they do bad things (though they do). They're villains before that, from the moment they sneak onto the stage, swirling their cape and twirling their moustache. He's behind you! Boo! Hiss! They provide the obvious Bad Guy, who stands in opposition to the Lass In Trousers and the Bloke In The Dress and the Curiously Sentient Domestic Animal and all the other stereotypes that help preserve the careers of fading television stars with time to kill before their call from Operation Yewtree.
(How Suárez became the pantomime villain, in Britain at least, is probably largely down to the handball against Ghana; more precisely, the unrestrained glee with which he celebrated Asamoah Gyan's subsequent penalty miss. Denying an African team a place in the semi-final of the first African World Cup is one thing - crimes against patronising narratives can perhaps be forgiven. But disregarding your sacred duty to appear suitably penitent? Outrageous.)
The problem, though, is that pantomime characters are unapologetic stereotypes, and they get away with being stereotypes because anybody looking for anything more is in the wrong theatre. See the Bad Man. Shout at the Bad Man. To treat Suárez as a pantomime villain - to greet his every action with boos and hisses - is to define yourself as a member of a pantomime audience, and the most obvious thing about pantomime audiences is the complete lack of thought. That's fine when you're watching men in silly costumes falling over, but not when you're watching ... oh. Hang on.
It's true, of course, that football is a pantomime in plenty of ways. Cheer for the goodies, jeer at the baddies, laugh and howl at the
referee comic relief. But if there's anything else to it - and I don't think it's controversial to suggest that for most people there is, even if they might not agree on precisely what - then any outrage needs to be similarly more complex. Despising Suárez for punching the ball into the net only makes sense if you (a) despise everybody that does so equally, which nobody seems to be doing, or (b) despise anything and everything that Suárez does, simply because he's Suárez, which is more than a little childish.
If football is going to be something that grown-ups can enjoy, then we need to be grown-ups about it, and that means admitting to ourselves that sometimes the things that the designated Bad People do aren't any worse than what the Good Guys get up to. Alternatively, we can embrace perfectly childish reasons for hating somebody - he plays for Liverpool, say - and get on with enjoying them in all their childishness. But we can't have both. And besides, when it comes to Suárez, the desperate clamour for any and every reason to hate him detracts from the multitude of perfectly good reasons not to like him at all.