Fordyce Maxwell: What happened to showing pain as a sign of weakness?

JIMMY Greaves was right with his much parodied, but accurate, catchphrase “It’s a funny old game”. Watching the histrionics and bad acting of Euro 2012, during which a game of football occasionally breaks out, it’s becoming funnier.

Looking at close-ups of players, it shouldn’t turn out the way it does. Stubble and beards, tattoos on every visible space and no doubt others mercifully hidden, haircuts apparently carried out with garden shears, these are players who look as if they should frighten pit bull terriers. Yet it’s now a surprise if we get a minute into a game before the first one goes down writhing and screaming after the slightest contact, and any touch by an opponent’s arm above waist level has the recipient clutching his face.

These are supposed to be hard men from tough countries – Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic, not forgetting Germany, Denmark, Sweden, England and Ireland. Yet they go down as easily and simulate pain as laughably as the Italians, Portuguese and French.

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What happened to showing pain as a sign of weakness? That belief was ingrained on football grounds from schoolyard to international level with the gruff injunction when a player went down to “Get up, man, it’s only pain.” It was the Inspector Clouseau approach when Peter Sellers commented after a heavy fall: “Just a bone – I’ll set it later.”

It was an approach exemplified by the photo of Terry Butcher playing on with his head bandaged and blood still flowing. He wouldn’t be allowed to do that now, rightly. Nor would players be allowed to struggle on with genuine injuries as was common before the days of substitutes. But we’ve gone from that to today’s game where acting, crying and diving are routine.

More worryingly, teachers who supervise games say that from an early age children now go down easily, roll about in “pain” and argue about refereeing decisions.

Oddly, when the same group play rugby their behaviour changes. The ignore collisions and bruises that in a football game would have them down and howling and they don’t argue with the referee.

There’s doubtless a lesson and a moral in there. At top level in today’s super-charged heavyweight rugby there’s far more chance of being seriously injured, yet players ignore pain. It’s as football moves to being a non-contact sport that players whine and whimper in trying to con the referee.

As a football fan losing interest, I find that sad. If the weather wasn’t so poor I wouldn’t be watching Euro 2012 at all. Well, probably not.

Last week Fordyce... was told by his nephew Hamish: “No wonder you didn’t feel pain on a football pitch. My dad says you were too busy inflicting it.” Ah, those were the days