On Football going “Soft”

Every now and then, someone posts this video of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira squaring up to each other in 1999, or perhaps this bunch of hard men/dirty players (the most recent of whom was Mr Keane himself).  It usually leads to comparisons with incidents such as these or these* which are used to suggest that today’s footballers are less “manly” than those of the past.

Or to put it another way, that football has gone soft.


It can’t be denied that there are few players like Ron Harris, Billy Bremner and Graeme Souness in the modern game. Those who still go hard for tackles (Joey Barton, Martin Skrtel and Carles Puyol spring to mind) are often branded “dirty”and penalised, even when they win the ball, but also take out the man.

There is good evidence that the art of the tackle is a dying one.  Lee Dixon consistently bemoans the problem and provides evidence that, particularly in England, the number of tackles per match dropped sharply between his retirement and 2012.

Certainly, there have been campaigns to rule out what are perceived as “dangerous” tackles, such as the tackle from behind, two-footed lunges and any tackle with studs up.  One does wonder how many of the tackles featured in his official England biography film, Stuart Pearce would have got away with in 2015.

Defenders are having to learn new tricks and, as Martin Keown states, they are finding ways to beat the referee by hiding in a crowded penalty area.  If Keown is right, and defenders are beating the system in this way, perhaps it is not surprising that we are seeing more over-reaction (or, less charitably put, diving and faking injury) as a counter-measure.

Perhaps that is sometimes the only way that attacking teams now have to draw the attention of foul play to the referee, especially as, unlike with dangerous tackles or violence, there is never any post-match punishment for unfairly blocking your opponent in the box, no matter how blatantly.

This is distasteful, but in my view, it could be considered an acceptable price to pay if the moves to outlaw “dangerous” play have in fact done so, and resulted in fewer serious injuries caused to players by other players on the field.

The vital question, therefore, is has there been a reduction in such injuries over the same period?

The only careful analysis I can find of this question is this study by UEFA (and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine) into injuries in the period 2001 to 2008 across Europe.

This report does refer to injuries “due to foul play” (which accounted for 21% of all injuries) and does comment on trends over time, but does not combine the two.  It does say, however, that “The incidence of severe injuries and muscle injuries did not differ significantly between seasons.”

My conclusion?

On the evidence available, it seems the outlawing of “dangerous” tackles has led to more diving, more cheating and no reduction in injuries.


Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

* Although the clips involving Jens Lehman and Thierry Henry have clearly been horribly fabricated.


On BDS – an Update

You may recall that, following Liverpool University Guild of Students’ adoption of a BDS policy, I wrote to the President of the Guild to explain why that was a discriminatory and wrong-headed decision, and asking him to revoke it.

Well, he has now replied.  Below, I copy his response to me, and my further response to him:

Hi Elliot,

Thanks for your email, and apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

Please see our news story relating to the preferendum that happened here last week that gives the context to the decisionhttp://www.liverpoolguild.org/articles/preferendum-vote-supports-bds-motion.

Also, here is my comment in the press:

“We held a preferendum vote on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement last week and the motion has been supported. The vote came about after it was suggested by one of our students through the Change It system and over a thousand students voted during the week. We will be meeting with both groups about this over the coming days to agree on the best way forward.  Whatever the outcomes Liverpool Guild is fully committed to providing an inclusive and safe space for all our student groups.”

We have now had a chance to have met with our Jewish Society and Friends of Palestine Society and will be publishing an action plan to let students know what this means. During the campaign week information was published about the BDS campaign, both groups of students were given the chance to produce and distribute information during the week, as well as for both Summits, which discussed this issue prior to it coming to a Preferendum vote. There was also a debate facilitated during the week with external speakers invited by both the Jewish Society and Friends of Palestine Society.

We feel that we responded to the petition for a vote on this matter from our students in the fairest and least partisan way possible and as stated above are an organisation which is committed to equality, safe space and welcomes all students.

If I can be of any further assistance please let me know.

Kind regards,

Harry Anderson




Thank you for your response. I am sure the process was very democratic, within the limitations of student democracy (which I’m sure I don’t need to spell out to you).

Unfortunately, sometimes the majority is simply wrong.

If one (one? Is that all it takes?) of your students suggested a vote supporting the execution of gay people in Iran or Saudi Arabia (to pick a randomly offensive example), I wonder whether you would put that forward to the student body in a preferendum – I suspect not.

I commend you for consulting with the Jewish Society and others, but the very need for such a consultation is revealing in itself.

It is a clear recognition that a) the issue is not one of “right” versus “wrong” which is surely the only occasion when a draconian step such as a boycott should be considered; and b) the result has the potential to adversely affect a body of students who have done nothing wrong and mean nobody any harm at all.

Whatever the outcome of your consultations, you can be certain that neither side will be happy. The majority of Jewish students will, for the reasons I set out in my first letter, be marginalised and nothing short of a total ban of anything positive about Israel will satisfy the BDS supporters.

It is surely better to admit that a mistake has been made than to subject the Guild and its members to an extended period of bitterness and recrimination which, I am afraid, you will find is unavoidable.

I therefore reiterate my call for you to revoke this policy and hope you will give this request your serious consideration.

Yours sincerely

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

An Open Letter on BDS

Harry Anderson


Guild of Students

Liverpool University



Mr Anderson

I read with dismay, shame and concern that your Guild has voted to participate in the hateful and destructive boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to de-legitimise and stigmatise the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

My dismay is obvious as, by all objective criteria, you have perversely singled out for opprobrium the only place in the Middle East where a person is NOT discriminated against because of their sexuality,  gender, religion or race, and the only FREE country in the MENA region (see extracted results from the latest Freedom House survey below).

This odious BDS campaign is nothing to do with human rights and nothing to do with peace as it merely puts up barriers to the co-operation and understanding between people that is necessary for peace.

Most of all, it has nothing to do with the plight of the Palestinian people, who have suffered and continue to suffer far more death and persecution at the hands of their so-called brethren in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and their so-called leaders in Hamas and Fatah than they ever have from Israel.

The BDS campaign has never once raised a peep of complaint against Syria, Lebanon or Jordan.

And the Guild has not chosen to boycott any of the dozens of states whose human rights record is by any measure exponentially worse than Israel’s, not even those named above who have denied the most basic of rights to Palestinians for decades.

Instead it solely targets the only state which, despite years of terrorist attacks against civilian targets such as buses, restaurants and hotels that have cost hundreds of lives, has made repeated offers to give land for the establishment of the first independent state of Palestine in history (most recently in 2008), and which unilaterally withdrew ALL civilian and military presence from Gaza in 2005 for that purpose.

When I studied at Liverpool University, some 25 years ago, I had to battle against the prejudice of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign who even then attempted to ban the Jewish Society, of which I was Chair, from celebrating our cultural, historic and national links to Israel.

Back then, I could count on the support of my colleagues on the Guild Executive, who saw clearly that the campaign to delegitimise Israel was merely a front, and that the only purpose served by such a ban would be to send out a strong message to the Jewish students:

“You are not welcome here”.

My shame therefore is that the only thing that has changed in the intervening years is that the Guild has lost the courage to stand up to the bullies in the BDS campaign who, I note, refused to accept the fair and balanced decision of your Guild Summit to seek opportunities to educate your members about the issues. Instead you have chosen to shut down debate.

My concern is for the Jewish and Israeli students currently attending the University, who will now not be able to enjoy their time to the same extent I did, knowing that a core element of their identity is now outlawed from AND BY the Guild that is supposed to represent them and care for their welfare.

The stated Vision of the Guild of Students is “to improve, develop and enrich the lives of all students.”  I ask you a very simple question.  How does the adoption of BDS go any way towards improving, developing or enriching the lives of any student?  Doesn’t it simply worsen, damage and impoverish the lives of a group of students who ask only that they, alone amongst all the faiths, ethnicities and nationalities at the University, should not be singled out in this divisive and vindictive manner?

I call on the Guild to take a principled stand – against prejudice, against discrimination and for peace, reason and dialogue – by revoking this shameful policy immediately.

Until then, I remain ashamedly yours

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

Country Freedom Status Political Rights
1 (best) to 7 (worst)
Civil Rights
1 (best) to 7 (worst)
Algeria NOT free 6 5
Bahrain NOT free 7 6
Egypt NOT free 6 5
Iran NOT free 6 6
Iraq NOT free 6 6
ISRAEL Free 1 2
Jordan NOT free 6 5
Kuwait Partly free 5 5
Lebanon Partly free 5 4
Libya NOT free 6 6
Oman NOT free 6 5
Qatar NOT free 6 5
Saudi Arabia NOT free 7 7
Syria NOT free 7 7
Turkey Partly free 3 4
U.A.E. NOT free 6 6
Yemen NOT free 6 6

To Flag or Not to Flag? That is the Question!

I know this is going to come as something of a shock, but there has been a great deal of fuss made on social media in the past few days about a seemingly harmless matter.  Who knew?

Some people, moved by the scenes and sounds of explosion and gunfire in Paris, have chosen to add a French tricolour flag to their avatars, or the Eiffel Tower/peace symbol.  Others have decided not to do so.  You’d have thought that would be the end of it, but hey, we’re talking about social media here.  Everyone has to have an opinion, and as soon as a discussion starts, those opinions, like two magnetic north poles, shoot off to opposite extremes before you can say “140 character limit”.

It now seems that those who have flagged (I claim the coinage of “to flag”, another annoying mangling of a noun, like “to medal”) are racist, xenophobic, or simply uncaring about the dead in Syria, Lebanon, Kenya, Israel, Palestine, Yemen…


I have even seen people arguing that nobody did this in sympathy with the victims of the Rwandan genocide (which, for the slow of thought, took place in 1994, at which time hardly anyone had an email address, let alone a facebook or twitter or instagram account)!

These accusations then lead to counter-accusations, that those who are “militant non-flaggers” (there’s another phrase I should copyright!) are somehow heartless, or should just shut the f@#* up.

If you want to flag – great.

If you don’t – also great.

If you want to create alternative flags to show solidarity with Lebanese victims of terror (or Israeli, Syrian, Kenyan or whoever) – all power to your elbow!

I would like to make two things clear.

First – It is not xenophobic or racist to feel more keenly the impact of an event if it happens to someone with whom you have close ties – it is perfectly normal! 

Let’s say there are two fatal road accidents in your town on the same day. You have never met either victim, but one lived in your road, you had many mutual friends and supported the same football team.  I think it would be reasonable for you to be a little bit more moved about that death than the other one.

Second – Life is (as the people of Paris, Beirut etc have recently been reminded in the starkest possible way) far too short to create animosity over this.

OK – rant over.  Thanks for listening.

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

On My Response to Paris

As in the aftermath of all terrorist attacks, there are many types of response on social media.

There’s the general sympathy, the “Je Suis Charlie” or “Pray for France” types. So far, so inoffensive.


There’s the voyeuristic thrill with which some spread images, sounds and words of blood, shooting, explosions.

Then there’s those who use the event as a prop to support their pre-conceived view of the World or to bang their favourite drum. So, even before the killing ended, I’ve seen the blame shamelessly put on immigration, Islam, Islamophobia, French involvement in Syria, French tolerance, French intolerance, the “Zionist-controlled media”, the liberal media etc etc.

As usual, I cast no stones. I have changed my Facebook profile to a French flag, tweeted sympathy and, by engaging in arguments with those who have used the tragedy to push their own prejudices, I have used it to push mine.

But that is just my external response. It’s more automatic than anything. It doesn’t involve any thought process – it’s business as usual.

And the 129 or so brutally killed in cold blood in Paris deserve more than that.

I lay awake last night and, rather than tweet #PrayforParis I decided to speak to G-d.

As soon as I began, though, I ran into difficulty. I simply couldn’t verbalise my thoughts. It seemed too flippant simply to ask Him for “peace”, and too arrogant to ask Him to perform a particular act, such as bringing an end to such heinous acts.

I started to say that perhaps these dark times might be a good time for the age of miracles to return, for G-d to show his face and to give us an unmistakable sign that He thoroughly disapproves of those who kill in His name.

Then I realised that He may have sent dozens of such signs already. But we, in our arrogance (and in the climate of aggressive secularism predominant in Western Europe which sees any sign of religious zeal as a symptom of madness), we have simply failed to see them as such.

Let’s face it, if a prophet appeared today, he (or she) would be dismissed as a crackpot and if G-d were to inflict the 10 plagues on a nation today, the response would be a DEC disaster appeal on the TV, charity singles and expressions of sympathy from World leaders rather than shocked introspection or consideration of a moral lesson.

(And no, I am not suggesting that any particular world event was a punishment from G-d. I wouldn’t be so arrogant to think I know G-d’s will. It’s a pity this is a humility so lacking in the ISIS lunatics who carried out yesterday’s attacks).

As I pointed out in “On prejudice“, there is, and can never be (at least not since the Tower of Babel), a commonly accepted interpretation of an event, no matter how extraordinary.

For example, I look at the creation of the State of Israel, so soon after the horrors inflicted on European Jewry in the Shoah; its survival in the face of overwhelming numbers (and unlimited resources) who have wished to destroy it since day one; and its development into an island of democracy, liberal tolerance, leading the world in science, medicine, the arts, all despite having to fight endlessly.

I look at all that and believe that is nothing short of miraculous. Yet the World does not agree with me. Much of the World sees Israel’s very existence as demonic, not miraculous. And, of course, many don’t consider it relevant to their lives at all.

In any event, if you believe in G-d, you believe He is omnipotent and omniscient. He knows what pain and misery people, not just in Paris, but all around the World, suffer because of the sort of hatred and psychosis that inspires the men who kill, torture and maim and hide behind a cause, be it political, religious, theological or nationalist.

And only He knows when such acts will cease (if indeed they ever will) and what will bring them to an end. Who am I to make suggestions as if I were writing a letter of complaint to my local Council about the state of the roads?

Perhaps, in the long run of history, those killings in Paris were a necessary pre-requisite for some future situation that brings humanity much joy. I simply don’t know.

So an honest introspection left me simply shrugging my shoulders and hoping that He knows what He is doing.

Speak soon (hopefully in happier circumstances)

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

On Hopes for Peace

There is a tiny stretch of land that lies between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea that has seen more war and more people fighting for its control than any other part of the Earth’s surface.

The Philistines, Moabites, Canaanites and other pre-historic tribes gave way to the Israelites, who were conquered by the Assyrians, who were defeated by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.  Over the following millenia, the Persians, Seleucids, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbysids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottamans and the British claimed sovereignty over part or all of the area.

Then, in 1947, the UN voted to [establish, recognise, acknowledge, impose, create or re-create]* (*delete as required depending on your perspective) a homeland in the area for the Jewish people – a land that Jews have referred to for thousands of years as Eretz Yisroel – the Land of Israel, and for the first time in over 2000 years, Jews had a land where they could live under their own rule, free from the whim of sometimes benevolent, often genocidal hosts.

As is obvious to anyone who has not been living under a rock, that was not the end of the story, nor of the conflict that has so scarred this region, and for the ensuing 68 years, the Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians and (of course) Palestinians have attempted to wrest control of some or all of the land from Israeli (or more specifically Jewish) hands.

Like most civilised people, I have hoped and prayed throughout my life for an end to the conflict and the suffering and death it has inflicted on all the people of the region, but save for a few precious moments (Sadat and Begin, Oslo, Rabin, the establishment of the PA) peace has seemed impossible.

To my mind, and contrary to the perception that is prevalent in the Western intelligentsia and liberal mainstream media, Israel is currently in a stronger position than it has ever been.  Due to the horrific turmoil of the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya et al, no Arab country is in any state (or state of mind) to challenge Israeli military might; Hamas (though they try to present an image of strength) is in reality entirely at Israel’s mercy and is isolated (following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt); and the Palestinian Authority has tied itself up in such gordian knots trying to have its cake and eat it that it doesn’t know whether it is a government-in-waiting, a partner for peace, a cabal of collaborators or a leader of “resistance against the occupation”.

As peace is most often made from a position of strength, I was quietly confident that, should Israel choose to do so, she could impose a solution which the weak Palestinian and Arab leadership would simply have to accept – create facts on the ground that it would be simply impossible for anyone to extinguish.  It was this that I suppose Ariel Sharon had in mind when he ordered the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli civilians and military from Gaza in 2005.

The sharp-eyed among you may have spotted that I said I was quietly confident.  In recent weeks and months, however, I have come to conclude that peace – even an imposed and reluctant one – is simply not possible for the forseeable future, for one fundamental reason.

Not the status of Jerusalem, not the “settlements”, not the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees (about which I will write elsewhere) which are the usual issues said by the Western media to be “obstacles to peace”, as all these lie firmly in Israel’s control.

The one, basic, fundamental obstacle preventing peace right now is simply this.

The Palestinians do not want peace.

What is my evidence for this statement?  First, I will refer to the Palestinian leadership (i.e. Mahmood Abbas and his PA government and Khaled Meshaal and his Hamas comrades.  Hamas make no secret of the fact they do not want peace with Israel.  Their rhetoric, their Charter, flag and their stated aims involve the removal of any Jewish rule over any part of the historic region known as Palestine.  The PA, for all their moderation when talking in English to Western journalists, incite violence and hatred at every turn when speaking in Arabic to their own people (see the excellent Palestinian Media Watch and Middle East Media Research Institute, which have catalogued some of the hundreds of examples including this slander from the official Fatah Twitter feed, alleging that the Palestinians killed in the recent spate of stabbing attacks are actually innocent victims of murderous Israelis, who plant knives on them after shooting them).

But what about the Palestinian “street” – ordinary Palestinians who have not had any democratic ability to express their opinion since the far from free or fair elections of the PA in 2005 (Abbas is currently in the 11th year of his 4-year term) and Hamas in 2006.

My hope was that ordinary Palestinians, with access to opinion and information from throughout the world, and weary from the failures of violent resistance that has been the primary tactic of Palestinian leadership since the PLO’s foundation in 1967, may (even if only out of desire for some respite) hold at least a tentatively welcoming view of a peaceful end to the conflict that has, undoubtedly caused them a great deal of personal, economic and physical distress.

Sadly, I have now read this excellent and comprehensive review of Palestinian public opinion, compiled by Daniel Polisar. It represents the most wide-ranging and well-researched overview of Palestinian opinion on 3 key questions – on Israel itself, on Israelis/Jews and on violent attacks against Israelis. The methodology used is thorough, so I believe as reliable as it could be.  It is rather long however, so I have taken the liberty of summarising it in bullet points below, but I recommend a thorough reading of it.

Palestinians (or at least a significant majority) believe that:

  • Israel is the cause of all the problems faced by Palestinians, even those with which Israel has little or no involvement (e.g. the 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza);
  • Israel aims to annex all the land west of the Jordan river and to expel all the Arabs living there, including Arab citizens of Israel;
  • Israel’s intention is to destroy the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and build a synagogue in their place;
  • Israelis are violent and untrustworthy;
  • Judaism is the most violent religion;
  • Jews do not have a long history of ties to Jerusalem, whereas Palestinians do;
  • Jews do not have a right to a state in any part of the land;
  • The Dolphinarium suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the 7/7 attacks in London, the Madrid train bombings and 9/11 were not acts of terrorism;
  • The use of chemical or biological weapons by Palestinians against Israelis would not be terrorist acts, but the use of such weapons by Israel against Palestinians would be terrorism;
  • Violence against civilian targets in Israel and the West is justified, praiseworthy and will make Israel more likely to compromise;
  • Hamas was the “victor” in each of the Gaza wars;
  • It is morally “right” to name streets after Palestinians who were “martyred” in the act of killing Israeli civilians;
  • Osama bin Laden (Al Qa’eda), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran) and Hasan Nasrallah (Hezbollah) are all to be admired;
  • It is admirable and “right” to stab Israeli civilians or to drive a car into them.

This is all most depressing, and has shaken my faith that peace is likely to happen – either soon or at all.  The only ray of light I now see is simply that history teaches us that what seems impossible one day can and does become reality the next.

In the frozen depths of the Cold War in the early 1980s, anyone predicting the (largely peaceful) collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of that decade would have been branded a fool.

Even as Perestroika was in full swing and the Iron Curtain was rusting away, nobody would have predicted that within a few short years, South African Apartheid would not only have been bloodlessly dismantled, but that the country would have a black President.

So – though peace in that blood-soaked slip of land at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean now seems as remote as at any time in the last 3 millenia, who knows what miracles may come to pass?  We can only continue to pray “Osei shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom alenu v’al kol yisroel” – “May He who makes peace, bring peace to us and to all Israel.”

And let us say … Amen.

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)