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The Roker Ramble: Fair Game?

John Crocker is back with the Roker Ramble, and on the tip of his tongue this week are referees, conspiracy theorists and the state of the game from a fan's perspective.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Referees have been in trouble this week - first up was Mark Clattenburg, who's had his wrists slapped for having the Champions League Trophy tattooed on one arm to celebrate his refereeing the final, together with the European Championships logo on the other. Understandable I think - these things can slip from the memory so quickly.

So I've done the same, and now in a spiral running down from my shoulder you can read ‘Monkwearmouth College of Further Education, Mens Badminton Doubles, Runner-Up 1974'. And although the writing is quite small and I was unable to include the trophy, had there been one, it does remind me of good times and give me something to talk about at social functions when the conversation dries up. If I'm topless or wearing a vest that is.

Mark Halsey's whistle was also pinched when he claimed that referees were put under pressure not to include controversial incidents in their match reports ‘as if they hadn't seen them'. An opinion aimed no doubt at conspiracy theorists everywhere who maintain that the Premier League have been running Treadstone all along. Clearly it's nonsense, of course, and a crude effort to smear our national game.

It does remind me however, of a certain Southampton game at the SOL when the Saints defender pulled off a brilliant two-handed goal-line save from Malbranque to prevent a certain goal - which 40,000 people in the crowd, all the players on the pitch and everyone watching on TV seemed to catch, but somehow the referee missed altogether. 'Damned unlucky' I thought at the time - but now I know, he was obviously distracted by reading his tattoos.

Of course the FA isn't going to investigate Halsey's accusations, in the same way that it won't entertain reference to a video referee during matches or any fundamental changes to the game that could improve it's integrity or make it more entertaining. I didn't watch the England - Slovakia game, one team not interested in scoring against another incapable of doing so, that's not entertainment, it's not even interesting, but is that the way the game in this country is heading?

Is the Premier League in danger of losing it's ‘best league in the world' reputation? According to many, La Liga plays better football, the German teams are more skillful, and the top Italian teams can beat the best that the Premier has to offer. The guy tasked with rebuilding FIFA in North America and the Caribbean after the spate of arrests for corruption has warned that progress will be slow as ‘there's been a bit of a shit-storm here in the past few years'.

He may well be one step ahead of us, ours might still be coming.

Somebody who's already given up on the Premier League is Paul Scholes, who's admitted this week that he'd rather watch non-league games. It helps of course if you own the non-league team that you're watching, but it comes down to what makes you support the team that you do, and what you want out of it. Frank Skinner maintained that if you love football and want to follow a team, then you get out a map and a ruler and you find the nearest town that has a club and that is your team.

All very well, but when you have a situation where Manchester United can pay £100 million for a player against our club record fee of just over £13 million, and Chelsea have 38 players out on loan this season when we're struggling to fill our squad with youngsters and out of contract signees, the sheer disparity in the Premier League hits home, and the ability of teams not in the top six to attract support from outside of their own catchment area becomes all to evident. It's a two tier system and if your team is in the lower tier, how many entertaining, skillful games are you going to see?

Maybe a local non-league club as a second team could provide some 'relief' in bad weeks. I looked up Ryhope CW - my 'home' team, with interest - they lost 5-0 to Ashington. But I shall follow them anyway, football's coming home.

Football pundits are not known for their extensive use of the English language, and generally speaking it's not a problem. It helps if they know something about football of course, but there's one cliché which has risen to prominence in the common tongue that leaves me totally perplexed. I refer of course to ‘stonewall penalty' which Alan Hansen used in every Match of the Day between 2007 and 2014, and since retiring, has been taken up by every commentator, amateur or professional, in every medium.

In fact, statistics prove that use of the term ‘stonewall' has been increasing since 2008, mostly, one would assume within this context and that's where the perplexity arises - because it's bollocks. ‘Stonewall' is a verb not an adjective and means basically to obstruct, hinder or delay. All of which you'd struggle to apply as an adjective to a foul in the box. You might as well call it a ‘subtract penalty' or a 'scribble penalty', it's just as meaningless. I must admit, I'm surprised the BBC didn't knock it on the head when it first appeared being the harbingers of the spoken word and all that. Perhaps the sheer pulling power of Chris Waddle coming out with ‘stonewall pelanty' on 5 Live every Saturday was too high a price to pay.

I looked at the International results this morning and this caught my eye -

Albania 19 45 Macedonia

Match abandoned - weather

Some game I thought - and they didn't even finish.