Is it cheating or gamesmanship?

WOULD I ever cheat? Never… unless it was to win an important game!

There has been a lot of media outrage over the Suarez handball that helped Liverpool win their cup tie at lowly Mansfield and a lot of pundits pontificating about how it shows a total lack of sportsmanship.

But what it shows is that these pundits don’t really know the game or the players.

Look, every professional player in the game would do the same in those circumstances. Of course they would.

It’s these guys job of work to win the game and they will do that by hook or by crook.

Especially the very top players. The top players get there not just because they have the skill and the talent. They get there because they have a real will to win, a real competitive edge.

Those guys would cheat their grannie for the three points or for progress in a cup.

Believe me, out on the pitch in a fierce contest, you take every single advantage you can possibly get in a game.

If the ball goes over the line do you stop and put your hands up or do you whip it into the box for your man to head it into the goal and hope the linesman hasn’t spotted it and given a throw? You whip it in.

If an opponent is through on goal do you let him get clean away or do you put in a tackle that has got no chance of taking the ball and knowing you will bring him down? You put the tackle in and send him flying and if you get booked, well you get booked.

If the ball is coming at an awkward angle towards you six yards out in a crowded box do you let it bounce over your shoulder and get hoofed clear or do you stick a hand out to bring it down and get a shot away and hope the ref can’t see through all the chaos?

You just do what you have to do and if the ref spots it and calls it then so be it. That’s the ref’s job. It’s your job to score.

It’s not “cheating”. It’s just gamesmanship. That’s how players see it.

You do what you can to win and if it means taking advantage and bending the rules then you will do that. And the ref and the linesmen are there to stop you. If they see it that is.

You have to do it because you know the other lot would do it to you given have a chance.

You know that over the season you will be robbed of goals and points and places in the table because of poor decisions against you when the ref hasn’t seen a handball or an offside or a foul so you can’t afford to be a sporting gentleman about it. It’s too important.

If the ball flashes past you in the box and you have a chance to touch it in you take it. It you can’t get a foot to it or a head to it but you can lean into it and bundle it home with an arm then you will do it.

Who knows, if you don’t do it, maybe that missed goal could cost promotion or relegation or a cup. Are you going to take that chance? No. Luis Suarez didn’t take that chance.

Would I do it? Of course.

I don’t recall ever doing such a blatant handball as that but if it came down it I would.

And if the ball was in the box in the last minute of the last game of the season away at Newcastle and you needed to score to win promotion then so would do it you.

And anyone who says they wouldn’t do it is telling lies.

And when you came off not one of your team-mates or fans or the manager would damn you for cheating. Not one. They would all laugh about how you got away with it and praise you to high heavens for scoring the goal that got you into the Premier League.

I can’t remember too many Boro fans complaining when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink punched home that late equaliser against Boro.

One thing I will say is that I don’t think as a striker you should go down just because you feel contact.

For me, personally speaking, if I was through on goal and a tackle came in then I would always try to stay on my feet and get off a shot… unless I was at an impossible angle. Then I may go down.

****

BORO have a mighty long list of walking wounded – 13 were out for the Hastings match! – and most of them seem to be out with hamstring injuries.

I think it must be the latest fashion amongst footballers. Hamstrings are all the rage. You’re no-one unless you are clutching your thigh.

Injuries seem to come and go in and out of fashion. I think it started a few years ago when first David Beckham and then Michael Owen had broken metatarsals then suddenly everyone wanted one. I’d never even heard of them.

Then it was all Achilles injuries and last year knee ligaments was the in thing.

Seriously though, Boro have got a lot of hammies right now – six I think it was last week – and people are asking if it is the pitches, the weather, or the warm-up or something they are doing wrong in training.

For me it is just coincidence. Some are in training, some are in matches, some home, some away. There’s no pattern. It just comes down to luck.

One thing I will say is that if you look closely, it is the players with a real burst of pace that tend to get hamstrings.

Boro have a few lads with a turn of pace now and maybe they are more at risk.

I think because they stretch their legs and turn the afterburner on then when they are at full pelt that muscle is really being worked.

Maybe that is why I rarely got them! I did tweak a hamstring once I think and had to rest up for a few weeks but when I was at Boro it was the quick lads who suffered form them.

Stuart Ripley was plagued by them. He’d be tearing down the wing at blistering pace and then -ping – he was gone and out for three weeks.

It puzzles me that there are so many more injuries these days. Boro have more on the injured list now than we had in the squad under Bruce Rioch!

These days, players are fitter, faster, they live well, they eat well, they have dieticians, sports scientists, psychologist, computerised personal training programmes and state of the art facilities yet they are going down like flies.

I think it is because they are pampered and highly strung.

Think of them like dogs. In my day we were all mongrels. We were hardy. We were resilient. We played through bumps and bruises, knocks and scrapes and unless you we were seriously crocked you never missed a game. You just got with it. You wanted to.

In our day if you went down injured it was the magic sponge. We had players being told to run of broken legs!

Now the top guys are like pedigrees fed the best food and sat on a silk cushion and the slightest tweak and they’re out for three weeks.

Not all of them. Andy Halliday played with his nose broken in five places and that takes a bit of mental toughness. And I know a few have knocked on Mogga’s door to ask to play despite being patched up.

But generally these days it is safety first and a doctors note for a bad hair day.

*****

ALDERSHOT was a great ball to come out for Boro in the FA Cup draw.

It was better than the one that came out for Sunderland. Or for poor, poor Newcastle.

Sure some people will tell you they are disappointed and that they fancied a juicy tie and a nice day out against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. They are crazy.

In the cups it is all about getting as far as you can and avoiding the tough ties.

Who cares if the opposition is not glamorous so long as you get through and you’re in the hat next time round.

You want to get drawn against duff teams as long as possible. If you do that and you beat them – and we should beat them – then soon or later you will get one of the big boys.

Look at the times we’ve got to Wembley. Once we got to the semis and got drawn against Chesterfield. Chesterfield! Another time we got there by beating Stockport. Stockport!

They won’t stop you lifting the cup because you didn’t beat all the Champions League sides along the way, They have competitions decided like that. They’re called leagues.

In the cup you get what you’re give and if you’re given get an easy draw you don’t moan, you take advantage. You make sure you beat them and move on.

For a team like Boro a cup run is fantastic. It gets the team and the town buzzing and can give the season a real lift. It helps build momentum. It gets fans excited and puts bums on seats. We could do with that.

****

JUST a heads up but I will be running the New York Half Marathon in March and soon I will be tapping you all for a bit of sponsorship money.

I’m running it to raise money for diabetes. My son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last year and I’m just starting to become aware of exactly how it can affect lives.

I’ve done a lot of charity things over the years but this one is a bit closer to home – even if the race is a bit further away.

My boy is embarrassed by his dad so didn’t want me running in Redcar, Middlesbrough or the Great North Run. This is just far enough away for him.

The race is on St Patricks Day, 17th March. I’ve just had my entry accepted and you can donate through my website click on the shop, you can even bid for what shirt you want me to wear.
Newcastle, Sunderland or Middlesbrough, I will wear the team that gets the most donations, so come on boro fans please donate I would rather run round New York naked than wear one of our rivals shirts.

Thanks to Evening Gazette

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