Jim Goodwin Aberdeen ban: 'Everyone’s at it. There’s concerted, relentless, out-and-out cheating in every game'

The punishment prompted more than a few gasps. An eight-game ban for Jim Goodwin. When was the last time football’s beaks handed out such a stiff sentence?

Jim Goodwin and Ryan Porteous shake hands, just before the Aberdeen manager called the Hibs player a cheat and landed himself in big trouble.
Jim Goodwin and Ryan Porteous shake hands, just before the Aberdeen manager called the Hibs player a cheat and landed himself in big trouble.

My mind drifted back, as is its wont, to an era when you really had to misbehave to merit such smacked-bottom, no-supper treatment. And misbehave often, be a repeat offender. Two such characters were Alex Edwards and Willie Johnston.

At the dawn of 1973 Edwards of Hibernian was banned for eight weeks after yet another rammy with John Love, his East Fife Nemesis. That was a period when the penance was issued in weeks, not games, and clubs could get lucky with bad weather postponements so their hot-headed genius wouldn’t miss much action.

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Just a few days before Rangers’ hot-headed genius Johnston moved to West Bromwich Albion having been banned for ten weeks following a punch-up with Partick Thistle’s Alex Forsyth. “I used to call him Brucie; he hated it,” Johnston told me. Fearing something like six months the next time, he thought he should skedaddle and try another league.

Johnston and Edwards’ reputations went before them so they racked up lengthy suspensions. In a more rumbustious age for football they were easily clattered, easily wound up. Goodwin’s crime - without kicking anyone - was to call Ryan Porteous a cheat.

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Fair? Commensurate with the offence (it’s six games debarred from the dugout now, with two suspended)? My view, even though I’ve watched Porteous more often than many of the pundits currently pronouncing on the matter, even though I regard him as no angel, is that it really cannot be said to be beyond dispute that he conned the referee to win his team a penalty. Still, eight games for Goodwin seems harsh.

Better, I think, to state the absolutely incontrovertible: that every player cheats sometimes.

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Every footballer in the UK, this once stout-walled bastion of fair play, will seek to gain his team an advantage. He won’t let an opponent posing a serious goal threat run beyond without, at the very least, a shove in the back in the hope of putting the man off his stroke. He will feign injury, writhing and squealing. He will time-waste. He will do all of this and more and all of it is cheating.

I was at Hampden for the Scotland-Republic of Ireland Nations League tie and even before the 18th minute when they scored, the Irish were running down the clock. The goalkeeper took an age with every kick-out. The ball would be booted away when fouls were conceded and when it was offered them for throw-ins. At the very least that was cheating the paying public. Last season in the English Premier League the average ball-in-play time was 55 minutes and three seconds. Hampden seemed all set to break that unenviable record until Ryan Christie’s penalty.

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Last Saturday, Aberdeen’s Bojan Miovski won a penalty against Kilmarnock, an award which from the only TV angle available seemed to be more dubious than the Porteous one. Twitter challenged Goodwin about that. And then when the latter’s ban was confirmed on Thursday, Twitter recalled Hearts manager Robbie Neilson’s rant against former Don Lewis Ferguson - this wasn’t just cheating but “blatant cheating” - for the spot-kick awarded against the Jambos in a match last season. Where, given that Neilson wasn’t punished, was the consistency?

Neilson, though, left it at blatant cheating. Goodwin went further in the post-match interviews. Too far, in insisting Porteous had made a “helluva career” out of winning penalties, and that they’d been “numerous”. This, I reckon, is what’s done for him.

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But on the wider issue, I repeat: they’re all at it. Concerted, relentless, out-and-out conniving and subterfuge. The players probably don’t even realise they’re doing it. Football folk are tragically persuadable. For instance, one manager will get into a bouncy hug with his backroom fluffers when a goal is scored, then at the final whistle stride onto the pitch to be magnanimous in victory, and suddenly every head coach is doing this.

One winger will hurtle down the flank and at the first, merest contact crumble and suddenly every winger is doing this. Can no one dribble any more? (Don’t answer that: I know they can’t). Does no one ride tackles anymore? But sometimes the tackles don’t actually come. The commentator will insist: “So-and-so’s really taken a sore one there.” How does he know for sure? Then the replays will confirm it was all a big con: there was no contact. Random football irritations no 764: the commentator can see it was a con, like us, but declines to correct his earlier prognosis.

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Why do footballers contrive to win free-kicks, stopping the play, killing momentum? Is there really an abundance of dead-ball specialists in our game? Wouldn’t it be better to keep going, spreading more panic in the opposition defence? Guys, just try it.

If “Mickey” Edwards or “Bud Johnston” were halted illegally, they kept going. If this happened a second or third time they would get up and kick their harasser on the ankles. That wasn’t right but at least they were upfront about it.

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Like Edwards, Johnston was very familiar with the decor of the SFA’s old Glasgow HQ. I asked him if he had a special Park Gardens suit for those disciplinary hearings. “No, but I was good friends with Tommy the commissionaire,” he said. “As soon as I walked in the door he’d go: ‘Milk and two sugars and a wee biscuit?’”

Once, slapped with a £200 fine, Bud blurted at the beaks: “You’ll be going for lunch after this, won’t you? That’s me just paid for the wine.” A good quip, but I don’t recommend Jim Goodwin uses it.

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