25 Sep 2020 5:21 PM +00:00

Liverpool's draw with Tottenham showed how football's infatuation with controversy is bad for the sport

(Photo credit: enviro warrior)

The prevalent emotion after Liverpool vs Spurs on Sunday afternoon was anger.

For most observers, such a reaction was understandable. Twice Tottenham had been awarded a penalty, twice there had been confusion and disarray. Harry Kane missed one and scored the other but it was Jon Moss at the centre of attention.

It was chaotic and disorganised. There were disagreements over which penalty should have been awarded and which should not. And at the end, inevitably, there was anger.

Anger from Jurgen Klopp, from Liverpool fans, from the masses on Twitter and Facebook. 

When Mohamed Salah slalomed his way into the box and fired in at the near post, scoring what at the time seemed to be the winner, Martin Tyler effused over the brilliance of the occasion, over the relentless, exhilarating tenacity of Premier League football.

But that was soon washed away in a sea of controversy. The game was not the talking point. Instead, once again, it was the officials: what they got right and what they got wrong.



Few, however, seem to be disappointed by this. There is an acceptance, at times almost an enjoyment, of the official's apparent incompetence. For some, it seems cathartic to rage at the injustice of it all.

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That is where the problem lies in modern football's continual discussion over rules and referees: there is an infatuation in the game with controversy. 

Perhaps it is necessary; perhaps football would feel empty without the dissent and the despair, without a figure to whom fans can turn to unleash their raw emotion. But on Sunday, it inarguably detracted from the game itself. 

There are few sports which bring such joy, yet are surrounded by such anger. In cricket, an unsuccessful appeal is not met by roars of disapproval; in rugby, a mistake from the referee doesn't provoke unapologetic abuse; in tennis, no umpire has been repeatedly labelled "a wanker".

Maybe it is because football encourages subjectivity, because the rules are often vague and sometimes misunderstood. Maybe it is because there is an intangibility unlike other sports. Maybe it's just because it 'means more'.

Two significant moments

At Anfield, the phenomenon was encapsulated in two moments. They were, undoubtedly, significant moments, but what happened overshadowed everything else, made the kicking of the ball itself appear secondary.

In the aftermath, the discussion will again turn to VAR. Could it have seamlessly addressed the issues in the game? Would its introduction mean situations like this are avoided? Would Jurgen Klopp, inwardly seething and sarcastically clapping at the final whistle, have been satisfied had it been available?


It is indicative of the general viewpoint, however - and somewhat ironic - that the technology trialled with the intention of eradicating incessant controversy had led to more debate and more heated discussion than almost anything in the sport's history.

Perhaps we must resign to the fact that controversy is now ingrained within the game. To remove it entirely might feel strange, as if there is something missing and that, in effect, is one of the main arguments against VAR.

What's left?

But take out the moments that came to define Liverpool vs Tottenham and you are left with a footballing spectacle: two offensive, high-velocity teams playing with the sole intention of winning.

There was something pure, something admirable about the contest; it felt like the teams should have parted on good terms, the draw a fair result. But they didn't. Liverpool were angry and so were their fans. So were those of a red persuasion who watched at home on TV. 

Often, the anger needn't be justified, because officials aren't to be trusted. Often, the anger stems from a reluctance to accept disappointment because the referee is an easy target to blame. In every case, anger and meticulous analysis of controversy serves no purpose.

So can this culture of outrage ever be entirely removed from a sport that professes itself beautiful? Well, that would require a debate and it would almost certainly be controversial.

What do you think of the current state of refereeing and its effect on the game? Let us know by commenting below.

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