Ranting Souness Gives Voice to the Miserable State of Football

Article excerpt


ON a boggy field in southwest London, the rugby league match was entering its closing moments. It had been compelling stuff, with the lead changing hands time and again, and now only two points separated the student teams.

The visitors from the West Country summoned a final effort - first tackle, second tackle, third tackle - giving their all for a handful of yards.

And then, on the fourth tackle, a big forward spilled the ball. 'Knock on,' shouted the referee, himself scarcely more than a student.

'Bloody hell, ref!' protested the forward. The referee glared, and ordered the offending team to retreat a further 10 yards to penalise the dissent.

This provoked a ferocious outbreak of abuse from the entire side, all of it directed at their colleague, whose indiscipline had cost them precious territory. He had been foolish beyond words, they agreed.

He had given the referee no choice.

Bloody hell, indeed.

Standing on that muddy touchline, watching the chivalrous drama unfold, I thought of Graeme Souness. A few days earlier he, too, had stood on a touchline, watching his Blackburn side playing Tottenham. And he had protested at a few decisions of the referee, Graham Poll. Protested so vigorously that Poll had banished him to the stands.

Banishment, of course, is no stranger to Souness. Indeed, this was the third time in 15 months that he had been sent packing. But this incident illustrated precisely why football is held in such miserable esteem by a vast swathe of the British sporting public.

Consider the manager's version.

'I was frustrated because of some of the decisions Poll was making,' said Souness. 'I just said to him: "I didn't know you were a Tottenham fan". Then I said it again and he sent me off. I have not sworn or said anything to the ref that can be deemed to be wrong. …