Prick of the Week No. 30: The Game’s Gone

Dave Tickner
Richard Keys

It has gone, the game. Football. The game. Our game. The one we loved. The one we grew up watching. It has gone. Cant believe it. I wanna run to u. Really cant believe this. @.


So who’s this week’s prick then?
Anyone who used the phrase “the game’s gone” unironically in response to a thing that happened on a football pitch this weekend. In fact, anyone who has ever used the phrase unironically. Actually, anyone who has ever used the phrase ironically as well. Including us. All utter pricks.


What have they done?
Announced that, sadly, the game has now gone.

Sometimes it is official:

Sometimes it is accompanied by a f***ing mental piece of outsider art and a dig at nerds:

Always, weirdly, it is from people whose ongoing output suggests that they have somehow continued to watch the game despite the fact it has gone.

Very, very often it is used about VAR from people who played a key role in turning the relentless, joyless criticism of refereeing decisions into the game’s preeminent form of ‘analysis’ and thus made the game-goning technology inevitable as they raged that referees, unlike, say, players or managers, had failed to become flawless error-free automatons.

Some of these people who view the slightly soft and vaguely contentious disallowing of a Manchester United goal as final conclusive proof that the game has now officially gone are also apologist-cum-cheerleaders for Qatar 2022, a combination of viewpoints so utterly absurd as to be way beyond parody or weirdly even criticism.

And while those still using “the game’s gone” seriously long, long after even its parodic use lapsed into cliché deserve all the criticism they get even from a column that has now spent nearly a whole season bitterly regretting saddling itself with a weak and unnecessarily divisive and unpleasant pun for a title, it’s particularly strange that this weekend has caused such a recurrence of this now familiar refrain.

The fact Liverpool and Manchester United – comfortably the two biggest and most talked-about clubs in the land – were on the receiving end of VAR’s vagaries inevitably boosts the noise. But neither decision even mattered in the final outcome.

The Son-McTominay incident is particularly interesting here. We genuinely don’t know what made it explode like it did. By half-time, Sky’s pundits were unanimous that this decision was an absolute disgrace. At the time on commentary, Gary Neville – a man not famed for his anti-Manchester United views – considered it a “50-50” decision. VAR has done far worse and will do so again. Maybe the softness (if not wrongness) of the decision combined with the quality of the goal it chalked off is another factor here. We don’t know.

Either way, the performative “game’s gone” attention seekers have annoyed us forever, and we’re only more annoyed by being vaguely perplexed about why this particular incident got so much traction. Ergo, pricks.


Any previous?
The game has been gone, officially and unofficially, for at least as long as the Premier League has been in existence. Before VAR caused the game to go, it had been things such as diving (actually that might be why this one got the game’s-goners so worked up, because Son reacting to having a finger in his eye was apparently not on) or players wearing gloves or having haircuts or squad numbers higher than 30 have caused the game to be gone. Goal celebrations, stadiums having nice toilets, half-and-half scarves, swapping shirts at half-time, players covering their mouths when they talk to each other. The list of things that show the game has indeed gone is long and confusing.

It is, frankly, a miracle that it has somehow endured.

Chris Kavanagh consults the pitchside monitor


So what happens next?
The game will not be gone and nor will any of the people who say it has gone. They will continue to watch it and follow it and get paid to broadcast it up to and beyond at least several thousand more incidences of the game going.


Mourinho Corner
Something else that is still not gone is Jose Mourinho at Tottenham, although with this one we are at least now way, way beyond the point where it is anything other than a matter of time. The latest possible departure point is now November, and even that relies on winning the Carabao final against Manchester City in a couple of weeks.

It’s now actually quite pitiful to watch him at work in what is, at least in theory, still his primary occupation of ‘football manager’. He still has the carefully constructed alpha façade, but he is now entirely overwhelmed by fear. He is scared of his players, scared of opponents, scared of having the ball, scared of losing the ball, scared of scoring goals, scared of conceding them. He is now utterly terrified of everything about football. We almost feel sorry for him.

But only almost. Because at what is actually his primary occupation – deflection, blame avoidance and media manipulation – he is still the best in the business. Sunday’s defeat to Manchester United should’ve posed Mourinho a serious problem. Spurs were awful and well beaten in a performance that could kindly be described as ‘piss poor’ but it was nevertheless a performance that lacked the standout individual error or obvious horrendous individual performance that would allow Mourinho to shift all the blame and attention in that direction.

Then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went all weird and PFM about Son and kids and whether they deserve their dinner. Now we don’t expect everyone else to be as pitifully invested in the Mourinho culture war as we are, but we’re very angry at Solskjaer for giving Mourinho an out here. That said, you couldn’t argue with the way Mourinho took the chance.

No journalist mentioned Ole’s comments at Mourinho’s presser, but no matter. He brought it up himself, even turning the absence of question to his advantage with a little bit of classic material on hypocrisy and double standards.

Ole’s admittedly weird and OTT comments, suitably amplified by Mourinho’s faux-indignant and knowingly OTT response combined with the happy coincidence of Son’s name and the subject matter being a gift for tabloid headline writers and… boom, a slew of back pages with barely a mention of the result or Mourinho’s gigantic contribution to it. We almost mean it as a compliment when we say: what a prick.


Dishonourable Mentions
Our own personal investment in Mourinho blather notwithstanding, that was a bit much from Solskjaer. Especially given the eventual result and performance from his side. With no ulterior motive at play, we have to assume he genuinely was still that cross about it at the end of the game, and that just seems a silly really. Still, good to get confirmation since then that Solskjaer Jr did not, in fact, ever go without food.


Prick of the Week Hall of Fame
No. 29: Juan Cala
No. 28: Aidy Boothroyd
No. 27: Conspiracies and penalties
No. 26: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
No. 25: Andrea Agnelli
No. 24: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
No. 23: Roy Hodgson
No. 22: Harry Maguire
No. 21: Referee death threats
No. 20: Southampton
No. 19: Harry Redknapp
No. 18: Lionel Messi
No. 17: Steve Bruce and Mike Ashley
No. 16: Covid rule-breakers
No. 15: Leeds Twitter
No. 14: Mikel Arteta
No. 13: Danny Drinkwater
No. 12: Anti-Marxist Millwall
No. 11: Head injuries
No. 10: Liverpool
No. 9: Ademola Lookman
No. 8: Roy Keane
No. 7: Monday 5.30pm PPV
No. 6: Pickford, Richarlison et al
No. 5: The Big Six
No.4: Deadline Day
No. 3: David Elleray
No. 2: Frank Lampard
No. 1: Jose Mourinho