Where has the Beautiful Game got to? I keep asking myself this question. The disgraceful “snakes and liars” episode around the formation of a Super League recently has merely highlighted the way club football has evolved and deteriorated.

The foreign, mega-wealthy owners have no interest in anything other than profit-making and thankfully this has been exposed. However, there is the darker side to all of this – such ambition meant, in their minds, that success must be achieved by employing mainly foreign managers/coaches. This in turn has resulted in ‘buying’ the best available mature players globally.

The English FA has facilitated this approach, which in turn has generally rendered the nationwide academies non-productive. The player pathway for aspiring young footballers has been by and large blocked. This, of course, means that the production line for home bred international sides has been severely weakened. Hence, the dearth of top-division players for the home countries.

In my opinion, the other sinister side to all of this change has led to there being absolutely no integrity left in our sport from what we see on TV from the UK.

I’m finding that the more I watch Premier League matches – plus others – the more I’m disappointed – rather disgusted! I have no preference with individual clubs because I’ve been employed with football at all standards all my life – both as player and manager. I simply prefer the team that deserves to win in a sporting manner.

Sad to say the game has deteriorated when the mantra is ‘cheat whenever there is an opportunity’. I fully comprehend that with the influx of so many different cultures and styles the Premier League has become the most watched globally.

However, there has to be a responsibility with this. The examples that we witness constantly are sending out the worst message possible. Where has integrity gone? We expect the younger generation to learn how to compete in life generally and to prepare for the big bad world. Competitive sport is a great educator for our young; it teaches them about team spirit, adversity, challenges, acceptance of disappointment, discipline and the will to succeed.

Angered, I felt I had to do something – anything: Nearly every game provides examples. The difference is that now the referee and the dreaded VAR ‘justify’ what is happening. To my mind this brings the whole fiasco up to a higher, more disgraceful level.

Eoin Hand pictured with Mick McCarthy and Ray Houghton at UL in June 2019. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Eoin Hand pictured with Mick McCarthy and Ray Houghton at UL in June 2019. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Some time ago I watched a schoolboy match where the coach encouraged this activity. He was screaming at the youngsters to “go down” whenever they were in the opponent’s penalty area. I was incensed – I approached this ‘coach’ to remonstrate with his ‘demands’. I got a very negative response. This is happening nearly all the time now.

There is also my observation and comparisons with other sports. When do you see players surrounding and abusing match officials? Not in rugby, tennis, golf. Gaelic games – maybe to a small degree in some, or not at all. These sports all have deterrents. We must follow example and respect officials. In football it is quite the opposite. With this cancer of ‘simulation’ and ‘diving’ the referees’ task is more difficult.

Of course modern technology, e.g. VAR can provide clarity but is does not seem to be of any great help presently – rather more confusing. In my opinion VAR should only be used for the big decisions – i.e. ball over the line or clear offside. Let the three officials do their job and let the game flow. If VAR is consulted, surely it would be beneficial to have people with well-respected playing and managerial experience to assist and advise.

It is a problem that must be addressed from the top down to the individual clubs and managers. Penalties should be introduced for any abuse of the spirit of the game. Go as far as deducting points upon reaching various counts of yellow and red cards. The referees would then have to penalise any of the aforementioned breaches – abuse, simulation and diving – by showing cards. This would surely encourage the ‘teachers’ of the game to instil in players the necessity of winning fairly and in a sporting way.

We in Ireland have an opportunity to set a good example for this. Soccer lovers here would do well to support our domestic league. It was so enjoyable to have the pleasure of watching a recent Treaty Utd v Cork City match in Limerick – played in the right spirit by both sides.

The FAI is thankfully now being led by good people who have been entrusted with a difficult but achievable task. A National Academy is an obvious necessity that should have been in situ for a long time. Then top coaches would show the way to elite players and their club coaches. There would be a massive benefit for the standards in our domestic league. This was the successful model for countries such as Norway, Holland, Belgium etc . . . The present situation provides a real opportunity in that the only way is up for those want reform.

What is outlined in this article demands positive actions with some harsh remedial measures – but is this not the way to treat an epidemic?



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