Danny Murphy and football’s dirty brigade

Image: Shaun Elliott by A Love Supreme

Danny Murphy caused a few feathers to fly when he stuck his boot into dirty play and its causes. Did anyone else find themselves thinking about pots and kettles? …

Back in the days when I started watching football, it was amateur stuff in the Northern League.

My dad was secretary of Shildon AFC. His duties went beyond clerical/organisational necessities, though I do not think he was responsible for “pumping up” players to get stuck in to opponents.

With men like Eddie Swift in the side, he – or the trainer – didn’t need to. Eddie was an old-fashioned centre half, a lion-hearted character who tackled hard and expected to be challenged hard in return. I remember seeing him with blood trickling from head bandaging but playing on without expectation of sympathy or favour.

I am sure I also saw Eddie “having his name taken”, as we used to call it before cards came into fashion. He may have been sent off, too, though I’d need Pete Sixsmith’s more trustworthy memory on that. What is certain is that he would never have been able to complete a game the way it is officiated in 2010. And yet even now, we have endless debate about how to stamp out over-aggressive play.

Naturally I thought of Eddie – and of Sunderland men such as Jimmy McNab, Shaun Elliott, Joe Bolton and Kevin Ball – when I read of Danny Murphy’s comments to a Leaders in Football conference last week.

Murphy talked about “brainless” players who made violent, “ridiculous” challenges. He then focused on managers and gave special mention to the physical styles encouraged at Stoke City, Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“You get managers sending teams out to stop other sides from playing, which is happening more and more. The fact is that the managers are sending the players out so pumped up that inevitably there are going to be problems.”

I am two minds. Well, three actually but I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I enjoyed the Northern League game back in those days of Eddie Swift. I loved the commitment of Elliott, Bolton and Ball in the red and white stripes of Sunderland. I thought them hard but usually fair.

But second, yes I do see the point about the greater speed of today’s football making serious injuries more likely in the event of rash challenges, which might not have had the same impact in the slower game of long ago.

Managers are probably speaking the truth when they insist that their Ryan Shawcrosses, their Nigel de Jongs, their Martin Taylors would never set out deliberately to injure or maim. But lots of people are behind bars as I write, having set off on an everyday car drive only to commit some reckless act on the road for which society has decreed they should be punished.

As I never tire of saying, the need is for consistency, on the football field as in criminal justice.

Arsenal fans are right to complain about the foul play dished out by other clubs towards their players, but wrong to deny or minimise the foul play committed by Gunners. Sunderland supporters protesting about injustices against our club last season also have to accept, for example, that Lorik Cana, for all his commendable passion, was sometimes guilty of dangerous play.

Almost forgot until I got onto consistency: that third mind I was in.
Just a question or two really: isn’t this the same Danny Murphy who was sent off in the Uefa Cup last season for kicking out at Shakhtar’s Darijo? Who pumped him up for that?

Monsieur Salut

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1 thought on “Danny Murphy and football’s dirty brigade”

  1. The laws have gradually evolved over the last decade or so to try and ensure that games are won by the more skilful sides rather than sides who simply stop the other team from playing. Not only is this admirable from a ‘corinthian’ viewpoint, but it is also what supporters want to see. Hence, for example, outlawing the tackle from behind.
    The speed of the game, consequently, has certainly increased making any mistimed tackle significantly more dangerous (Catts style?). Yes, fans love to see great tackling & physical commitment but this now requires speed, timing, judgement as well as courage. I’m sure Lorik had plenty of the latter, less of the first two.
    The likes of Eddie Swift and his professional counterparts are the stuff of embellished legend, but would you really pay to watch them week in week out? Actually, at Shildon, you probably would.

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