Saturday, 24 July 2010

Fairy Jobmother deconstructed.

‘Fairy Jobmother’ may be a reality show, but we can nonetheless categorise it as fiction. These aren’t real people - they’re grotesque stereotypes who are broadcast solely to reassure the public that their prejudices are correct. The show is a useful pantomime that reinforces received wisdom. The official line on the unemployed is that they are entirely to blame for their own plight as a result of being lazy, feckless, stupid, or badly brought up (by people who were lazy, feckless, stupid…) This is what we see in the programme. We don’t see Hayley Taylor being sent to live with families who are killing themselves jobseeking, beating their heads against the same brick wall day after day with no hope in sight - because it wouldn’t be a good story. Each episode has a safe and familiar routine - Guru lives with family, Guru diagnoses family, Guru inspires family to solve problems, group hug-and-cry session (along the lines of Adam Curtis’ writing about emotion-driven television).

The key this week was apparently the long-dead family patriarch, praised as a man with a great work ethic (in other words, he grew up in a time when work was more easily available), whose stern Fatherly influence the family was clearly missing. The shabby surroundings, the family’s lack of drive and poor physical condition were all too easy to diagnose with a little amateur psychology on Taylor’s part. She encouraged the family to ‘move on’ from their loss and take responsibility for themselves.

Taylor helps the mother get over her grief at the loss of her husband by first expressing sympathy (an overfamiliar arm around the shoulder and group cry at the cemetery) then by making her face some ‘harsh truths‘ - harsh medicine, of course, being the favoured kind in neo-Thatcherite times. The two children lack self-esteem, so the son is sent to learn boxing in a gym, while the daughter gets a makeover in preparation for an interview with an electrics store. She gets the job. More group crying, only this time with happiness. Simple. Perhaps we can all be ‘solved’ in this way, by people who possess no relevant qualifications on the matter - but then qualifications aren’t important, are they? It’s just a matter of common sense.

In fact the programme’s title is misleading - finding work is only a minor feature of this family drama. Taylor organises the climactic job interview herself (the daughter never actually applies for the job) and we never see any of the family doing any other jobhunting. Taylor obviously believes that there are deeper problems to fix before she can think about sending the family to work. While this is a refreshing change to the attitude held by successive governments (blindly prescribing work itself as a cure for all personal or psychic ills), it's more sinister than it seems. Bear in mind that Taylor’s former employers, A4E, are keen to extend their influence into all areas of their clients’ lives - not just work and training, but financial advice, legal advice (to the point of driving a CAB out of business in Hull) and now even medicine. Their latest scheme (described in a recent entry at is ‘offering their expertise in reducing long term sickness related absence from work’ - in other words, using their own medical personnel to declare employees fit to return to work as soon as possible and taking the decisions out of the hands of GPs. Perhaps I’m an alarmist, but I can’t help thinking of the early twentieth century and the era of the Company Store, when the firm you worked for owned and controlled every aspect of your life, and there was next to no idea of a private existence beyond the reach of your employers.

The Fairy Jobmother, for all its disposability, feels like a step in the same direction. If factors in our lives are making it more difficult for us to find work (that is, make employers less likely to be impressed by us), we can expect to be hassled and bullied into changing our lives to remove the obstacles. We cannot, of course, expect any material help along these lines - it’s just a matter of threats and motivation. If you have the temerity to be out of work, your personal life is not a private matter. The DWP and shady organisations like a4e have every right to examine your circumstances, deem them unsuitable, and, on pain of starvation and homelessness, mould you into a better person - that is, one more amenable to employers*. And this process will be cheered from the sidelines by those who rail at the ‘nanny state’ and become puce with rage at the thought of local authorities telling them what to put in their wheelie bins.

This no small matter. What‘s at stake here is the principle that a human life has value beyond the use that can be extracted from it in the meat grinder of Capital - and it’s an argument that the other side is winning.

On another note, it’s revealing that Taylor’s partially-successful methods required the production company to shell out on bereavement counselling sessions, gym membership, new clothes and an expensive makeover before even one of the family could enter work. The average jobseeker could not afford any of these things. The family could barely afford to keep food in the house (many commenters have drawn attention to the mother ‘wasting’ her money on cigarettes, as if those weren’t famous for being addictive and very difficult to give up. But the idea that benefit claimants would have loads of money if they didn’t waste it all on beer and fags is just another keystone of the mythography of the undeserving scrounger). The obvious point to conclude from this is that the family were too poor to find work. Without some source of disposable cash, they were incapable (even if they were willing) of improving themselves to the standard required.

Looking at this another way - the family’s position improved when they were made artificially less poor (or at least made to appear that way). The estate-dwelling ‘underclass’ are unemployable - intrinsically unattractive to employers - and the only way for them to escape their situation is to remodel themselves as respectable middle-class (or, at the minimum, respectable upper-working class) citizens. Even if they are struggling to buy food and pay the rent, they must present a professional appearance, learn the language of the professional workplace (the interview talk of ‘flexible team players’ and ‘highly motivated self-starters’). The moment when Taylor revealed the post-makeover daughter (made-up, coiffured, and dressed exactly like a miniature Hayley, scarf and all - now that‘s one for the amateur psychologists out there) pulled aside the veil. What the working class unemployed are being asked to do is to become middle class. Being a member of the Morlock underclass is a failing in itself, making you fully deserving of the starvation and homelessness that will follow if you can‘t adapt.

This is the crass, condescending, point-missing message of all the ‘problem-solving guru’ shows - “Why can’t the bovine masses solve their problems in the way that’s so obvious to us? Why can’t they be more like us? We’re psychologically well-adjusted, well-dressed, fit from morning gym sessions - what‘s holding them back?”

The show’s very title gives us an idea of what kind of strictly limited conclusions will be drawn at the end. Taylor’s steps did improve the family’s situation, but it was made clear that these ‘fairy godmother wishes’ were miraculous and unexpected, a break from the normal order of things. The idea that they be distributed on a wider basis, or even structuralized as part of the benefits system, is never on the table. The majority of the working class unemployed are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps - become mini-Hayleys and fully valid humans without any outside help. So what exactly was the moral of the show? That finding work is easier when you have a well-known, well-connected recruitment specialist in your corner? Shocking. And even then - if Taylor fails to find work for the family next week, we can expect blame to be diverted to them. There is no systemic analysis. Blame falls solely upon the individuals (and, yes, their families.)

Again, it’s in keeping with the official narrative of unemployment in this country: work is available to those who want it, the unemployed have themselves to blame, and the only problem they face is not wanting it enough. As the events of the last few years have shown, this is unchallengeable by any amount of empirical evidence. Trawling the comments and discussion threads of the internet, you can see that there’s been only a slight adaptation of the common wisdom as the number of unemployed has reached its highest level in decades - ‘granted, there are a few genuine unemployed, people being made redundant from skilled and professional jobs, and those people deserve our support, but for the most part they’re still lazy scroungers and a drain on the economy.’ One commenter on a thread about Fairy Jobmother rather plaintively suggested:

Maybe there should a government agency that detects those who don't/won't work and their benefits should be stopped. Those who are carers of children, eldery or disabled NEED greater financial support to enable them to work. Those are the people I have empathy for, not the scroungers.

And that’s the question, isn’t it? How do we tell the deserving poor from the undeserving? Make no mistake, we’re in the realm of simple ontological categories. We are Good People - the state should be punished, stripped of its powers for even having the temerity to bother us. They are Bad People - the state should intervene to make them Good (more charitable types may avow that this is for their own health). The Good Jobseekers need to be helped. The Bad Scroungers should be hassled and starved into submission.

Given that the entire bureaucracy of the DWP can’t reliably make this distinction (every long-term jobseeker has tales of undeserved, apparently random benefit stoppages, usually contrasted with some other lazier jobseeker who went unchallenged for years), it’s not exactly clear how a new ‘government agency’ will do it - will it employ half the population to follow the other half 24/7 to make sure that they’re really putting the effort in for their benefits? Is there any way of making progress on this front that doesn’t involve the complete abolition of individual privacy (for the unemployed only, naturally)? And is there any way to conduct this debate without clinging stubbornly to the resentful fantasy of millions of life-of-Riley spongers living it up at ‘our’ expense?

These sneering-at-proles programmes aren’t just harmless, cheap-to-produce trash - they’re actively setting back the political dialogue in this country. Thanks for contributing, Channel 4.

*Anyone getting advice on a CV can expect to be told which extracurricular hobbies and activities will look good, and which ones are best left off - in other words, employers already get to pass judgement on the way we choose to spend our time outside work...

Sunday, 18 July 2010

They're Watching WatchingA4E


'I'm genuinely amazed. I didn't realize unemployment was the result of people not being able to sell themselves to an employer effectively. For years I have laboured under the misapprehension that unemployment was the result of technological advances in machine production rendering the need for the application of large masses of human labour power increasingly redundant, when all we really needed to do was polish up our CVs, slap on a smile and think positive. Genius! This woman needs to go global with this. I know, let's send her to China.'

Look at the recent comments: the site is being invaded by PositivityBots - 'At least she's trying to do SOMETHING, what are you doing to help the unemployed?'...

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

England's Number One

50% off-topic, so, on second thoughts, not suitable for Minus.

A scene from Armando Ianucci’s satirical comedy The Thick Of It keeps drifting into my mind. Hapless minister Hugh Abbott is being accused of hypocrisy for owning a second home in London while championing a bill to free up homes in the capital for key workers. Spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, needing to disassociate the party from the press outcry, leans on him to resign and walk away with some dignity. Abbott is at a loss to comprehend why this is happening to him – ‘It’s a flat! I haven’t raped someone!’ - and rails ‘Ministers should be cloned aged 45, with no genitals, no past, no flats…’

Was someone in the party listening? The Labour leadership contest is being contested between four test-tube babies – interchangeable, forty-ish, bland-looking men with no track records. Well – strictly speaking they do have track records, and were involved in many of the unpopular activities of the last Government, but they aren’t keen for punters to make this association. One of the most depressing sights at the recent candidate hustings was a squirming Ed Balls insisting that he had tried very hard to reverse Ministry policy with regard to the detention of child asylum seekers, but had ‘lost the argument’. Nobody believes that this happened, not even Balls himself, but it is revealing that he apparently sees pleading impotence as his strongest play at this point in time. The others are equally keen to distance themselves from the administration that they were raised in. Blogger Madam Miaow drily described them as ‘four amnesiacs in suits’.

Miliband senior seems to have been heir apparent for so long solely because he appears young, fresh-faced, and isn’t too closely associated with the New Labour project. Tony Parsons wrote in a Mirror editorial in 2008 ‘I like David Milliband. He seems very smart and he looks very clean’, which is the kind of incisive commentary you’d expect from someone’s grandmother, but may have stumbled across the truth all the same. Trying to assess David Miliband’s political character is impossible - his public statements are strings of carefully modified Olestra, without enough substance, texture, to even disagree with. Even if he did say anything of substance, he has the schizophrenic’s ability to distance himself from his own past words. His entire persona is frictionless - nothing (scandal, praise, criticism, accomplishments) clings to him. About all you can say about him is that… well… he looks clean. Clean as in hygienic, and clean as in untainted.

So here we are - left with the four most senior figures in the Labour Party who can plausibly disassociate themselves from the Party’s past actions (even if nobody but the Big Other believes them). Between them they have shown no steady political principles bar the ability to align themselves with power, and their most impressive skill is the basic self-preservation to avoid getting too publicly involved in either a coup or a scandal. They are the four improbable candidates left standing after all of the impossible ones have been ruled out.

…which, in turn, put me in mind of Joe Hart.

Hart has played eighty-six top-level matches in his club career, plus a total of 133 minutes in an England jersey, none of which was competitive play. How has he moved up through the ranks so quickly, so effortlessly, to become England’s number-one-in-waiting?

English goalkeepers once had a reputation for being rock solid, the kind of big implacable men who‘d occupy the heavy jersey from one decade to the next without changing their expression, much less their hairstyle. Nowadays it’s a job with the life expectancy of a green recruit in a special-missions squad from a war comic - the kind of unit where the sheer level of attrition means you become a Sergeant overnight and a Captain by the end of the week, if only you can avoid getting picked off by the enemy.

Robert Green misjudged the spin of a fast-moving ball and is now unlikely to be picked for England again. Scott Carson did more or less the same thing, and was never picked again. Paul Robinson misjudged Gary Neville’s backpass - surprisingly he was picked again, a few times, but was dumped at the end of the unsuccessful campaign. David Seaman misjudged the loft on Ronaldinho’s chip and, after over eight years as England’s first choice, knew that it was time to step down. (Misjudgement- that telling phrase, so often used by scandal-hit politicians…)

At a time when English goalkeeping talent is apparently at a premium, it is strange that we seem so keen to abandon young goalkeepers after one brief audition. Adopted-and-discarded players like Paul Robinson and Chris Kirkland (who was only picked once - it feels like he was around the squad for years) are in excellent form for their clubs, but know that it’s virtually impossible for them to earn a recall to the England squad. The same will doubtless be true of Robert Green, another not-quite to add to our growing list. To think of these players as washed up is bizarre - our outgoing ‘keeper, David James, wasn’t capped until he was 27, and didn’t become number one for another five years after that.

We weren’t always so harsh. Alan Rough’s few televised errors gave him (and any Scottish candidate for decades to come) the label of dodgy keeper, but he still got to enjoy a long and generally successful career. Peter Shilton let in a soft goal against Poland in 1973, and bore some of the blame for England’s failure to qualify for Germany, but wasn’t immediately dropped in favour of Ray Clemence. Shilton played for England for another seventeen years, outlasting three managers along the way. Where is the patience now?

Is the difference that today we live our lives in the television studio, where mistakes are almost certain to be caught on the Sky cameras, and the BBC show us endless repeats of the slip from all angles while Alan Hansen groans ‘he’s got to do better there’ ? Is it that these players really, genuinely lose confidence in the England jersey and, if we were to recall Paul Robinson, he’d spend the whole game trapped in a horrifying flashback, seeing a slow-motion vision of Gary Neville bearing down while the goals rained in behind him? I think it’s related to the lazily selective memory that had pundits dismissing Forlan’s talent and accomplishments based on one poor season he’d endured ten years ago - a reductive kind of stupidity that has us remember a person by the single most resounding association, whether or not that happens to be a good representation of a whole career. Brown? Bigotgate. Useless. Green? USA. Useless.

We praise our fresh-faced, spotless young goalkeepers until they’re foolish enough to make a mistake, at which point we dump them and go looking for someone even younger still. Hart is about to become our number one because he is the last candidate untainted by a public failure.

Perhaps all of this is unfair on Hart - but I can’t help wondering whether, by the time 2014 comes around, we’ll have a goalkeeper plucked from the U16 squad, because he’ll the most experienced keeper who hasn’t (yet) made a major televised howler. It’s not really so much more implausible than Ed Miliband being in charge of the country.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Unhomage to Catalonia

Not on Minus because we're all sick of it.

During Minus' own Spanish Civil War (no exaggeration, that, but rather an imaginative simile), Zone Styx retweeted someone's post along the lines of 'Spain are like a 9 year old PhD student that people can't stop demanding even more from.'

The lopsided fetishisation of technique above all else does, in fact, bring to mind some autistic-pattern preteen maths prodigy...

The determined persistence with the containment-passing game is supposed to be read as idealistic - perhaps that was true two years ago when they played it in the face of tired critical opinion that the Barcelona model could not be transferred to the international stage. The 2010 version, though, looks more like miserable pragmatism.

It may be that this Spanish team is past its peak and not capable of the things it used to do. Not entirely convinced, as most of them are still under thirty, but maybe this relentless pass/receive game requires especially young legs.

On the whole, though, I think it looks more like a conscious decision. Spain decided that they were going to do what was necessary to bury the past and win a World Cup, even if it didn't please all the neutrals. If they had to eliminate (almost) all risk from their style and smoothly massage the possibilities out of each game, they were okay with that.

Mark came up with the analogy of Spain being the equivalent of prog rock, desperately needing to be toppled by some footballpunk or postpunk. What could this be? Of course punk was far more than cartoon 'attitude' and aggression, so Holland's semi-effective physical harassment strategy doesn't fit the description - they'd surely be the equivalent of seventies pub rock...

But perhaps we can look at this the other way round. If punk represented an opening up of possibility (the rejection of the tyranny of technique), that quickly closed and became locked into reductive parody. Postpunk took us past this by being genuinely open to possibilities - it's hardly a sonic genre at all, more an ideological one. So with football - Spain represented a principled break with conventional wisdom (that wiry lads of 5'7" will never make it at the top level) - but it's a break that solidified and became the new orthodoxy.

(And just as watching some lumpen idea-less two-chord nightmare of a band made you reflect that, perhaps, being able to play your instrument wasn't so bad after all, so watching Spain makes you unexpectedly nostalgic for some lower division kick and rush...)

Postpunk bands used a variety of musical principles, but avoided becoming trapped in their codes and definitions (while also avoiding becoming mere magpie pick-and-choose pastiche). This was because most of those involved followed some 'higher', non-musical purpose in forming a band - what did the means matter?

What would a non-football (or, rather, supra-football) football team look like? Would that be a rejection of the importance of results (emphasis on style alone - Wenger deciding to abandon defence entirely and field eleven slight right-wingers), or would that be the embrace of results - pure pragmatism at the expense of any one particular style? Or is this just where we start to bump up against the useful limits of analogy?

There is in fact a magazine - aimed at the GQ market - called Football Punk. I'd call it a 'glossy' except they seem to have gone for an artfully matte effect (and a b/w photo of Peter Crouch's face on the cover). I'm tempted to buy a copy for grist-mill purposes.


You can't leave us hanging like that! What happened next?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

'Phoenix dark... dirk. Phoenix Darkdirk. Used to be Dirk Steel.'

I know that it can be hard to think of convincing-sounding character names (endless airport fiction books with ex-SAS heroes named Jack Stone, Jake Steel, etc), but whoever thought up the so-called 'England U-17 team' wasn't even trying.

Okay, I accept that Conor Wickham's existence has been independently verified. But the rest of them?

Will Keane - frontman of dangerous new, definitely not remotely posh, indie band.
Jack Butland - plain-speaking DI in ITV detective series.
Josh McEachran - frontman of new, definitely not manufactured, chart pop band. Possesses 'artistic credentials' (stubble and self-written songs)
Benik Afobe - Melchester Rovers' new Burkinan international full-back.
Conor Coady - new Eastenders teenage heart-throb.
Bruno Pilatos - of some unspecified swarthy nationality, played against Melchester in a European Cup tie, gave away penalty (converted by Roy Race)
Luke Garbutt - actor who plays Conor Coady
Nathaniel Chalobah - tough, goateed young priest, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, last survivor in zombie movie.
Andre Wisdom - Australian club DJ, specialises in breakbeats, remix of a Roni Size track got 'heavy rotation, locally'

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Comic book stuff.

Not on Minus because, Christ, any more pieces like this and David Stubbs will take out a restraining order against us.

One thing I love about Send Them Victorious (which makes it more than just 'collection of internet stuff printed in a spine') is the little historical prologue Stubbs has added before each report. It's useful in that it can remind you about things like the Estonia football and France rugby games taking place on the same day, so there's no problem getting the 'late England substitute Jonny Wilkinson' joke.

Stubbs' prologues aren't just useful, but also contribute to the comedy in themselves. Once you're a few reports in, you start seeing the same short bone-dry sentences every time - 'Frank Lampard has an uncharacteristically quiet game,' 'England make uncharacteristic defensive errors,' 'Wayne Rooney suffers an uncharacteristic loss of temper' - it's enough to get you to the chortling-on-public-transport stage before you even get into the report itself.

There was a terrible repetition and predictability about that team, wasn't there? They were like some kind of cartoon ensemble, like the Bash Street Kids - every member of the gang had his own peccadilloe which he'd commit without fail every time he appeared. Owen getting injured, Rooney losing control, Crouch climbing over smaller people, Lampard, Ferdinand not paying a great deal of attention, Gerrard wasting possession and never hitting the target with his preposterous shots (the stats books assure me that he scored many goals for England, but I'm assuming that must be some kind of totalitarian historical revision). Then we get to the supporting players - a succession of error-prone goalkeepers, a rotating cast of wingers making pointless runs into cul-de-sacs and contributing nothing to the team...

I've argued elsewhere that a key component of footballing 'inevitability' is the sense that every game will unfold the same way, and the context of the game and the identity of the opposition make no difference whatsoever. Well - by that measure, that this generation of players should fail was truly inevitable. For almost ten years, a succession of opponents came and went, and England distinguished themselves in the same manner every time. We convinced ourselves that maybe when Sven was gone, maybe when Steve was gone, everything would be okay - but it could never have happened so neatly, could it? It was about as likely as Walter the Softy responding to Dennis' latest prank by smashing his teeth in with a half-brick.

Granted, a tiny bit of uncertainty creeps in at the end of the book - the assured qualifying performances under Capello eventually give Stubbs so little material that he's forced to adopt the guise of a Croatian (with his manservant 'Sepic') - but England's performance this summer was the final vindication. Send Them Victorious, folks. The perfect tribute (and postscript) to this strange period of England's footballing history.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Relevant and Irrelevant Histories

An interesting thought as we approach the end of this World Cup: although Uruguay have won World Cups in the past, and Spain and the Netherlands have not, Uruguay winning this year would be a 'newer' thing - more of an Event.

Spain finally lifting the trophy is a narrative that already carries a sense of inevitability - it's a triumph that has already been written, and held back from general release for two years. Now that Brazil have no longer already won the tournament, there's a case for saying that Spain have already won it. The same narrative can be quickly adapted and refitted for the Dutch - 'the long wait is finally over'. There is no comparably comfortable frame in which to fit a Uruguayan victory.

Granted, Uruguay's glories were a long time ago. But when has that ever been relevant to the expectations placed on football teams? Brazilian players are still being feted for what their team did forty years ago; England are judged (and judge themselves) every four years by the standards of 1966; African teams are still labelled as naive and impetuous based on the performance of Zaire in 1970. German teams and Spanish teams are just about still viewed in the context of their past representatives as villainous mecha-men and talented bottlers respectively, although these two seem to be finally losing their grip this summer. In the group stages, the BBC wheeled out an excruciating montage showing clips of past German triumphs interspersed with footage of pistons and machinery - but even they have since realised that this German team represents something different. These three-time World Cup winners would be fresher faces on the podium than the Spanish or Dutch.

Putting aside the two unfolding exceptions above - and progress on these fronts will be immediately undone if either team reverts back to historical type for even one game - these images seem impervious to the passage of time, and are held to remain true no matter how much contradictory evidence amasses. The fact that Uruguay have underachieved since 1950 doesn't explain the strange discrepancy about them; they are the only World Cup winners whose achievements have been definitively consigned to the history books, and deemed not relevant to modern analysis. You can never write off the Germans because of their past wins - but I don't believe I've ever heard a pundit say 'Well, I'll tell you what... I think Uruguay might be dark horses to win back their title this year. End the sixty years of hurt.'

In this country, the cutoff point is 1966. To us, tournaments before that are quaint, sepia-tinted, and faintly comical. Firstly because the World Cup only became a serious matter after we validated the tournament by going out and winning it. Secondly, the images teams made for themselves in the sixties and seventies have endured because those were the formative years of the people who have run, broadcasted, and commented on football in this country, certainly since the late eighties. Their ideas have bled into the minds of the population through sheer unchallenged repetition (and, lately, nostalgic replaying of said repetition - twice removed from new thought). Uruguay themselves are represented by a construction of this period - as temperamental foulers and cynics - and this seems to have replaced their earlier status as heroic two-time champions, leaving no trace of the older idea behind.

The relevant half-life of historical events must vary between countries. Uruguayan players surely don't go to tournaments still feeling burdened by the achievements of their predecessors, but Brazilian football fans still believe in a Uruguay hoodoo that dates back to 1950. Speaking to a Bosnian friend recently, I tried to draw out his opinion of the Stojkovic-inspired Yugoslavia team of 1990, but he was far more keen on regaling me with his admiration for the overachieving all-Serbian team at the first World Cup in 1930...

...who, it turns out, have been the subject of a recent film.

I don't think a hypothetical English team sent up the river in 1930 would be the subject of such strong, enduring identification.

Sunday, 4 July 2010


Various unused pictures of Uruguay-related stuff.

Scored against Brazil in a WC final while keeping his facial hair immaculately groomed.

No, not a tiresome 'they started it!/'we were provoked into attacking the flotilla' - I just wanted a picture that illustrated how 'justice' on a football pitch is rarely anything to write home about. Couldn't find a pic of the feller diving to win the free kick in the first place.

Coolest colours in the tournament, bar none. This and black shorts (Heil Spode!) against ghastly, Melchesterian red and yellow stripes? No contest. The right team won.

The internet's ten thousandth Suarez post.

This isn't really analytical enough to go on Minus, but here are my thoughts on the Suarez handball incident.

I assume Suarez will be given a discretionary ban for his cynical gamesmanship. Apparently his turning to celebrate while heading to the tunnel was also egregious and beyond the pale - well Christ, I think if I'd just committed a mass nun murder I'd stop and cheer and run around a bit if my country had just got to a World Cup semi-final...

I wouldn't normally have time for the 'noble hero falling on own sword' thing - but when you bear in mind that the free-kick that put the ball in the Uruguay box in the first place was wrongly awarded (the Ghanaian player clearly tripped over his own feet, as the not-exactly-impartial commentators acknowledged), then Suarez does start to look more like a heroic vigilante - responding to a miscarriage of justice by taking the law into his own hands, regardless of the cost to himself.

Apparently this 'last-second goal-line handball plus penalty miss' situation was discussed by FIFA after it came up in an American youth tournament over twenty years ago. They didn't change the rules then, and haven't seen fit to in the decades since. I know FIFA are a stopped clock, but on this occasion they're telling the right time.

Yes, the situation ended unfairly for Ghana. But I don't think it's worth changing the rules for these situations since they hardly ever come up. How many last-second goal-line handballs (with penalty misses) can you name, offhand? The existing punishment (red card and penalty) is fine for almost all situations. If the incident happened any earlier in the game, then Ghana would still have had time to benefit from the man advantage against a tiring, patched-up Uruguayan defence, and both sides would still have had time to launch further attacks - the whole outcome of the game wouldn't have rested on the one foul.

So yes, it's possible to benefit from a last-minute goal-line handball, as the victim team don't have time to capitalise on the situation if they miss the penalty. But it's a fairly basic principle of football that a foul should carry the same punishment whether it occurs in the first minute or the ninetieth. Even if you do decide to enact harsher measures against 'late' handballs, where do you draw the line? Injury time only? 85 minutes? 80? The whole second half? When exactly is it 'too late' for a red card to have any effect on the game?

I've heard the argument that a handball on the line should always be a red card and automatic goal (awarded as if the handling player hadn't been there and the ball had continued). I'm opposed on principle to 'autogoals'/'penalty points' (or whatever) in football - it's a starting principle of football that you have put the ball over the line. Sure, if the defender stops the ball crossing the line by foul means, then he'll be punished. But you can't start tampering with the basic idea that to score a goal, you have to put the ball in the net. It's a real slippery slope situation that I think can only serve undermine the game. And when, exactly, can you judge that the ball was definitely going in? Not all of these incidents are as easy to read as last night's.

On a similar tack, while Suarez (and his team-mate on the line) were pretty clear in their intentions last night, the intent of most handballs is difficult to judge. The rules are complicated (commentators are perpetually confused on this - as if they can't spare the time to read up on the new provisions and interpretations every season) and mistakes do happen. A wrongly awarded autogoal (or undefended penalty) for an accidental handball would be stupidly harsh. The award of a penalty gives both teams a fighting chance.

All in all, I think people are confusing what they think Suarez deserved last night, with what kind of rule they would seriously want to see applied to all future games.

It's rather like another recent tournament controversy - the prone Christian Panucci playing Holland's winning goal onside in Euro 2008. While in the context of the particular incident, the application of the rule can be seen as harsh and even unfair, the consequences of changing the rule would be worse still - defenders in extremis would simply be able to go to ground or step out of play to render an attacker offside. On the day it was unfair - but sticking with the existing rule was the right decision.

There was no grand act of larceny last night - both teams had their good spells, neither really dominated, and either of the two would have been a worthy semi-finalist. Uruguay, on top of their periodical fine play in the game, showed incredible balls to put those penalties away in a near-completely hostile stadium. Ghana - let's face it, not exactly the unsullied innocents of this tournament - have fallen to a piece of foul play, but have so far appeared to take it quite stoically.

Which is more than you can say for the one-eyed commentariat in this country. It's tempting to say that when you cast one side as villains and party-spoilers, you shouldn't complain when they decide to play the role...