SPORT - STOCKI SURMISING

VAR RUINING EVERYTHING

VAR

My beloved City won their first game of the season 5-0 away to a very good West Ham United team. Raheem Sterling scored a hat trick. AND… I hated it!

VAR! Oh we have dabbled with it before. I remember those two glorious moments where City were in the semi-finals of the Champions League before VAR, silenced the Etihad. This season, however, it is every game. If it is like today’s game, it will be hard to get used to.

Now, do not get me wrong. I was a fan before they brought it in. All those bad decisions, the very obvious ones. Thierry Henry’s hand ball in that World Cup Play Off against Republic Of Ireland. Corrie Evans’s not hand ball in Northern Ireland’s World Cup Play off against Switzerland We would rid the game of the injustice! Others might mention Maradonna! Rugby has done it. Surely there is a way for Soccer to do it too!

There was talk of it being used for “clear and obvious” errors. It seems from today however that it will be used for every goal. Some, it won’t take long. Other though and the celebrations have happened and the teams are back at the centre circle waiting to kick off when… no goal! Free kick.

Today frustrate me because City’s third goal was the best move of the match. Ir deserved to be a goal. Technically it was the right decision but it was by a half arm’s width. So close. Too meticulously close.

The next City goal went to VAR too. This time about a finger’s width. One stood, the other didn’t. The difference was negligible. If this is what VAR is for it will be a long season of waiting apprehensively and lots of added time!

By the time Aguero’s awful penalty miss was allowed to be retaken I had had enough. Oh it was to our advantage again but the penalty was so bad Sergio didn’t deserve another go. That Declan Rice had encroached  and was first to the rebound meant that of course the infallible VAR had struck again. Oh my!

There are mental issues at play here. City were 2 up when Jesus’s goal was disallowed. That would have been 3 and at that stage game over. City have had their celebrations and mentally have won the game. Suddenly the mood swing in the stadium changes. West Ham fans get a boost as do the team whereas City are wondering what just happened. It is going to be a test of how to do deal with huge emotional swings. 

For the armchair fan it will take some getting used to. That we won 5-0 and VAR spoiled it for me asks questions about the game as a spectacle. There are lots of money in TV rights. 

It will probably take time. I guess that in Rugby teams are back ready to kick off when decisions are changed. The players and fans have gotten used to it. It will take some getting used to! In the meantime be ready to be frustrated…. And oh that VAR don’t start getting decisions wrong!


BEING IN UGANDA FOR THE PORTRUSH OPEN - A SURMISE!

Shane Lowry

I waited about 45 years for the British Open to be played at Portrush. I went to my first Open at Muirfield in 1972. Trevino stole it from Tony Jacklin on the 17th. I started playing seriously the very next week. 

I was aware that Royal Portrush was as good a course as any by the age of 16. I had played Carnoustie and St. Andrews, where I had been for the 1975 and 1978 Opens. Portrush should have the Open back. Of course The Troubles were in the way for twenty years but as the millennium turned my dad, now a member at Portrush and my mother dreamed. 

Sadly, my mother never lived to see it, and my dad’s dementia means that he will never know. Me, I was in Uganda! Oh, it is recorded for when I get home, and I will watch it over and over, but this morning I am grabbing a glance at whatever I can find on YouTube!

I was on a school playground in north west Uganda when the Open started and I told the school that, though all the world’s so called VIPs were in our place, these school children were my VIPs. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else, not even Portrush. That probably says something about how my life has changed since my golf obsessed teens.

However, it was painful following it with very sporadic wifi! My friend Pearse had a free roaming app and was keeping me up to date. We were at a sensational African Dance evening as Lowry and Fleetwood hit the back nine on Sunday. During intricate dances I was shouting across the table, “still six shots? How many holes?” 

Though a Tommy Fleetwood fan, Shane Lowry was my man from the moment I heard that Rory’s fragile head had thrown the tournament at the very first hole. Since he won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009, I have always reckoned on Lowry winning a Major. So close to a US Open in 2016 his form took a dive, until an 8th in this year’s USPGA suggested better things. When Rory succumbed to his psychological fragility I saw Lowry first round score and thought maybe!

On Thursday evening I read a Facebook status that had already closed off the possibility of a local winner. Maybe sectarianism! I am more likely to think a lack of knowledge of Lowry’s decade as a professional. When everyone was touting Koepka because his caddy Ricky Elliott, grew up playing Portrush, they again forgot that Lowry’s caddy was from just sixty miles away. Bo Martin had the local knowledge without being confused by the club he played to the ninth green being so different than the one he’d have to recommend to a serial Major winner!

In the end I was as thrilled at Lowry’s win as I was with all our other Irish Major winners since 2007! There were no Irish Major winners for 60 years after Fred Daly won the Open. Now that is 10 in 12 years! Wow! Let us stop and savour!

I again feel blessed by milking the Venn Diagram Affect of being Northern Irish. Those six little counties, still constitutionally British but geographically on the island of Ireland. If your soul is open and you can stay free of the bigotry such a squeezed space can grow then you can benefit by being a bit of both!

Golf has always, like Rugby, been an island wide sport. Amateur golfers play under the Golfing Union of Ireland. It seemed right, in every sense, that as Lowry marched to victory, and particularly when he walked up the 72nd hole with about seven putts for it, that the Portrush crowd played the Venn Diagram Affect raucously! 

“Ole Ole Ole” ringing out across North Antrim’s coastline is not only the sound of a “home” winner, for the first British Open in Northern Ireland since 1951, but maybe also a sig of how far we have come as a people in these last twenty years!

I cannot wait to get home and watch it all. There will be tears!


CITY TIL I DIE (50 YEARS OF SUPPORTING MANCHESTER CITY)

Jazzy and I in City Shirts

50 years ago

In the school playground

In the blink of an eye

Without much thought

Or was there

Had it been frog-spawning

In the pond of Uncle Jimmy’s constant naming

Of Bell and Lee and Summerbee

Becoming tadpoles in the peer pressure 

Of Derek Cunningham wearing the kit

Sky blue and white, claret trim on the socks

To the jumping frog 

Of changing sides in the lunchtime game

From United to City

To even up the teams

Stephen Martin, I see your sneaky face

 

There was no turning back

I became City 'til I die

And soon we were dying

It wasn’t fun for a while

If a while can be 35 years

Excruciatingly painful actually

For decades I wanted to find Derek Cunnigham

And tell him that I resented him

That he ruined my life!

 

But today Derek Cunningham

I could kiss you

Thank you

Today we won the FA Cup

To clinch The Double

That was a holy grail

But not just The Double

The Domestic Treble

That no one ever thought about

Dreamed about

Or have ever won before

For my 50 year anniversary

We won everything!

 

There will be begrudgers

They will talk about the money

And I wish this could be done without the money

But it’s not 50 years ago

So if you want to play 

Like that

Fast 

Furious 

Freewheeling

Perfect footballing poetry

Then this is the way.

 

So, 50 years

Of low lights

And even darker

(Macclesfield away in the League!)

There have at last been highlights

But the years and years of deepest gloom

Have made these bright days brighter

All the more joyous

Like the Promised Land after wandering in the wilderness.

 

It would all have been worth it 

For just that one moment

“Agueroooooooo…”

As The Sawdoctors songs goes

“To win just once

That would be enough”

The rest is showing off

Constant laps of honour

Still, I will always remind myself

Where I was for that Sergio injury time winner

That snatched the title from Sir Alex’s pesky grasp

I had lost faith, given up and left

To face my hurt 

In the garden

Missing the very greatest moment of the 50 years.

 

That moment about sums up these 50 years

But here I am

In my City shirt and tracksuit bottoms

And there is the Premiership trophy

With The FA Cup

And the League Cup

All in City’s trophy cabinet.

Blue Moon

Wonderwall

Na na na, City!


THAT CITY- SPURS MATCH - MY HEARTACHE... AND SPIRITUAL SURMISE

Pep

That match. That footballing classic. Five goals in the opening 20 minutes. Seven goals all in. Two massive VAR decisions. The last had my team in the Champions League semi-finals for about two minutes. Then having just walked through the gate into heaven we were brutally dragged back through the hedge. City 4 Spurs 3. Spurs win on away goals! That match!

Utter heartache. In the short term I was fortunate. My friend Doug was staying. We talked about other things. However, when everyone went to bed, I just sat there. Going over it in my head. Aguero’s penalty miss in the first leg. Conceding 3 at home against a team without key players including Harry Kane. City’s goalkeeper, Edersen’s poor swipe at a corner that led to the corner that gave Spurs their goal. VAR. VAR!

This was the worst heartache. Oh Spurs inflicted another one, just as dramatic, in the 1981 FA Cup Final and there have been other times but none like this. City had this chance of winning the Quadruple. I believed it to be once in a lifetime. We had an easy draw in the FA Cup, even Ajax would have been the easiest semi-final in the Champions League. The dice will never roll for us in those ways again. There will never be another chance… and inches… tight margins… heartache!

I got up this morning hoping it would be a nightmare but the pain was real. It was like the one you get from being ditched romantically. There’s a hole in your stomach. Heartache! 

Now, it is not quite the same. The football is more of an impact heartache and by the weekend its gone, much quicker than real grief heartache. My wife will never even understand the emotions I was experiencing last night, though with grief she’ll be my empathising, sympathising rock! Thirty years together, 23 of them married and she has no emotional connection a football match! No, no matter what Bill Shankly said it is not a matter of life and death nor is it much more important than that! BUT… it hurts!

What I hate most is the social media “banter”. Some of it is in the spirit of banter but a lot of it comes with the vicious vitriol that is sadly too much in the DNA of my favourite sport. Ugly vindictive things are spewed out. It comes with the same polarised hatred as Northern Irish sectarianism. Again, it is more momentary in its impact but it does have an impact!

I actually think that some of the good natured banter is out of line too. I never remember when football results were not vital for me. Football matches are my earliest memories. Something so embedded does cause some genuine ache. When our friends ache it is harsh to mock the afflicted. You add to someone’s hurt.

As someone who believes my life, in its entirety is affected by my following of Jesus, I try to do football banter with a pastoral tenderness and uprightness. Some might tell me to catch myself on, it’s only football, but in the Kingdom of God nothing is only anything.

I know I am tender of soul, easily bruised. Today the impact pain is disappearing and I am worrying about more pain that might be up ahead in the next week or weeks. Sometimes I wish that City were still half way up a division below where it doesn’t matter one way or another whether we lose or win. That is no longer the case, as the Spurs result proved. 

Maybe there is some joy up ahead too but please God may I never allow that joy to lead to  gloat. That doesn't fit the steps of Jesus very well… 


TIGER WOODS: NOT AS GOOD AS HE WAS BUT BETTER THAN HE WAS!

812962-tigerwoodsreuters

Tiger Woods wins another Major! For years I was pretty sure we would never hear those words again. I was happy with that. I was never a fan. 

There were two reasons for my dislike. They were linked. First was his utter brilliance. He was literally, when at the top of his game, almost impossible to beat. It is actually difficult to believe how he only one 14 Majors in those glory years between 1997 and 2008. When many believe, and statistics probably prove, that he was the best thing ever to happen to golf, I disagreed. I preferred the days when there were multiple superstars - Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Watson, Miller et al.

My other pet hate of, all things, Tiger was his robotic nature. I believed them to have been linked. I am probably wrong but I sensed that from a very young age Tiger was trained to be a Majors winning golfer, at the cost of the development of personality and emotion. For me, Tiger was a little cold. 

His 15th Major at the 2019 US Masters was a whole lot different. Tiger Woods is not as good as he used to be which makes him better than he used to be. Well I am Irish but bear with me!

Those listening carefully to Tiger’s post Masters interviews heard him speak in ways he never had to, back in his glory days. He spoke of being patient, plotting his way around the course, and watching how the  leaderboard was changing until he found himself at the top of it. 

Young Tiger never needed to be patient or plot or glance at leaderboards. He just hit it. Harder and better than anyone else. Indeed, the most astounding fact about his 5th Masters was that it was the first time he has EVER won a Major when he was not in the lead after 54 holes! 

As the dust settles on Woods’ 5th Green Jacket, I think it will become clearer and clearer that this is the greatest sporting comeback ever. Less than eighteen months ago, Woods had no idea if he would ever play again, never mind win a Major. It is quite something 22 years after your first Major and 11 years after your last one, to win again.

It is even more remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, because Woods is no longer so far ahead of the field that it is not worth watching. There are more world class peers than he had in the decade when he was king. If he wins now it is because he has taken on others and won! He is using golfing skills he never needed and maybe never had. I say it again, he is better now than when he was the very best!

Secondly, and most important of all, is that to win, amongst the strength of such a field and after eleven years when his mental, physical and emotional lives all hit rock bottom, Woods’ comeback was not just sporting but as a human being. His emotional response to his 15th Major was more emotional and I would say human than any of his other victories. This is a man who had to rebuild his entire life. He is a better man for it and for me a more worthy winner. He deserves the hugs and high fives with his children, mother, girlfriend and team.

If he holds his psychological life together I believe that Tiger Woods will most likely pass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors, in the next few years. I am not sure I want him to but I do believe he is more worthy of it now than when he was a golfing robot, back in the day. 


THE LEAGUE CUP FINAL SUBSTITUTE DEBACLE - STOCKI SURMISES

Sarri

The refusal of Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa to leave the pitch after seemingly being substituted in Sunday’s League Cup Final distracted the talking points away from the relief as well as the joy of Manchester City retaining a trophy for the first time in their history.

Much has been said, over and over again about Kepa’s lack of respect for his manager Sarri and the seemingly public coup d’état of Sarri’s control at Chelsea. It was excruciating to watch Sarri’s loss of control for sure.

Most of the pundits have based their comments on the assumption that Sarri wanted Willie Caballero to take over in goals. Yes, Kepa seemed to be injured but Caballero brought more than sending on a fit goalkeeper. 

Caballero won this very trophy for Manchester City in 2016 by saving penalties in the shoot out against Liverpool. He knows all the City players and no doubt practiced penalties with them. What an advantage! In his post match interview made reference to how it would have added to the mind games.

So the assumption was that as Kompany was thinking this on the pitch, so was Sarri in the dug out. I don’t believe such a scenario existed. If it was a late in the game tactical substitution for the penalties, surely at least the possibility would have been discussed before the game. There seems no evidence from players or back room staff that this was the case. They thought Kepa was injured and he disagreed. 

Sitting watching with another City fan, we were sure Caballero would win it for Chelsea and indeed when we saw the poor penalty of Aguero I reckon we were right. That Kepa did not know that he was coming off if the game got to 119 minutes suggests that Sarri and Zola missed a trick!

Finally, why has no one talked about the match officials. Surely, the decision to substitute a player is made before the board goes up and the player comes on the pitch, it was the referees responsibility to ask Kepa to leave. When is the substitution legally done? Sarri didn’t seem to be changing his decision so if Chelsea has won could City have complained that Kepa shouldn’t have legally been on the pitch.

If, as it seems in this League Cup Final, the final decision for a substitution isn’t after a request is given to the referee then FIFA should be creating such a rule before next weekend. How many players are going to refuse to come off, having been substituted? One can only fear. Across the world this weekend it could be one almighty chaotic mess in the substitution department.

By the way… City won the Cup! Go on Raheem!


Sarri

The refusal of Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa to leave the pitch after seemingly being substituted in Sunday’s League Cup Final distracted the talking points away from the relief as well as the joy of Manchester City retaining a trophy for the first time in their history.

Much has been said, over and over again about Kepa’s lack of respect for his manager Sarri and the seemingly public coup d’état of Sarri’s control at Chelsea. It was excruciating to watch Sarri’s loss of control for sure.

Most of the pundits have based their comments on the assumption that Sarri wanted Willie Caballero to take over in goals. Yes, Kepa seemed to be injured but Caballero brought more than sending on a fit goalkeeper. 

Caballero won this very trophy for Manchester City in 2016 by saving penalties in the shoot out against Liverpool. He knows all the City players and no doubt practiced penalties with them. What an advantage! In his post match interview made reference to how it would have added to the mind games.

So the assumption was that as Kompany was thinking this on the pitch, so was Sarri in the dug out. I don’t believe such a scenario existed. If it was a late in the game tactical substitution for the penalties, surely at least the possibility would have been discussed before the game. There seems no evidence from players or back room staff that this was the case. They thought Kepa was injured and he disagreed. 

Sitting watching with another City fan, we were sure Caballero would win it for Chelsea and indeed when we saw the poor penalty of Aguero I reckon we were right. That Kepa did not know that he was coming off if the game got to 119 minutes suggests that Sarri and Zola missed a trick!

Finally, why has no one talked about the match officials. Surely, the decision to substitute a player is made before the board goes up and the player comes on the pitch, it was the referees responsibility to ask Kepa to leave. When is the substitution legally done? Sarri didn’t seem to be changing his decision so if Chelsea has won could City have complained that Kepa shouldn’t have legally been on the pitch.

If, as it seems in this League Cup Final, the final decision for a substitution isn’t after a request is given to the referee then FIFA should be creating such a rule before next weekend. How many players are going to refuse to come off, having been substituted? One can only fear. Across the world this weekend it could be one almighty chaotic mess in the substitution department.

By the way… City won the Cup! Go on Raheem!


STOCKI SURMISES V.A.R, HANDBALL IN THE BOX & THE OFFSIDE RULE - FROM THE CITY V SCHALKE GAME

City Schalke

It was quite a game. 

A seemingly one sided affair until two quick penalties rattled City’s sense of the script. Rattled even more by a sending off and City could have been on the ropes. Schalke however played for 2-1 which always had City still in charge of the two legged tie. Had it gone 3-1 and it really was game on at the Etihad in three weeks time.

As it was, City’s Leroy Sane, a former schoolboy and youth player at Schalke, came off the bench to score an unbelievable free kick. 2-2 would have been a nice escape but a pin point pass from the ball playing Ederson, City’s Hoddle-esque goalkeeper, and Raheem Sterling ran in to score a winner on the night! 

It was quite a game.

I am not blogging a short match report on another City win though. What really caught my surmising was the use of VAR and the second Schalke penalty.

The first penalty was interesting. It seemed that a corner had been given when suddenly the referee went to VAR (Video Assistant Referee). Now, I had no argument with that. Eventually after what seemed like minutes, the ref takes the captains aside and speaks to them, probably about the players requests for VAR which is illegal. Still no decision. Eventually… a penalty is given.

Now, let me add some extra surmising in here. I think there should a lot more hand balls given in the penalty area. The old mantra, “the player couldn’t get their hand out of the way” allows players to have their hands all over the place with the likelihood of getting away with it! In the City/Schalke game I don’t believe Otamendi deliberately handled the ball. Indeed I believe Otamendi was trying to get his hand out of the way… BUT it was in the way and he didn’t get it out of the way fast enough. I would have given a penalty.

However, the length of time that VAR took. There were 5 extra minutes at the end of the first half. That is very unusual. It suggests the referee added four minutes for that incident. Now… VAR is only to change a clear error. Four minutes suggests that VAR was very unsure if it was a clear error. We need VAR but we need it to work better than it currently is. 

So. For me a penalty but they way they used VAR it should not have been given. 

Confused… let me confuse you more… The second penalty. Oh my!

It is given for a foul by City player Fernandinho on a Schalke player. Always a bit of barging in the penalty box but I would again say that it probably was a penalty.

However… the player Fernandinho fouled was offside. Now, in my everyman’s view of soccer rules that therefore should not be a penalty. All the ex players in the studio took my point of view. The ex-referee in the studio did not.

The ex-referee said that because the Schalke player had not reached or played the ball, the referee could not penalise him for being offside so it was a penalty. WHAAATTTT!  Surely, a player is penalised for being offside when he is interfering with play. If winning a penalty is not interfering with play then the FIFA really need to have long look at that rule. 

It was quite a game.


SHOULD WE FORGIVE GAVIN WHYTE HIS LEWD ACT

Gavin Whyte

Northern Ireland soccer player Gavin Whyte is all over the news having been caught on video doing a lewd act in public.

Today, Whyte has responded with an apology:

"I apologise to anyone I offended - I was stupid and completely regret being part of it. I hope Oxford and NI fans can forgive me for a moment of real stupidity.”

Whyte goes on to say,

”It was wrong, I know that, but it happened and now I have to try and move on. I have so many good people around me.”

How should Oxford and NI fans, and indeed the public in general, respond to Whyte?

There is almost a classic Biblical repentance in his response. He actually uses the word forgiveness. If we take a Biblical template to repentance and forgiveness, it is all here.

In the Bible repentance is not always necessary before forgiveness but forgiveness always follows repentance. 

Gavin Whyte’s hopes of forgiveness should not go unfounded. We need to accept that he has acknowledged his wrong doing and learned from his mistake. 

That should be the end of this newspaper story. That should erase the black mark against his name. It should not be held against him or dragged up at any time. Not even by away supporters! He should get a fresh start. He should be allowed to move on as he has asked for.

The press and indeed wider society is not good about such things. Away fans even less so! We hold something done decades ago against people whose lives have radically changed since their misdemeanour. That lack of forgiveness paralyses individuals and society. Those of us who don’t forgive get caught up in the bitter stagnation of the society they themselves have paralysed. 

A Biblical model for forgiveness would be such a helpful force to the transformation of individuals, like Gavin Whyte, and society as a whole. 

Gavin Whyte you are forgiven. Or you should be. I wonder if God would find it unforgivable not to forgive a repentant footballer!

 

note: for the theologically squeamish, this article has nothing to do with Gavin Whyte and God. What he does in that realm is up to him and God. This is about societal forgiveness.

This year's 4 Corners Festival from January 30 - February 10th is all about forgiveness. Info here -  https://4cornersfestival.com 

 


COULD FOOTBALL'S UNITY IN TRAGEDY CHANGE THE VITRIOL AT MATCHES

Leicester mourns

Football is working through a very sad week. News of Glenn Hoddle’s heart attack caused a reaction across the sport. He was a hero. Gifted as a player. Creative as a coach. As a pundit, I enjoyed his tactical insight. He is loved. Our prayers are with him and his family.

Then, not many hours later, the Leicester City Chairman’s helicopter goes down in the streets beside the stadium. There is shock and grief at the loss of life.

A lot of us probably didn’t know the Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s, name but we knew his face and that amazing achievement of winning the Premiership for little Leicester City. Even as a City fan, who should have been winning it that season, I loved that Leicester did instead! 

What has struck me over the days since, has been the camaraderie of the football community. Everybody wants Glenn Hoddle well again. Every club sent their condolences to Leicester City. There was a wonderful sense of unity. Our humanity overcomes rivalry. 

Of course that is how it should be. My own prayers go out to Vichai’s wife and family and those Leicester players, and members of staff, who genuinely loved the man, not just his investment. Kasper Schmeichel running towards the crash said so much. As did Riyad Mahrez’s tribute after scoring for Manchester City last night.

However, it is not how football mostly is. I watch every weekend at the abuse that fans give the opposition’s players and fellow fans. It is angry vicious vitriol mostly enhanced by hand and finger gestures. I have been to matches and heard the abuse that referees, the opposition and even the team that fans are supporting receive. There are tirades of raw visceral hatred. I often wonder if there is something in the modern adult male that needs this place to vent something of the sadness and melancholy of a British life. 

It all seems dangerously uncivil to me. Of course there should be banter and a competitive spirit. Surely that can be healthy and humorous and actually add to the sporting atmosphere. I have enjoyed some good Rugby banter with fans of other teams and countries, standing side by side at matches. Less police needed there to separate supporters. 

What I am saying, on the very saddest of footballing weeks is that that same love and camaraderie in these moments of tragedy should be held and treasured. This feeling of one big soccer family should be nurtured that it might flourish, every single week in the stadiums of the beautiful game. 

I never want to contradict the great Bill Shankly but let me. This week he was proved wrong. It is not a matter of life an death. It is NOT more important than that.