Every Tackle Is A 'Potential' Leg-Breaker...

What is it about football where every 'bad tackle' has to be a 'horror tackle' and we're forever talking about what 'could' have happened? It's a ridiculous situation...

Last Updated: 25/11/13 at 09:39 Post Comment

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It was a big wedding. Over a hundred were in the congregation to see Simon marry Chloe. It was a lovely sunny day in May, the bride wore white and the groom was almost sober.

There was a low murmur of excitement in the church as the organ struck up the traditional wedding march, primarily because it meant they would soon be getting about the more important traditional wedding business of heavy drinking and one-night stands.

The groom looked back down the aisle as his bride began the long slow walk to their legal and symbolic union. As he did so, something caught his eye. An uninvited guest; a man not dressed for a wedding. In a flash of recognition, he knew who it was - a local scally who was undoubtedly up to no good. He whispered this info to his best man, who in turn told a pal next to him. He turned round, spied the hollow-eyed lad and slipped out to deal with the intruder. As he did so, the lad took off at pace but he wasn't quick enough and was pounced on by a big front row prop from the local rugby XV. As he was dragged to the ground, he whacked his head on the tarmac, knocking him spark out. In his pocket was a wallet, picked from one of the congregation.

In the local newspaper the following day the headline on the front page was 'Big Wedding Tackle Renders Thief Unconscious'.

Had this been the football press covering the incident it would, of course, have been described as a 'horror' tackle. The horror tackle only appears in football and every horror tackle must be accompanied by a photo or three of the incident with a blurry, blown-up and circled photo of the evil boot on the innocent shin and accompanied with appropriately florid language of shock and awe at this brutal assault.

The latest horror tackle was committed upon the delicate frame of Luis Suarez by Kevin Mirallas. Only, as with almost all tackles described as horror tackles, it really wasn't that horrific or at least no more horrific than anything which involves Luis Suarez.

It was no David Busst situation. No knee-cap on the wrong way, or feet pointing backwards. No pools of blood, nothing hanging off or out that should be on or in. Rather, the Mirallas tackle was that far less dramatic or hysterical thing: it was a bad tackle. The kind of tackle we see a lot in the modern game because, it would seem, the art of tackling cleanly is not understood by many players. To some it is more usually considered a brutish lost art that has been culturally outlawed along with the long ball, wooden rattles and pishing in other people's pockets. So it was inevitable the Sunday papers would dub it a horror tackle if only because shock and outrage at physicality in football has a ready audience these days.

This is the way with most so-called horror tackles; they're very rarely especially horrific nor some great act of deliberately evil unsporting behaviour. Yet these situations are often inflamed by managers saying it was 'potentially' a career-ending tackle. Or that is was that most loaded of football words, 'naughty'. Naughty comes dripping with implication and really should be said in a Danny Dyer-style 'deep' East London accent.

And Brendan Rodgers did exactly that (though not the Danny Dyer accent, sadly) The word 'potentially' is the key one, of course. Most activities in life carry a 'potential' hazard. Even lying motionless on a bed of cotton wool can potentially be a life-threatening activity if the cotton wool catches fire or an plane falls out of the sky onto your house.

This speculation on potential outcomes is endemic in football when it suits someone's cause to dwell on such variables. Players are criticised all the time for what might have happened as a consequence of their actions; might have, but didn't. The Swindon fan who got on the pitch and started punching the Orient goalkeeper: what if he'd had a weapon? That was the first response of some. Well yeah, what if he'd spontaneously combusted? What if he'd ridden in on a horse stuffed with explosives? Or worse still, what if he'd spilled hot Bovril on him? Carnage.

We can always think of a worse scenario than the one that has just happened in football but that's no reason to assess that incident more harshly. There is a variable degree of danger attached to all existence that we can't avoid. Every day there are news stories about people who are killed while innocently going about their daily life - mown down by a car, having a chimney drop on their head or being savaged by an escaped circus bear, sometimes all three things at once if you're especially unlucky. So occasionally something unpleasant will happen on a football pitch.

It is always true that every innocuous incident could have been much much worse, that surely doesn't need stating. Very tackle is 'potentially' a career ending tackle. Who amongst us has watched as a road accident happens a few cars ahead and thought it could have been you lying in the road if you'd taken ten seconds longer buying petrol? Walking side by side with death, the devil mocks our every step. This is our life. Suggesting things could have turned out worse is no basis for any argument because it's always true, except perhaps if you lived in Hiroshima on August 6 1945.

To encourage speculation on worse-case scenarios is to encourage fans who will in all seriousness complain that if Mirallas or whomever had done that on the street, he'd be arrested; people who are unable to see the distinction between something done in the pursuit of sport and the rest of life more generally. It is food for those prone to hysteria and that's why managers shouldn't be trying to make the most out of these situations.

Anything anyone does in a football game could end up disastrously for someone. Players are always going to behave rashly, misjudge decisions or lose their temper. A horrific tackle is rarely horrific, except to newspapers and opposing managers. Big wedding tackle however, well, that can be truly shocking.

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