Brawling Captains, Powerless Referees, Cheating Players ... Who Dares Tell the Men Running Football to Clean Up the Tainted Game?

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ON Tuesday, my 12-year-old son was watching Manchester United playing Arsenal at Highbury on the TV. "Come and watch, Dad, they're fighting again!

Wayne Rooney's just told the ref to f**k off. Oh my God, he's not sending him off."

In the tunnel beforehand, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira, the two captains, had squared up to each other. This is the same Keane who boasted in his autobiography of having once launched a premeditated attack on another player, ending his playing career.

During the match, Manchester United's Mikael Silvestre head-butts an opponent, causing him to bleed. He is sent off.

Nobody on his team rebukes him. The United fans applaud him off. After suspension, he can play again in a few weeks.

For 90 minutes fouls are executed and imaginary ones are feigned, shirts are pulled, opponents are obstructed.

On Wednesday, I was at Craven Cottage to see Fulham take on Aston Villa. The same sort of behaviour went on.

Players dived to try to get penalties, they blatantly niggled each other and when decisions went against them they surrounded the referee.

On each occasion, as they do after every match, the commentators talked in the same blinkered, fawning, self-serving terms, of the "passion" and the "commitment" that so characterise our national, supposedly beautiful game.

It's hard to think of another, major prop of our society that displays such rank hypocrisy as football. Politics? Well, not all the time. The media?

Certainly - but then we know our place, down there, near estate agents.

Football is up at the top: an increasingly powerful institution, pored over by millions, its stars feted and worshipped like never before.

Yet it is played, managed and run by violent thugs and cheats. They and their legions of supporters will say otherwise, of course. An England player fails to take a drug test.

Is he banned for life? No. The England manager has an affair with a secretary (as does the Football Association's chief executive). The secretary and the official lose their jobs. The manager keeps his. Like many in topflight soccer, the same national manager treats his employment contract with contempt, holding talks with a billionaire club owner. Is he sacked?

You're joking.

IN GOLF and snooker, players readily admit to making foul shots. In football, the ball crosses the goal line and the team, in this case Manchester United, concede it did. Does Sir Alex Ferguson concede the three points? Hey, no way, this is football. Good old Fergie.

The cancer runs throughout the peak of the game. From clubs who drop replica shirts (and even their suppliers), forcing families to shell out more money, to backhanders from transfer fees, to absurd salaries, exorbitant ticket prices (executive seats in Arsenal's new stadium will cost [pounds sterling]5,000 each, with a commitment for four years), to the disgusting on and off-field behaviour of the players. …


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