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Monday, November 28, 2011
A model professional out on his own

The Fifth Official

Gary Speed 1969-2011

This weekend will forever be remembered as one when football lost a great man. Gary Speed was the embodiment of a professional footballer, a man who took his responsibilities on the field as seriously as those off it. If the dominating culture in today's top flight is one of excess and greed, here was a man who exuded honesty and integrity; well liked and respected, even by those who supported the sworn enemies of the clubs he played for. You knew what you would get from him as a player: unwavering commitment and a desire to lead from the front. Having seen him on numerous occasions at various different clubs throughout his career, his form may have fluctuated but his heart was forever strong. Whether having a stormer or a stinker, he would never shirk a tackle or stop showing for the ball. Managerial greats like Howard Wilkinson, Sir Bobby Robson, Kenny Dalglish and Howard Kendall knew what he offered and assembled teams around him. A record of 535 appearances rightly enshrines Speed as one of the most pivotal figures in the Premier League's 19-year history. Even in a short time as manager of Wales, Speed managed to instil a sense of belief back into a proud but slumbering football nation. Players were desperate to play for him, fans keen to back him. Appearing on Saturday's Football Focus, Speed beamed with enthusiasm as he spoke about the future; less than 24 hours later he was dead aged just 42, leaving behind a wife, two young sons and a game united in grief and disbelief. Football will be a much poorer game without Gary Speed. Let's face it, if everyone in the game were like him, I'd have nothing to write about every week. But they are not, so even though what follows is trivial in the extreme, I suppose the show must go on...

The hairdryer of justice

You can't beat a good slice of injustice at Old Trafford. Manchester United react to poor decisions as if they expect the United Nations to intervene on their behalf. Forget the amount of soft penalties (I'm looking at you Howard Webb), dodgy red cards for the opposition, calamitous goal-line decisions or the galaxy of added-on time they get every week - when the fangs of injustice nip at their arm, the entire world knows about it. Of course it wasn't a penalty, never in a million years, but that doesn't mean the entire incident wasn't hilarious. The only two men in the stadium who seemed to think a spot kick was the right outcome were the linesman and Hatem Ben Arfa, but even he didn't seem convinced, just thankful he negotiated a challenge without breaking a leg. All around him were aggrieved faces, and Fergie's was so red you could have toasted a marshmallow near it. Naturally, he took it in the calm, measured fashion we have become accustomed to. He was so disgusted with the decision, he brought his own hairdryer into the press conference to spray all over the press. And despite these economically perilous times, he virtually demanded that the poor assistant never work in football again. Charming.

Berating Brucie

While Fergie was raging at the decision that cost him victory, Steve Bruce was in turn cursing his decision to raid Old Trafford for defensive reinforcements over the summer. His acquisition of Wes Brown was the purchasing equivalent of plugging a leak with a sponge instead of just forking out for a plumber to come and fix it. For Wigan, this was sweet relief after they had their leg dry-humped by the Jack Russell of injustice last week thanks to Blackburn's phantom corner routine. This time around, not only were they gifted a winner by Brown, they were also awarded a thoroughly generous penalty after Victor Moses decided to fall over in the box. Pundits often claim these things tend to even themselves up. They normally mean over the course of a season, though, not a week. Of course, the Sunderland faithful, who'd been in raptures during a first half laden with chances for those in red and white, turned instantly on their beleaguered manager, taking a leaf out of Blackburn's book by unloading a rousing rendition of "You fat Geordie b****d, get out of our club," towards the dugout. Rebellion is in the air and Bruce can't get the smell of out his nostrils. If that nose of his can smell, that is.

Kean for a contract revision

Welcome to the most undeserved pay-rise in the history of sport. I can only assume Blackburn have been paying Steve Kean in chicken feet since he usurped Big Sam in a gutless coup last year because to receive an extra sprinkling of cash on your weekly wage after a run of three wins in 27 games, which this weekend resulted in Rovers propping up the Premier League pile, seems an odd way to react to failure. Kean's relentlessly positive attitude was severely tested at Stoke, the sort of place where even Beelzebub would contemplate pulling up with a fake hamstring strain in the pre-match warm up to get out of playing. Kean's powder puff outfit couldn't handle the heat of a gentle lamb pasanda, so they stood no chance in the furnace of The Britannia. Rarely does an entire ground join in with a chorus of "You're getting sacked in the morning" but, after Stoke eased into a 3-0 lead, all four corners had a good giggle at Kean's expense. Given that he seems to be rewarded the worse Blackburn play, perhaps a more pertinent chant might have been "You're probably getting a revised and improved contract offer in the morning".

The One Where Mario Is Sent Off. Again

If only Martin Atkinson had revealed a T-shirt that read "because you're an idiot" seconds before he flashed a red card at Mario Balotelli, to answer once and for all the question the erratic striker posed after scoring the opening goal at Old Trafford a few weeks back. Since protestations from City that the striker was beginning to grow up, he's set his house ablaze by lighting fireworks in his bathroom and nearly been arrested for burgling his own burnt-out property after a late-night raid for some personal effects. His cameo at Anfield lasted only narrowly less time than an episode of Friends - 17 minutes in fact - as he tugged Glen Johnson's shirt and planted a forearm into Martin Skrtel's face before being waved down the tunnel by his irate manager. Then as Lucas and Charlie Adam waxed lyrical about Liverpool's performance in a post-match interview, one of Manchester City's backroom staff could be heard in the background shouting after a presumably irate Super Mario, as an assortment of comedy cartoon noises, thumps and tinkles, became audible, alongside a series of firm 'no's more associated with a man berating his dog - like this poor chap, perhaps. Don't forget, you can follow The Fifth Official's on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial


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